Journalists seldom give the impression of having much time for
PROs, even if they rely on them a great deal. It often seems it is a
matter of journalistic honour to bite the PRO hand that feeds you.
Perhaps we should put it down to their perceived need to protect their
sources. Moreover, if they have a good PRO contact, they don’t want
others to know of it.
Professional honour, ethics and advantage thus lead them generally to
portray PROs as a different and lower order in the communications
In spite of all this posturing, the PR industry will, I am sure, join me
in wishing the editor of the Times, Peter Stothard, every good wish in
his fight at 49 against cancer. We were not, of course, meant to know
about his illness. Instead, Rupert Murdoch’s News International
announced that he was taking a few months’ sabbatical ’to work on future
This led to considerable speculation both inside and outside the Times
as to the real reason for his unexpected leave. We were led to believe
by other broadsheets that he was on his way out after nine years because
of the libel fracas - now sorted out - between Michael Ashcroft, the
Tories’ billionaire treasure, and the Times.
I have every sympathy with Mr Stothard in trying to keep his illness
secret, but it was bound to come out in the end. Chemotherapy sadly
leaves its mark and the chattering classes chatter. Nor did it take much
imagination to know what Fleet Street would make of a sabbatical
announcement in these days when dog eats dog more than ever before. I am
forced to conclude that it would have been better to state the simple
and painful facts at the outset and express the hope that Mr Stothard
would be left to have his treatment - and we hope cure - undisturbed.
But I acknowledge people’s sensitivities at these difficult times and
the temptation is always to defer to them.
What, however, surprised me was the reaction of the Sun. It penned an
indignant leader accusing the Guardian and Independent of indulging in
mere - and inaccurate - speculation about the real reason for Mr
Stothard’s few months away. Of course, we all know about the antipathy
between broadsheets and tabloids. We also know that the Sun has a very
proper sense of its own importance in relation to the snooty so-called
’qualities’. But can you imagine any paper having any tender loving
concern for a leading politician or a businessman in a similar position?
More likely a pious lecture on the lack of frankness leading inevitably
to surmise and the need for openness at all times.
This little episode has further encouraged the view that there is one
media law for editors and another for the hoi polloi. One is a protected
species; the rest fair game for any rough old media treatment even - or
perhaps especially - in their hours of personal trial. A clear case of