City & Corporate: Press bias denies Morrison his due

One of the great weaknesses of the press coverage of City and business is that journalists are suckers for people who appear to like them, and often totally unfair to those who make their contempt all too obvious.

Thus Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose has a retailing reputation that may be rather higher than his achievements deserve, but which serves to protect him from any meaningful criticism of the painfully slow progress of M&S under his stewardship. Meanwhile, Ken Morrison of the eponymous supermarket chain has rarely felt much would be achieved by talking to journalists and clearly sees it as a distraction from the real work of running the stores.

As a result Morrison has been reduced to little more than a caricature. The idea that Safeway, which he bought last year, could be run from Bradford is seen as risible, in spite of the fact that Asda is run out of Leeds.

And the southern-based press, most of them strangers to Morrisons, seized gleefully on the allegation that Safeway customers were recoiling from northern meat pies.

Rounding up the usual adjectives, they took it as fact that this 'blunt', 'gritty', 'dour' Yorkshireman was clearly out of his depth trying to cater for sophisticated southern tastes. They gave the impression that only this latest setback has saved Surbiton from tripe and onions in the ready-meals section and clogs in the clothing aisles.

It is ridiculously unfair. Asda does not get this grief, but the reason is probably that from Archie Norman and Allan Leighton onwards it has been run by people who appear to be southern charmers and who are nothing if not PR savvy. Morrison is pilloried because he refuses to play the game. He deserves better, but when the image masks the reality, the image is what gets the column inches. But with his record, why should he change?

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