When Rosie Boycott announced she was switching to the Express last
week, she had by her side a savvy PR expert, Julia Hobsbawm, to field
her calls. Nothing wrong with that, but indicative of the way she plays
the media game. Boycott is smart, courting personal publicity like a TV
star, an approach unmatched since Andrew Neil’s reign at the Sunday
It’s not surprising she sanctioned the presence of a Channel 4 film crew
during her brief month in charge at the Indy, or that Andrew Marr’s
decision to cancel it was a major reversal. I first saw her in action
some eight years ago launching a glitzy prize for non-fiction writers
through Esquire magazine when she edited the title - a clever move
instantly creating a circle of top writers willing to write for her. If
she was operating in Manhattan, no one would bat an eyelid.
This was all part of the gamble David Montgomery bought into when giving
her the editorship of the Independent on Sunday two years ago. Her
campaign to legalise cannabis certainly got the IoS talked about, even
if it did little to stabilise sales. Another legacy, the paper’s Real
Life section is a small triumph, even if the overall paper, since
dismissing columnist Neal Ascherson, can appear more interested in Lulu
Guinness handbags than neo-Nazism in east Germany.
But PR dazzle cannot rescue ill-funded papers. What of the Express?
After Labour peer Lord Hollick took control two years ago and installed
editor Richard Addis, he said that the rival Daily Mail was vulnerable,
preaching an old-fashioned moralistic agenda. Addis, ex-Mail, with his
team were pitched in to energise the mix and edge towards the political
But Hollick was wrong. The Mail has continued to streak ahead - sales
now double that of the Express - moderating its tone with campaigns
against Stephen Lawrence’s killers, and support for Tony Blair.
Hollick’s bid to stabilise sales at the Express and the Sunday Express
has petered out.
Three decades of heavy investment in editorial by the Mail is forcing
rethinks at the Mirror and the Sun, seeking to upgrade and attract
younger and female readers.
It’s a little known fact that Hollick’s board at United News and Media
recently agreed a pounds 10 million boost to the Express’ editorial
Addis was pressed on how he proposed to use it, but he clearly failed to
convince his proprietor. This pounds 10 million is now Boycott’s pot of
However, the abrupt swing, from Addis to an upmarket editor from a
liberal left broadsheet, is fraught with danger. Lord Hollick should
read SG Taylor’s newly-published history of the Mail - The Reluctant
Press Lord. Its chief lesson is that the paper almost went under in the
1960s (until David English came along) because of a bewildering turnover
of editors, each with a different agenda.