Media Profile: Catching the Continental drift - Peter Millar, associate editor, the European

Securing a scoop can come as a result of many aspects of a journalist’s skill. There’s investigative work, pot luck, a canny eye or even an extensive knowledge of some arcane legal twist, but it is rare that a sofa is instrumental in securing a good story. Peter Millar, however, managed to grab an exclusive as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 on the strength of having taken a sofa through Checkpoint Charlie some years before.

Securing a scoop can come as a result of many aspects of a

journalist’s skill. There’s investigative work, pot luck, a canny eye or

even an extensive knowledge of some arcane legal twist, but it is rare

that a sofa is instrumental in securing a good story. Peter Millar,

however, managed to grab an exclusive as the Berlin Wall came down in

1989 on the strength of having taken a sofa through Checkpoint Charlie

some years before.



’I had got to know a border guard, who I called Rita, as a result of

struggling through the gate with this sofa for my home in East Berlin

back in the 1980s,’ he explains. ’I was chatting to her after the wall

went down and she revealed that the whole thing had been a huge

mistake.



An East German minister had said border restrictions were to be relaxed,

which the East German media misheard as dropped. Thousands of people

converged on the wall, the guards tuned into the state broadcasters and

heard the restrictions had been dropped and let everyone through. By the

time the mistake had been realised, it was too late to do anything about

it.’



Millar has been associate editor of the European since July, but cut his

journalistic teeth in and around central Europe during the Cold War

working for, variously, Reuters, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and the

Sunday Times. He was working for the Sunday Times when the revolutions

swept the former Eastern bloc. Millar threw himself into the reporting,

even going as far as getting arrested in East Berlin and being carted

off to a police station in a deserted quarter of the city where they

beat his fellow detainees around the knees with truncheons.



His experience with the Stasi prepared him thoroughly for the trials

that were soon to follow - working for Robert Maxwell on the launch of

the original European - with all of the editorial interference that

Maxwell reserved for the Daily Mirror. Millar points out that his

interview questions, once asked, were picked up by Maxwell and rephrased

before the subject answered. Unsurprisingly, Millar left the old

European newspaper after a year.



The new European is less of a newspaper and more a magazine on the lines

of the Economist. Although Millar avoids using words like relaunch,

there has clearly been one. In July, shortly after he joined his old

Sunday Times boss Andrew Neil on the paper, it became a tabloid and

dropped its news lead cover page for a lead feature illustration.



’I think the European in the past has been run by people who were very

good journalists, but the wrong people for the job,’ Millar argues. ’We

have decided to aim for a tight penetration of opinion formers and we’ll

be calling it a magazine rather than a newspaper. There will be more

analysis of issues, more in depth pieces, especially the cover story

and, as I am personally very pro-European, we clearly aren’t going to be

furiously Eurosceptic.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1986

Central Europe correspondent, the Sunday Telegraph

1989

Central Europe correspondent, the Sunday Times

1990

Deputy editor, the European

1991

Freelance

1997

Associate editor, the European



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