Sunday, January 03, 2010

Parting shot

Stephen Glover was one of three journalists who founded the Independent, in 1986. He went on, in early 1990, to become the founding editor of the Independent on Sunday, from which post he was rapidly ousted amid cost-cutting and acrimony. This is from his description of the board meeting at which he ceased to be an executive director:

I arrived back in the boardroom and sat down. Marcus [Sieff, venerable chairman of Newspaper Publishing plc, the parent company of the two papers] had the air of a man brought in to settle a dispute which he did not really want to understand. He said that there had been a consensus that I should be asked to stay as a [non-executive] director, but there were conditions. In the first place, the arrangement would last for a year, and would be renewed only if the board and I wished it to be. I would get no emoluments (the annual fee for a non-executive director was £12,000) since I had received a year's salary on termination of my contract. So long as I remained as a non-executive director I could not write for any other newspapers, but if I wrote for the Independent or the Independent on Sunday I would not be paid. Finally, I would not be released from my undertaking not to sell any shares before March 31st 1992. That was it.

I was getting the impression that some members of the board were not deperately keen that I should become a non-executive director. Andreas [Whittam Smith, editor of the Independent and chief executive of Newspaper Publishing] was sitting to Marcus's right looking red-faced and ruminative. I imagined him at the board meeting, allowing its sillier members to build up this list of conditions, saying nothing when a word from him would have brought an end to all this foolishness.

"Well, thank you Marcus," I said. "Can I think about it for a day or two? I hadn't expected any conditions and I will need to think about them. Some of them don't matter, but I might want to write for other newspapers, and if Christopher Barton was allowed to sell his shares when he ceased being an executive director I don't see why I shouldn't be. Andreas, you said that you would recommend that I should be able to sell my shares."

"Yes," said Andreas, "but the mood of the meeting was that in the circumstances it would be better not to alter that undertaking."

"I see. Well, I would like a few days, if I may."

"Of course, take as long as you want," said Marcus generously. "I hope it will all work out."

As I walked down the stairs it occured to me that there was one condition that they had not thought of. They had not said I could not write a book.

From Paper Dreams (1993), the memoir that Glover's former colleagues failed to stop him writing. By this point in the penultimate chaper they would probably have regretted the omission. Paper Dreams is an entertaining book, vivid and witty and languidly readable, but is also an act of vengeance, chiefly against Whittam Smith, and a little too openly vengeful to be effective. The era it describes - when a newspaper could be an exciting start-up business capable of attracting £200m in City capital, and when the Independent could feel disappointed at selling a mere 300,000 - seems almost more remote than that in older Fleet Street memoirs.

No comments: