That missing column

Readers of Roy Greenslade’s blog will have seen that he’s been wondering why Stephen Glover’s column about the decline of the Daily Telegraph was mysteriously pulled from the Independent.

However, Roy helpfully provides a link to the Google cached version, which reads in part:

With so much happening and going wrong, it may seem perverse to dwell on one subject: The Daily Telegraph. I do not apologise. It is no exaggeration to say that what is happening to that paper is a national tragedy. Yet I do not hear questions in Parliament. The leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition does not seem alarmed. The rest of the media, naturally concerned with their own difficulties, seems hardly to notice as this great national institution is being transformed and eviscerated under our very eyes.

I admit I am biased. The Daily Telegraph was the first newspaper I worked for, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It was the paper of the “small c” conservative classes. Of course it changed over the years, as the country changed, but never precipitately. Its circulation fell a little from its 1970s heyday, but unlike some other titles, it was not locked in some apparently irresistible cycle of decline. Then, in 2004, Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay bought it as Conrad Black, its previous proprietor – and, in my estimation, a pretty good one – was led off first to court, and then to an American jail.

The Barclay brothers love and revere the Daily Mail. And why not? Even its more knowledgeable critics generally concede that it is the most brilliant paper in Britain. But if there is one Mail, why do we need two – especially as the Telegraph lacks the resources, know-how and inspiration to emulate it? Nonetheless, the Barclays – brilliant businessmen, no doubt, though inexperienced publishers – would not be gainsaid. They recruited a chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, from the Mail group, where he was an expert on presses. In due course, he hired a gaggle of Mail executives, not all of whom, it should be said, were from the paper’s top drawer.

Since then, we have had purge after purge. The Daily Telegraph and its Sunday sister are in a state of permanent revolution. Dozens of the two paper’s best writers and executives have been pushed out. In the last few weeks, A N Wilson, Craig Brown, Joshua Rozenberg, Sam Leith and Andrew McKie have been sent packing. They were not bit-part players. They were the lifeblood of the paper. Slice by slice, the old Telegraph has been dismembered, and what is being put in its place increasingly resembles a weak imitation of the Daily Mail, which, by the way, has picked up several of the Telegraph’s best writers.

The first rule of newspaper ownership and editing is not to discomfort your core readers. Reach out for new ones, of course, but do not forget those who have loyally stuck by the newspaper. The Daily Telegraph’s readers have not been so much discomfited as shaken about like dice. I am sure that the newspaper’s editor, Will Lewis, is highly gifted, but he would scarcely recognise a habitual Telegraph reader if he bumped into one in full daylight. The newspaper’s much-trumpeted digital activities are all well and good, but they are ancillary to what should be the main point: giving traditional Telegraph readers what they expect and want.

The big mystery, of course, is why the Indie would censor a columnist just for going after a rival paper. Roy thinks there’s a bigger story here and he may well be right. But there’s a slightly dated air about it. In the old pre-Web days of media barons and press power this kind of intrigue was a big deal. But now? I don’t think so. As an ageing print hack, I’m interested in this kind of nonsense. But nobody under 30 gives a damn. Nor should they. That world is dying. People are more interested in whether Steve Jobs is terminally ill than in the spectacle of media moguls fighting like cats in a sack.