Rupert Murdoch’s telephone greeting was brutal:” Well, well, well. If it isn’t the great f*cking Andrew Neil”. Indeed it was. Neil, one of his most successful Editors, had rubbed his master up the wrong way. It wasn’t long before they parted. Bitterly.
Kelvin MacKenzie, The Sun Editor – and without doubt Rupert’s most successful – told Neil he should make that the title of his autobiography. He didn’t, more’s the pity.
Do we really need another news channel? Murdoch and Neil think we do, going head-to-head, ploughing hundreds of millions into a super-saturated sector. Couple of old Conor McGregors, couple too many biffs to the bonce. One thing for sure – to win they will need to seriously stand out from the crowd.
Social media has killed impartiality. Dare to be different or die. All of the crap written about “news values” is just an excuse for the less gifted to hide behind. Read the comments on The Times online – better than the original stories. The punters want controversy.
Bigger question – is it too late? The biggest “news” companies in the world are Google, Facebook, Apple. 10 years ago Murdoch’s News Corp was the world’s largest. Now it’s a lowly 17th with annual revenues of $9B. Google – at $160B – does that every three weeks. Apple every fortnight. They might not describe themselves as pure news companies. But they’re mowing everyone’s lawn, relegating them to the second page. Longstanding legacy titles going to the wall or for peanuts. David Montgomery buying The Scotsman and a string of locals on his credit card. A Netflix monthly sub is now more expensive than the BBC licence fee.
But. There’s always a queue of hopefuls determined to lock horns. Just like vaccines, wait for one and a load come along at one go. Here is my take on the runners and riders in the battle for a UK audience – especially the fallers.
BBC NEWS: My favourite colour – putty. But we all turn to it for the big events, the big story. The Beeb has the best all-round talent – politics, Brexit, the plague. Laura, Katya, Hugh and Fergus. Everyone is too busy kicking the crap out of Auntie to give them credit. And they can’t react – they need the licence fee. The army with the longest borders, they’ll lose a bit but will still be there in another 100 years. Rightly so. Arise Sir Hugh Ruthven Pym.
GMB – And this is the new starts’ benchmark. Piers Morgan shows what a top-level over-opinionated journalist can do every morning. Doesn’t matter if you don’t like him – he forces you to react, knows his brief better than his victims. He doesn’t just hold power to account. He holds it by the throat. Head and shoulders the best – and daily whacking dear prematurely grey Dan Walker into submission on the Beeb – Frank Bough without the charisma, drugs and prozzies.
NEWS UK: Rupert Murdoch is launching Gotcha! TV in the spring. Except it will be called NEWS UK because they bottled the name. Boring right away. So what will he do different that he didn’t do at SKY? What’s his audience? If it’s trying to tap a youth market he needs to bring the Sun Newspaper cheekiness. If it’s longform Times-style then expect a lot of Saga and stair-lift adverts complete with an audience first in the vax queue. Colostomy TV has got no chance. Piers Morgan owes you Rupert – go get him at any price. And Gary Lineker – for news comment.
SKY NEWS: They always reckoned The Sun dragged them down by association. Phone hacking and a distrust of Murdoch (oh yes) has kept it Omo clean. Slick, polished, germ-free journalism – it’s like vaping. Adam Boulton looks set fit to explode he is so vast. When Al Campbell took the piss, he did. Biggest drama – winsome Sophie Ridge asking Theresa May about President Trump and her “pussy”. And making it sound like a zit. Hmm. Maybe that was a low point.
GB NEWS: Andrew Neil, formerly a Rupert Editor at The Sunday Times and the most forensic interrogator around, is fronting the Discovery backed GB News channel. Huge bucks, $65M of Arab and VC cash, 140 new jobs, big aspirations. He is worth the entry fee on his own. But what about the rest. Times Radio signed loads of top weights. Errm. How’s that going. I would love it if Andrew and Rupert kissed and made up. But there’s more chance of Trump taking the knee. Give Kelvin a show. He is sharper even than Piers. Bring back the news bunny and topless darts.
CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Who said the news had to be unbiased – do they think we’re thick? Channel 4 has been peddling leftie trot values for years. It’s fantastically done, we all know they’re barking, I love it. Owned by the government – bet you’d forgotten that. Murdoch or Neil should go to Boris, use the pix they never published, make him an offer he would love to accept – no votes in C4 for posh boys, especially a faux grammar school Etonian. Sack Jon Snow because he is a ridiculous old twat who wears ridiculous ties – and nuke it.
ITV NEWS AT 10 – One scoop goes a long way. Honourable but tedious. And nobody asks how they are. You put the kettle on, forget to go back. Tom Bradby is son-in-law material. Its heyday was back when Reggie Boozeanquet slurred magnificently through the bulletin. Sir Trevor, commanding and masterful. Sir Alastair Burnet, regal, unflappable. Why not buy ITN outright. Doesn’t make “real” profits, is owned by willing sellers (Reuters/DailyMail etc). Creates the “news” for ITV and C4. Now that would really put the cat amongst the penguins.
NEWSNIGHT: I mention it because it has to be a target audience. Emily Maitlis is a goddess, top journalist who goes for it every time. Instead of bollocking her for bias they should give her two loud and proud sidemen to bounce around and let rip. Otherwise dump the programme and use the budget elsewhere, pension off the fogies. Political Editor Nick Watt is a keeper.
RADIO 4 – Hmm. I want to listen but Jeeso is the story selection patchy, many of the interviews too long and rambling. Nick Robinson, wherefore art thou. And then there is Times Radio – Radio 4 Lite. I’m sticking with it out of loyalty to Rupert. But it sounds like just another voice in the crowd.
And finally, to quote Reggie. How on earth will the shimmering Professor Devi Sridhar find the time to appear on them all.
Darling Devi. I’m not objectifying her – but she is a cracker. I still don’t know who she is because even the Daily Mail can’t tell me who’s in her bubble. And elsewhere. If she is married, boy or girlfriend, social life? But turn the tele on morning, noon and night and up pops the shimmering Devi – replete with the most strangulated accent to come out of Edinburgh since Sean Connery.
She wows them every time, even Piers purrs at the perfect prof. Doesn’t she also advise the Scottish Government? That hasn’t gone just so well. Anyone asked her how China has got rid of Covid without a vaccine? Hey – who cares. Give her a show. Reading the phone book.
Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser. His Linkedin speciality lists “Diplomacy”.