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July 31, 2008

Dept. of Kremlinology: Guardian hacks mark McCall’s score card

By Peter Kirwan MM blog

Reporting on the boss’s performance is difficult for hacks who cover the media. But today’s joint effort by Stephen Brook and Richard Wray to explain Guardian Media Group’s annual results was particularly abject.

The piece started out:

Guardian Media Group, owner of the Guardian, saw its annual profits boosted dramatically. . .

Oh err, sounds good. So how did this dramatic improvement occur? Here’s what follows:

. . . by the sale of a 49.9% stake in the owner of Auto Trader. . .

Ah, yes, now I remember. But how bad could that be? Well. . . (and we’re into the second par now):

pre-tax profits rose to £306.4m in the year to end March, compared with £97.7m the previous year.

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Blimey — a 314% increase! But wait. By now we’re on to the fourth par — well out of harm’s way.

Only now do Brook and Wray remind you that the cash GMG received for its holding in Auto Trader was £334.6m.

So let’s see. Strip out the cash gain from Auto Trader and we’re left with an underlying pre-tax loss for 2007-2008 of. . . approximately £28.2m.

As against a pre-tax profit last year of £97.7m.

Brook and Wray are top-drawer hacks. This in turn makes me ask why their first par didn’t contain the words: “Guardian Media Group invests several tens of millions in the future. . . “

Perhaps there’s a good reason. If so, further examination of GMG’s annual report will yield it up.

In the meantime, here’s a suggestion for Alan Rusbridger: stop putting your best people through the ordeal of writing inevitably Kremlinesque accounts of GMG’s results.

The time-honoured moniker “Our Staff” has become unfashionable. But surely it needs to be wheeled out at mutually embarrassing moments such as these.

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