Over the past 12 months, Press Gazette has been home to interviews with some of the biggest dogs in the global news industry (although only one of them literally refers to himself as Le Grand Chien – three guesses who). Below we have rounded up some of the best anecdotes, tidbits and fun facts that you may have missed or forgotten from our coverage this year.
January: Sacked in 60 minutes
We started the year with an exclusive interview with Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times, like most other newspapers in the US, has experienced a sharp decline in its print circulation in recent years. Soon-Shiong confessed that, during the early months of the 2020 pandemic, even he stopped taking the LA Times in print because of fears over disease transmission. However, he told us that he “missed it” and is now an avid newspaper reader once more.
Another big US interviewee in January was Nicholas Thompson, a former editor who is now chief executive of The Atlantic. When asked to identify the low point of his career, Thompson spoke about the humiliation of being sacked from his first journalism job, as an associate producer on CBS’s 60 Minutes, within an hour. “It probably had some scarring impact in a way that I haven’t fully processed,” Thompson said.
February: “Being an editor makes you a monster”
February was the month that Andrew Marr left the BBC to join The New Statesman as political editor and to launch a show on LBC. In the quickfire question round at the end of his interview, Marr revealed that his favourite film is Dr Zhivago, his book War and Peace, and his TV show Around the World in 80 Days. But when asked which politician he would like to spend an evening in the pub with, Marr struggled for an answer. “Oh, God. I don’t know. He probably wouldn’t come into the pub with me, but maybe Neil Kinnock.”
Later that month, Louis Theroux admitted in a Press Gazette interview that he gets a kick out of fans tattooing his face on to their bodies. “I feel like: Wow, that’s so great,” he said. “And I feel very – I feel lucky to have people sort of making that statement. I mean, there’s a part of me that feels I should get a tattoo of myself as well. You know, just to sort of say: ‘Hey, I think that’s a cool thing to do. I’m going to do it too!’ But, I don’t know. Maybe that’s missing the point?”
In late February, Press Gazette reported on Martin Clarke’s leaving speech at Mail Online. Clarke, who has a fearsome reputation in the news industry, admitted to staff that “being an editor does make you a monster. Or in my case, more of a monster”.
March: FT editor’s passion for Dire Straits
In a Press Gazette interview, former Sky News grandee Adam Boulton revealed that, back in the 1980s, he became an unlikely celebrity among schoolchildren. “I’d be walking along and I would get mobbed by these children who’d all be asking for my autograph. They didn’t know who I was or what my name was. But the fact was, the politics spot on TV-am was very often after Popeye!”
Mehdi Hasan, the UK-born MSNBC anchor, spoke to Press Gazette about being given his first break in journalism by Boris Johnson, who was then editor of The Spectator. “I kind of made fun of him in my speech,” Hasan recalled. “And afterwards, I brazenly went up to him in the green room and said: ‘Can I have an internship at The Spectator?’ Because I thought it would be fun. And he weirdly said yes.”
Also in a Press Gazette interview, FT editor Roula Khalaf became the talk of her newsroom after revealing that her favourite band was Dire Straits. After the interview was published, Khalaf tweeted: “well, the newsroom seems to be interested in only one thing: my secret passion for dire straits, which apparently is very uncool.”
April: Le Grand Chien
April marked the launch of Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV. And there were tidbits galore in Press Gazette’s interviews with the channel’s star names – most relating to TalkTV’s frontman Piers Morgan.
Tom Newton-Dunn revealed that Morgan was so tickled by the phrase “Operation Save Big Dog”, in relation to Boris Johnson during the Partygate scandal, that he started referring to himself as Le Grand Chien. Morgan’s name for Newton-Dunn? Le Petit Chien.
Elsewhere, Winnie Dunbar Nelson, the executive editor of Piers Morgan Uncensored, made a shock claim about her boss. She told Press Gazette that Morgan is “a really nice man”.
And Piers Morgan himself revealed in an interview that he is acrophobic. “I can’t even get on the London Eye without feeling queasy,” he said.
May: Hugh’s Agents?
Another month, another upcoming launch as Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel left the BBC to join Global. Maitlis revealed that she had initially planned to leave the BBC without her friend, assuming he was being lined up as the next political editor of the corporation. She revealed that she had contacted Hugh Grant as a potential co-host for her future show.
In an interview to mark the 40th birthday of Bizarre, the column’s editor, Simon Boyle, revealed that Ed Sheeran is among its fans. But Sheeran is less keen on Mail Online. “He said: ‘But obviously, you know, you guys have still got that reach, and really it’s only you and the Mail, particularly Mail Online, who have got the kind of reach that is worth me doing. But I can’t work with them. I can’t deal with them. I don’t know how to work with them. They don’t have this same direct approach.’”
June: Jilly Cooper censored
In a Press Gazette interview, Kamal Ahmed, editor-in-chief of social-first publisher The News Movement, revealed his techniques for fighting off Tiktok’s algorithms. “Now I’m disciplined on the time I allow myself,” he said, adding that his chief tip is: “Don’t do it in bed.”
At a memorial service for Sir Harold Evans, novelist Jilly Cooper recalled how her former editor once censored her when he ruled that her account of watching a male stripper at a hen do was not suitable for a family newspaper. She said: “I wrote that he rotated his member in the same way an English setter wagged its tale around when covering a bitch.”
Silly season: Leftie media drives Truss “mad”
In July and August, much of the UK media’s attention was focused on the Tory leadership contest. Liz Truss, who won that race and briefly served as prime minister, dished out several digs aimed at the media during her campaign. She even accused Tom Newton Dunn, the TalkTV presenter and former political editor of The Sun, of being a leftie. “You’re framing it in a very left-wing way, Tom,” was her response to a question about tax cuts. “I’m afraid the whole media does this all the time… it drives me mad.”
As Insider closed its dedicated UK politics team, Press Gazette reported that journalists at the US-headquartered title are expected to generate 15 million views per month. Private Eye reported that those able to reach “20 million clicks a month – quite a target – can earn a life-changing $250 bonus”.
September: Podcast host: “I’m not a great podcast listener”
Justin Webb, best known as a presenter on Today, landed a new job this summer as co-host of the Americast podcast. In an interview to mark his appointment, Webb revealed that he is not a fan of podcasts. He said: “When I walk my dog, the last thing I want is someone prattling on in my ear. And I fully understand and I very much hope people do listen to me prattling on, and to my colleagues. But for me personally, I’m not a great podcast listener, to be perfectly honest. I prefer silence or reading.”
Reflecting on her coverage on royal tragedies, Sky News’s Anna Botting revealed a long-held regret. Shortly after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, Botting went on a pre-arranged holiday. “I wish I hadn’t gone on holiday,” she reflected. “I should have cancelled my holiday.”
Speaking at a Women in Journalism event in September, ITV’s Lorraine Kelly – a hardened journalist who started out in local newspapers – bemoaned the proliferation of modern reporting on “Twitter storms”.
October: “I absolutely hate reading anything I’ve written”
Marina Hyde is one of The Guardian’s best loved writers. But, in an interview to mark the release of her new book, Hyde revealed that she does not enjoy reading her own columns. “I absolutely hate reading anything I’ve written,” she said. “Anything at all. I – yeah. Every single thing.”
Who is the average Sunday Times reader? Well, it’s no longer a suburban dentist, said Emma Tucker, the newspaper’s editor who is soon to join The Wall Street Journal. “I used to be told the Sunday Times reader is a typical man in his 60s living in the suburbs, a dentist or something,” she said. “We want to keep the suburban dentists, we definitely want to keep them, but we also want his daughter, his son, his wife, we want people who live on the other side of the country to him.”
Ros Atkins, dubbed the BBC’s Facts Man, is an occasional drum ‘n’ bass DJ. Asked to name his favourite track, he told Press Gazette: “Toast by Koffee (Clipz remix)”.
In an interview for the Future of Media Explained podcast, M Scott Havens, Bloomberg Media’s chief executive, addressed the elephant in the room – and revealed that the ‘M’ in his name stands for ‘Matthew’. His parents called him ‘Scott’ for fear of friends giving him the nickname ‘Matty’.
November: Huw Edwards in M&S knitwear
As reported above, Martin Clarke left Mail Online in February. As part of a deep dive into the future of online tabloids, Press Gazette revealed that he had spent much of his gardening leave in Florida, where he learned to fly.
Press Gazette’s guide to newsroom dress codes in 2022 contained several big revelations. Most notably, we revealed that Adam Boulton has more than 1,000 ties and that Huw Edwards can sometimes be spotted changing out of his M&S knitwear in Broadcasting House. “I usually wear my less formal (!) attire until about an hour before I’m due to be on air,” said Edwards. “So this would be some of my finest M&S knitwear and jeans. But the challenge is where to get changed as I have no proper changing room. So I hide behind the cupboards in the corner of the newsroom. I am a byword for discretion.”
December: Reporter’s 100 calls per day
Simon Leslie, the chief executive of magazine publisher Ink, brought in a series of 50 high-profile figures to inspire his staff over Zoom calls during the pandemic, he told the Future of Media Explained podcast. Speakers included Wim Hoff and Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street. “These were really highly known motivational speakers,” he said. “What I realised was that as part of this process of helping them, actually, I was giving myself an education and some inspiration.”
And Mark Kleinman, Sky News’s scoop-hungry City editor, revealed that he wakes up at 5am each weekday and makes an eye-popping 100 calls a day. Does he ever switch off? To an extent, said William Lewis, his friend and former editor. “I put on an annual football match at Crystal Palace, which he will come to and play on the right wing. He’s a half-decent footballer. But in the dressing room, he’s still working the phones.”
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