The trouble with Harry and that dream contract
It took more than two to tango chief football writer Harry Harris from the Mirror to the Express. There he was, dancing cheek to cheek with Piers Morgan, when Richard Desmond cut in. They were promptly joined by star soccer agent Mel Goldberg.
By the time the music stopped, Harris was looking at an Express contract worth £150,000 a year (plus the lure of fabulous bonuses).
And his cast-aside dance partner was looking at the 15 months’ notice required by the existing Mirror contract, and saying Harris was free to go at the back end of 2002.
Harris did not regard this as fitting acknowledgement of 18 years of "complete loyalty" to the Mirror.
Morgan saw the funny side. Plenty of time to plan the mother and father of all leaving parties, ho-ho.
When it comes to notice provisions, the words sauce, goose and gander come readily to mind. Employers can bid instant farewell with a cheque in lieu of notice. This is usually done decently, though there are tacky cases at the Daily Express of compensation being drip-fed as monthly salary to the end of the period.
Of course, if journalists could just walk out when they got a better offer, we would qualify for the professional respect accorded to itinerant asphalters. And for employers, destabilising a rival title would be cheaper than marketing.
A battery of star columnists, whose popularity a paper had built up over a decade or more, could cross the street overnight. Cartoonists and astrologers could take their following to the opposition tomorrow. A back bench, an art desk, could be suddenly depopulated.
If mutually acceptable, a journalist’s new employer can buy out the notice period by compensating the old employer. The Harry Harris case might be settled by such a deal.
Another way out would be an exchange of hostages when the Mirror was eager to offer asylum to a big Express name.
In the meantime, Harris can hardly grumble at being required to honour the 15 months’ notice he himself asked for when his Mirror contract was last improved.
We are used to the intervention of agents when signing up showbiz and sports stars whose columns are more promise than performance. Along with illuminated bylines and a little help with the words, their contracts guarantee phased uplifts and ingenious tax efficiency.
But the Harry Harris case is different. He is a proper journalist. Will things ever be quite the same again?