23 July 2014

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‘I was sacked because I was not up to the job’ – former editor speaks out

A sacked former editor has written a frank autobiography telling how he was not up to the job of running a regional daily newspaper.

Richard Harris, 62, became editor of the evening News & Star in Carlisle and its sister weekly the Cumberland News after 17 years on the Nottingham Evening Post, but was sacked in 1993.

Said Richard: “I quickly discovered I wasn’t up to being editor and, no surprise, three and a half years later they sacked me.”

Before being able to publish The Accidental Editor he wrote to CN Group managing director Robin Burgess, the man who had fired him, asking him to lift a confidentiality clause so he could write about his dismissal. Mr Burgess wrote back in October and gave him the go ahead.

Richard told HTFP: “Lots of ex editors write their memoirs but mine is a little bit different, I think, because it ends in the sort of failure that a lot of us prefer not to talk about.

“And it’s also a bit different because I’d never wanted to be a journalist until I was one – which is probably one of the reasons being sacked did not hurt too much.”

The Accidental Editor, tells how, as a shy and naive 18-year-old, Richard joined the weekly Weston-super-Mare Mercury in his native Somerset only because it seemed a slightly better bet than shovelling horse manure on a mushroom farm, which was his introduction to working life.

He intended only to spend a few months working there until he found something he thought he would enjoy more, but almost immediately realised that journalism was the job he was cut out for.

After a spell under editor Eric Price on the Western Daily Press in Bristol he moved as a features sub to the Evening Post in Nottingham.

Richard said the book tells what it was really like working for the often reviled managing director Christopher Pole Carew , and explains how he achieved such extraordinary loyalty from his staff.

He admits that his career was stagnating until the arrival of editor Barrie Williams who, after spotting in him a talent that had not previously been noticed, gave him a succession of increasingly high-profile jobs which later enabled him to become an editor himself.

During his career Richard covered the Coldharbour hospital tragedy which saw 30 mental health patients die in a fire, the Hillsborough disaster and the miners’ strike.

The Accidental Editor, which he wrote it when his first grandchild was born as something to remember him by, is available from theaccidentaleditor.com.

It is ultimately a story of how, after getting the top job in Carlisle, he discovered he wasn’t really cut out to be an editor at all.

Richard, who said his sacking was unexpected but not surprising as he didn’t think he was the best manager, now works as a freelance journalist in Carlisle mainly covering crown court.

He added: “I never wanted to be a journalist but have loved every minute of it.”

13 Comments

  1. furryoldgreybadger

    Goodness me! A former editor owning up to his own failures, good man. It’s so refreshing to hear this story rather than the normal cobblers we hear from former editors who lose jobs.

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  2. Alex, Westcountry

    A refreshing regard for the truth by a former senior manager and a book by a former editor I’d actually like to read – good luck Richard.

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  3. Ian Manning, Nottingham

    Get this book. Every journalist will enjoy it and non-journalists will too. I just couldn’t put it down once I started.

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  4. Ex Northcliffe Employee

    He says it wasn’t surprising that he was sacked, I find this astonishing as I have seen several utterly incompetant editors stay in post for years! But good luck to Mr Harris, it’s a brave man that can admit his failings.

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  5. cynic

    Brings to mind Kevin Keegan’s comments when he quit as England manager…

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  6. ends, Yorkshire

    Too his first job “only because it seemed a slightly better bet than shovelling horse manure on a mushroom farm”. Marvellous.

    How refreshing, some humour, honesty and humility from an ex-Ed. Good luck to Richard. I’ll be buying a copy.

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  7. John Bull

    Refreshing indeed. I’ve met and worked for several editors who had no news sense, no clue but had a great line in saying “yes” to the bosses and talking up how good they were. Good on you Richard Harris.

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  8. cynic

    I’ll be buying a copy too, but perhaps Richard is being too harsh on himself, his old MD clearly isn’t the only person with an opinion on how he performed.

    It would be interesting to hear from some of his former colleagues in Carlisle…

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  9. Ian Manning, Nottingham

    You were sacked because you stood by your principles. Had you been a Yes man, sacrificing your belief that commercial considerations and buttering up friends of proprietors were not your prime objectives, you might well have survived and prospered. Of course, a good editor does all he can to make sure his newspaper makes a profit – but not at any cost. Some highly successful editors have had the chop unjustly; others have been axed prematurely when they still had so much to offer. Sadly, as newspapers are hit by declining sales and diminishing advertising revenues, the accountants rule. This is not always the best way to ensure long-term profitability. You can only cut back so far before the product suffers, speeding up the demise of the publication. When readers are deserting newspapers in their droves in favour of free internet sites, reducing quality and services is a sure way of sending them into oblivion. Somehow a compromise has to be reached, even if it reduces short-term profits.

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  10. voice of reason

    Wonderfully honest! I have winced watching several high-profile individuals completely cock-up the role of editor.
    Richard Harris obviously knew what the score was and wondered why it took the managers so long to give him his marching orders. The answer of course is that they didn’t have any more of a clue than he did!

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  11. proudjourno

    Refreshingly honest or just downright rude! Maybe Richard should have jumped before he was pushed and made way for all the talented journos out there now struggling to find jobs in what has become a depressed industry. If you are a bad manager the people who report to you suffer as a consequence of your lack of judgement and skill. In my view, hard-working reporters and other editorial staff deserve better than a man in charge who doesn’t have the talent or the inclination to do the job. Just for the record, I’m not out of work, I edit a struggling weekly title and will carry on with my nose to the grindstone because I am proud to have my name above the door and proud of the industry I represent. Shame on all of you who think this failure is some kind of badge of honour.

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  12. Digger

    What a pity Richard isn’t making his journalistic debut in the present day and age. His experience of shovelling manure would be an ideal qualification for most regional publications.

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  13. orchard growth

    This story illustrates what bad journalism is. An editor says he wasn’t any good at the job and so was fired.

    Is it actually true or is he being ironical? What in his view makes a good editor and in what way did he fail to make the grade? One does not edit an important paper for three and a half years without having a clue about the job. The real story is what happened to convince the editor that he was no good at his job. Is he talking about the PR aspect of editorship? Lack of story sense? Did he keep staff on for compassionate reasons? All these could contribute to “failure” in the conventional sense, and if this reporter were any good, he would read the book and try to suss the guy out instead of just picking a line that makes a good headline and running with it. I am sure Mr Harris is having a quiet laugh — why, his alleged confession has made it into the Media pages of the London Guardian. Of course, without any sensible discussion of what makes an editor a supposed “failure”.

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