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Was axed editor being too hard on himself?

Richard Harris may believe himself to have been a useless editor, but he is no mean book publicist as he proved last week.

The former Carlisle News and Star boss spoke to HTFP last week about his recently-published autobiography The Accidental Editor which, among other things, describes his sacking from the CN Group-owned title in 1993 after three and a half years in charge.

In an interview with my colleague Sarah Bould, he frankly admitted he had not been up to the job of being editor, giving us a great headline for a piece which became our most-viewed story on the site last week.

Many HTFP readers found Richard’s candour refreshing and the comments on our story were full of praise for his honesty in owning up to his ‘shortcomings.’

But having now read the book in its entirety, I find myself wondering whether Richard was actually being a little too hard on himself.

In fact there is little in the narrative to suggest he was markedly better or worse at the job than most regional press editors.

Richard did not preside over a huge sales decrease, for instance, or land his company with a huge libel bill, or publish a fake photo on the front page.

No, the reasons for his sacking were far more prosaic – he didn’t hit it off with his managing director Robin Burgess, who told him he had simply not turned out to be the sort of editor he hoped he would be.

Richard had been commended for the Carlisle job by no less a judge than Barrie Williams, who having successfully edited both a big-city evening daily and a rural regional morning title, must by my reckoning go down as the greatest regional editor of the past 30 years.

Richard’s description of life at the Nottingham Post under Barrie, including its coverage of the 1984 miners’ strike, is probably the most illuminating aspect of the book, and it is surprising that Richard did not derive greater self-confidence from this newspaper legend’s evidently high estimation of his capabilities.

But this is much more than a book about journalism.  Its most poignant passages concern the death of a childhood friend in a household accident and the impact this had on Richard’s upbringing and eventual choice of career.

In short, it’s a great read and proof that, whether or not Richard Harris can edit, he can certainly write.

* The Accidental Editor is available online from priced £12.99