Dear George Osborne, I thought it worth passing along some advice about your new job. I’ve never edited a news-paper, but I’ve been in the business for 32 years and I’ve seen a fair few come and go. I’ve also worked for the Evening Standard in various capacities. Indeed, my first job in journalism was doing shift work on Londoner’s Diary.
That’s not a bad place to start on Fleet Street (your predecessor did) and you could do worse than sit at the desk for a few weeks. Liz Smith, the veteran American newspaper columnist, describes gossip as ‘news wearing a red dress and running ahead of the pack’ and there’s something in that. A good diary story, like a good news story, is something that a powerful person would prefer not to be published, and they’ll often use every weapon at their disposal to stop it, from calling the proprietor to threatening a libel suit. They may also resort to bribery — and it’s worth bearing in mind that not all bribery is unacceptable.
I don’t mean you should accept a free ride on their private jet. But if they offer you a better story about someone more prominent in return for dropping the offending item, that’s often a deal worth making. You may be surprised by how willing some of your friends are to screw over their nearest and dearest.
The first-ever piece of advice offered to me on Fleet Street was ‘Never go on holiday’, the point being that you might miss a big story. Case in point: Ivo Dawnay, Rachel Johnson’s husband. He was the Sunday Telegraph’s Washington correspondent when the Monica Lewinsky story broke, but the editor, Dominic Lawson, couldn’t get hold of him. Lawson was so incensed he dispatched another correspondent to Washington to winkle him out.