Did the people who hired Andrew Jaspan as editor of The Age do their research before making the appointment? If so, did they read the extensive comments in the 2003 book Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits from Propaganda, by Guardian media commentator and journalism professor Roy Greenslade, about Jaspan’s short and troubled period as editor of The Observer? Is this deja vu all over again?

“Preston enthusiastically recommended that the Scotsman editor Andrew
Jaspan should take over, which was to prove a calamitous decision.
Jaspan, 41, had a reputation as a circulation-builder and
disciplinarian with creative skills, all of which were exaggerated
beyond his capabilities. He had enjoyed success, but only in a limited
arena. Manchester-born … he started in journalism in 1976 by founding a
listings magazine in his home city. He then worked in Manchester for The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail before moving to The Times in London in 1983. Two years later he joined The Sunday Times,
where he spent three undistinguished years as its assistant news
editor. When the Sunday Times launched a separate Scottish section in
1988 he was sent to Glasgow as launch editor. He certainly made a good
fist of the job and was recruited the following year by Thomson
Regional Newspapers to edit their Edinburgh-based Scotland on Sunday,
where he improved sales from 58,000 to 90,000. His bosses were
delighted enough to promote him to their flagship title, The Scotsman, which he edited from August 1994 until the Scott Trust [owner of The Guardian and The Observer] called in February 1995.” (p585)

“In
trying to explain his ‘talent,’ a colleague referred to him as a
‘bastard’ who ‘can rant and rave and swear’ with a ‘legendary capacity
for work.’ Not only were these qualities not designed to endear him to Observer
staff, they were largely untrue. Jaspan just wasn’t the man the Scott
Trust thought he was. From the moment he started many of his
journalists didn’t respect him and senior Guardian and Observer
executives were soon questioning Preston’s wisdom in having pushed for
Jaspan’s appointment. They derided his September relaunch – with its
odd headline typeface and coloured masthead – as a waste of time and
money. Sales rose, but only back to the level Jaspan had inherited six
months before.” (p586)

“One of the first people to recognise that Jaspan’s appointment had been an horrendous mistake was the new editor of the Guardian, Alan Rushbridger.” (p586)

“By the beginning of 1996 the majority of the Scott Trust and most Observer
staff had lost faith in editor Andrew Jaspan. He was out of his depth
and was routinely described as “hapless.” There was no question of the Observer
being sold, but Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed did make a bid in March
1996 which was bluntly rejected. Within a week, Jaspan was fired…”
(p640)

“Jaspan, believing he was the victim of a brutal putsch,
claimed to have suffered from acrimonious squabbles with veteran
staffers, recurring tensions with management…” (p640)

Peter Fray

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