Rees-Mogg looks at The Times of today -- and tomorrow
Hands clasped on his lap, hair falling across his forehead, gray suit worn over a battered blue cardigan, William Rees-Mogg views Britain through the eyes of an establishment insider.Skip to next paragraph
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In an interview granted just before he retired after 14 years as editor of The Times, the tall and scholarly figure was outspoken in his comments:
* Fleet Street, newly dominated by business tycoons, is entering a turbulent era of cutthroat competition. Newspapers will be "more hyped up, less reflective, less thoughtful. In US terms, they will be less the New York Times (which is ruled by the intellect) and more like the Washington Post (ruled by emotion)."
* Tycoon owners can, as many here fear, threaten editorial independence by telling editors what to write and what not to criticize (i.e., the owners' own business interests). But today's threat comes more from the controversial global industrialist who now owns the Sunday Observer, Roland (Tiny) Rowland, than from the new publisher of The Times, Australian Rupert Murdoch.
* Trade unions still have a "stranglehold" on Fleet Street. They act "more out of greed than of fear." Operators of outmoded linotype machines now earn up to L500 ($1,100) a week.
* Economic decline and low mmorale in Britain are part of a wider, similar pattern in Western Europe and the United States: "Societies are failing to motivate their people. We have lost the feeling that societies have a fundamental sense of order."
* Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will be a one-term leader: She is "sacrificing" her career to the need to reduce inflation. She is unpopular: "and in two years President Reagan will be unpopular as well. If he's not, he won't have got control of inflation."
Mr. Rees-Mogg, who retired March 6, looks back on 14 often difficult years of steering the paper through union strife -- and ahead to an era he views with a certain lack of sympathy.
He was devoted to (and appointed by) the late Roy Thompson, whose family lost more than L70 million ($168 million) on The Times and its assoiated publications in the last decade. He had decided to step down before the Thompson group accepted Mr. Murdoch's bid.
He sees Fleet Street still ruled by its unions. Now the tycoons have emerged after the previous era of more moderate men had lost out to the unions time after time.
Mr. Murdoch owns about 30 percent of the British natonal press: The Times, The Sunday Times, the Sun, and the News of the World. Mr. Rowland bought the Observer, Britain's oldest Sunday paper, from Atlantic-Richfield of the US. He may launch a new national evening paper soon.
Britain had nine national papers, but room for only six, Mr. Rees-Moog believes.
"We are back to the world of the total competitor," he said in the low, green and brown office he was about to leave. "Adrenalin will flow. Emotion will be high. . . . You can't change it. . . . The issue is whether the new proprietors can handle the unions.
"Mr. Murdoch did moderately well [in winning concessions from print unions before taking over The Times]. He got the [Times] supplements out of [this] building, which will be very valuable to him. [They are to be printed elsewhere.] Some electronic equipment will be allowed, but even then the unions won't allow journalists to use it.