Jonathan Durden: Keep newsaper editors out of limelight

I recently watched Eggheads, BBC2s long-running early evening quiz where the winners from prestigious series such as Mastermind, Brain of Britain and the Weakest Link combine to take on the finest pub quiz teams across the country. It is a daily head to head battle over their general knowledge and, frankly, it is rather dull. I do not watch it regularly as I am not yet an octogenarian, but I do know that the Eggheads rarely lose to the amateurs.

f3_120x120I recently watched Eggheads, BBC2’s long-running early evening quiz where the winners from prestigious series such as Mastermind, Brain of Britain and the Weakest Link combine to take on the finest pub quiz teams across the country. It is a daily head to head battle over their general knowledge and, frankly, it is rather dull. I do not watch it regularly as I am not yet an octogenarian, but I do know that the Eggheads rarely lose to the amateurs.

However, a shock defeat for the Eggheads did occur last month. Admittedly, this is hardly world-shattering news, but it is worth knowing the question that defeated these normally invincible geniuses at the conclusion of the show.

Incredibly, it was which national newspaper has been edited by Colin Myler since 2007? Is it The Sun, the Daily Mail or the News of the World?

In a double Murdoch whammy, the resident super-team knew that Paul Dacre edited the Daily Mail, but plumped for The Sun instead of the News of the World for their final answer. They thought that Rebekah Wade had been replaced by Myler on the Currant Bun and that is a very telling mistake indeed.

These well read human encyclopedias who know the average weight of a fully grown aardvark had no idea who edited the country’s largest selling daily and Sunday newspapers.

That strikes me as very, very odd. News Corporation has been built by a single man, and thus has inherited the amplified Quasimodo characteristics of its founder. He is a private individual who operates discretely behind the scenes, preferring to promote his assets over any personal glory.

Not since Kelvin McKenzie, and his protegé Piers Morgan, has anyone been able to capitalise from Murdoch’s newspapers to further their own personal fame. I suspect that, like the Greek legend of Icarus, no one is allowed to fly too close to The Sun without having their wings melt.

This is an anomaly in our personality-led, celebrity-obsessed nation. And it’s no bad thing. From one point of view it is refreshing, as it displays an ethos that focuses on what the press is supposed to be about – the news, and not distractions such as those individuals who just provide the news.

This is in marked contrast to the rest of society, where seemingly everything and everybody considers themselves to be a brand and most behave as though they are perpetually on a catwalk.

For example, we relentlessly witness Davina McCall appearing unwisely in dodgy shampoo ads that probably seek to mix glamour with everyday UK approachability. I think that they do little for her or L’Oréal as they fail to capture her spirit or add warmth to an impersonal global product.

Interestingly, Davina has recently parted company with her long-term agent John Noel. It has been reported this rift was caused by her ambition to spread her wings and explore a possible acting career rather than being pigeon-holed as the ultimate Big Brother frontperson or failed chat show host.

Another example in a long line of celebrities behaving as brands in ads is the cynical Procter & Gamble Gillette work featuring Tiger Woods, Thierry Henry and Roger Federer, which is lazy, pointless and wooden and at best demonstrates scale through extravagance.
And consider Tesco’s decision to provide women with a self-esteem boost via body makeover advice and consultancies in its flagship stores. On the face of it, this sort of service is better suited to Boots or Superdrug. Potentially it may be another example of a company stretching beyond its natural remit and testing its credibility and trust with a tired public. Do supermarkets ever stick to being just brilliant grocers anymore?

Celebrity endorsements are cheapened by lazy thinking and chequebooks, while brands are often eroded by unwisely over-stretching their credibility into uncertain territories.

Not all celebrity endorsements and brand extensions are doomed to failure. Indeed, Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury’s is a perfect fit for both parties, while Boots moving into healthy food via Shapers or easyJet taking on car rental demonstrate when it does work. But in most cases it is rarely a perfect balance, which is why I do not criticise Rupert Murdoch in his cautious attitude to the subject of personalising his brands or making celebrities of his editors.

Less is more is a platitude for a very good reason and at least his editors stick to what they do best, editing.

However, I will make two predictions. First, that as newspapers’ role becomes more features led, in paper format anyway, even Rebekha and Colin will be pushed more front of house. Second, the relentless expansion of brands will abate; instead they will stick to their knitting.

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