In Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious novel, Scoop, journalism is wonderfully
satirised, starting with the book’s premise - a naturalist called ’Boot’
is hired as a foreign correspondent by The Daily Beast. He is utterly
unqualified, but has been mistaken for another Boot who is.
I have seen things not much less ludicrous. One old acquaintance who
enjoyed a brief reign in the senior echelons of The Daily Mirror would
have made a perfect press megalomaniac had he held on to his job long
enough. One day when stalking the corridors he saw someone who reported
to him and asked, ’Have you got your passport?’ Upon being told ’No’, he
said, ’Never be without your passport. Go home and get it. Then take the
next plane to Rome and await my instructions’.
The dutiful young man did so - then spent a week waiting for
instructions that never came.
Being rude about newspapers is a little unfair when you look at some of
the nonsense that goes on in our own industry. Did you know, for
instance, that at Pepsi-Cola somebody holds the title ’head of
The fictional proprietor in Scoop, Lord Copper, was an amalgam of
Northcliffe and Beaverbrook, the great press lords of that era.
Northcliffe went mad, and I am surprised more people in the newspaper
industry don’t do the same. A good insight into Beaverbrook’s approach
was that he insisted on being referred to as the Chief Reader.
He knew a good proprietor should be a sort of surrogate and understand
what his readers wanted. This is the essence of marketing. He knew also
the importance of attention to detail. One of his rules (which a lot of
newspaper people appear to have forgotten) was always give the age of
whoever you are writing about, as people love to know how old other
people are. It is one of the first things one asks somebody else, unless
they are a woman, in which case you have to guess, the subject being of
such delicacy and importance.
It is the job of a good marketer to pay attention to such details,
One little gripe I have is to do with something a little like the matter
of age: running pictures without captions. If a picture is interesting,
we immediately wonder what it is all about. What is that building? Where
is that beach? How much does that car cost? What is that person
Apart from anything else, readership studies show that captions
generally attract more readers than any part of an advertisement except
the headline. This is not surprising. Quite apart from the matter of
natural curiosity, we learn to read as children by looking at pictures
with captions under them.
Does this strike you as a trifling thing unworthy of your strategic
Perhaps. But consider this: would you like more people to read your
This is one way to do so. And incidentally, it helps in evaluating
pictures. If a picture merits no caption, it can hardly be worth running
at all. Get another.
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership.