Look at yourself in the Mirror, Sly Bailey

After four years of brutal staff cuts across many newspaper groups, national and regional, last week Trinity Mirror announced that it would be axing 200 jobs. NORMAN GILLER wants the group chief to do the decent thing

I am taking time off from my World Cup watch to come out in support of the 200 Mirror journalists facing the axe, as helpless as those BP-oiled folk on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

And I’ve got an idea that just may appeal to deadly axewoman, Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey. I am not too sure if she drops in on this SJA website, so perhaps if you are a Mirror journo, you could bring it to her attention.

We reproduce here the front page that Sly could read one day if she sees sense. I will organise a petition for her to be made a Dame of the British Empire if she gives up the £671,000 bonus she is pocketing (pursing?) for her cost-cutting work at Trinity Mirror.

I am not particularly numerate, but I make it that this money shared between the 200 kicked-out journos would bring them around £3,000 each to soften the blow and tide them over until they can find new ways to earn their daily bread.

My suggestion is that Sly takes a good look at herself in the mirror and asks just how good she would feel if she makes this sacrifice. Given that Bailey was saying, as recently as March, that staff cuts would not be necessary, such a personal sacrifice would mean making do on her £736,000 basic salary (“basic”?) plus her £248,000 in pension perks. And the reward of a Damehood would please her kinfolk in Dulwich, south-east London.

What particularly saddens this old hack is that it seems as if the heart has gone out of the Mirror group. I am from the generation inspired by Hugh Cudlipp, who ran the papers with passion and feeling and treated his fellow journalists (he was a great one) with the respect they deserved. Now, I am reliably informed, management at the company has sunk so low as to send redundancy notices to staff covering the World Cup in South Africa.

This is a callous action that could come back to haunt the Bailey backers. These are human beings, not robots. My advice to the unions is don’t fight this with old-style and pointless industrial action, but with brainpower. Get a committee together and come up with counter proposals that will make the Bailey brigade think there is a way ahead that does not involve cutting to the bone.

I speak from the soul about Mirror newspapers. When I tunnelled my way out of the Daily Express to freelance in 1974, it was the Sunday Mirror that provided the safety net of a weekly match report. And the Daily Mirror gave me a home for a ghosted Jimmy Greaves column during a brief hiatus with The Sun.

And it was the Sunday Mirror that was involved in the greatest scoop I never had.

Back in those days I was in partnership in a sports agency business with fondly remembered journalist and entrepreneur Peter Lorenzo. The two of us were closer than most to Sir Alf Ramsey, and when he got the sack in the spring of 1974, we put him under lock and key.

First, we put out a smokescreen that he had gone off to Spain to consider his future, while all the time he was tending his beloved garden at his modest home in Valley Road, Ipswich.

Then Peter and I sat with him for hours, tape recording his memories of managing England and his running battle with the frugal FA, who rewarded his services with a papertissue handshake of £6,500.

We assured Alf that we would get him four times that for newspaper serialisation of his story, this at a time when £25,000 could buy you a decent semi-detached house.

I burned the midnight oil to get Alf’s memories down into three parts, 4,000 words each chapter. Then I packaged it in those pre-computer days to look as professional as possible (any soon-to-be-redundant journalist ought to remember that packaging and presentation should be a major priority when selling stories or ideas).

I talked Peter into letting the Sunday Mirror have first bite. Their sports editor, a lovable Cockney by the name of Tony Smith, was all but dancing on his desk when we gave him ” in signed-for confidence ” a look at the bullet points.

He went “upstairs” and 10 minutes later came down with an opening bid of £20,000. We told him that we had promised Alf four times his redundancy pay-off.

Tony went back “upstairs”, and returned with a £25,000 offer, which we finally pushed up to £26,500, to include our own £1,500 fee (we would later organise a testimonial dinner at the Café Royal for Alf which raised another £7,000).

I am glad to say that we gave Alf the sort of help that axed Mirror journalists could do with today.

Once we had agreed the deal with Smithie, we let him read the full serialisation. I sat facing him as he went through it with an excitement that could be measured on the Richter scale. At the end of every page he said, “This is fuckin’ brilliant, Norm … fuckin’ brilliant …”

As he reached the end of part two, he called in his gifted No2, Dave Ellis, and said: “Get a smudger down here to take a picture of Norm. We’re going to put his mush on the back page this Sunday. We’ll knock spots off the opposition …”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when he was summoned back “upstairs”.

Ten minutes later he came back ashen faced and looking like a man who had been hit by a bus. “The fuckin’ bastards have taken it away from us,” he said quietly, struggling to get the words out. “They have got a push on for the People and they’ve got to take it.”

The story was serialised by the Mirror‘s stablemate and run under the byline “Exclusive by Mike Langley”. Mike was one of the finest football writers of his generation, but he had as much to do with that story as I had in helping Hillary conquer Everest.

And I never did get my picture on the back page of the Sunday Mirror.

I hope this story brings a smile to the face of Sly Bailey as she does the right thing and gives up that obscene bonus.

Charity begins at home, Sly. Let’s hope you remember the contribution towards you earning that bonus of your loyal and talented Mirror employees who are now facing the uncertainty of unemployment.

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