It’s been a while, and at first glance this post is a little off topic for the Super Caley blog. But I’m always fascinated by the politics between newspapers – particularly the sort of tabloid shenanigans that Piers Morgan described in his 2005 book The Insider, such as when Rebekah Brooks – then Wade, and a reporter at the News of the World – disguised herself as a cleaner and stole a copy of The Sunday Times from the presses in Wapping in order to get its story into the NoW. I wondered this week if The Guardian was attempting an even more audacious theft from Times Newspapers – poaching The Times‘s star columnist of many years, Caitlin Moran.
Moran has always been a big reason to buy The Times, one of the top searches by readers on its website and, through her constant witty tweets to her half-a-million Twitter followers, a key driver of traffic there too. But with her regular musings on class and feminism, The Guardian seems in some ways a more suitable home for her – a fact it recognised this Saturday by putting her name on the banner above its masthead in huge letters.
To my mind, this is The Guardian cocking a snook at The Times. (It might not be, but one should never miss out on the opportunity to use the phrase “cock a snook”.) Alright, it was a week after she’d written a longer piece and done a more extended shoot for The Times, and her book was serialised in that paper. Nonetheless, trailing its exclusive piece by Moran on page one in this way gives the strong impression that she belongs in the Berliner.
And they must be desperate to get her. Aside from all the readers she brings in her own right, it has been trying and failing to copy her brilliant Friday arts column, Celebrity Watch, for years with the overly worthy Lost in Showbiz – always banging on about Beyonce singing for dictators rather than satirising the stupidity of, say, Kim and Kanye’s golden wedding toilets, as CW does.
Could Caitlin jump ship? It’s not the first time The Guardian has given her publicity (she has previously been the subject of its Weekend Q&A), and its reviews of her books read like love letters. Only John Crace doesn’t seem to have read the memo – his Digested Read of How to Build a Girl makes a point I’ve long felt about Moran, which is that her editors are now too afraid of her to push or challenge her.
Not that she isn’t a very talented writer, with some great ideas and even better jokes. She can recycle columns into How to be a Woman, recycle How to be a Woman into How to Build a Girl… she can keep trotting out the same pet points (Paul is the best Beatle, Aslan is a sex symbol, bikini waxes are antifeminist)… and people will laugh and enjoy it and buy more books and newspapers. Who knows, though, how much better her thinking and her writing could be if her publishers and editors asked for a little more? (Or perhaps a little less – with two or three columns a week and a book a year to write and promote, she’s probably overextended.)
There are a few reasons why Moran might go:
1. Money must be less of a factor than it was. Rupert Murdoch can no doubt pay her much better than the Scott Trust, but since the bestselling books and the sold-out speaking engagements, she might not mind.
2. While the print readership of The Times is substantially larger (a steady 392,743 in the May 2014 ABCs, compared with The Guardian‘s 186,931), theguardian.com trounces thetimes.co.uk in online stats. We can’t make the case that Moran is in favour of paywalls as a means of putting food on the table for her fellow journalists, because every time it falls over for half an hour, she immediately tweets a link to all her columns shouting “go, my pretties, go”.
3. Her irreverent humour would fit better at The Guardian (I once worked on a special 2010 election edition of Celebrity Watch, which ranks celebrities up and down according to their fortunes that week. “Nigel Farage’s plane: DOWN” it read. “CW hopes you will appreciate the beautiful simplicity of this joke.” A revise editor inserted a disclaimer: “While hoping for the safety of all on board…”). It would also print all her swear words in full, and would make her a lot more popular with her neighbours in North London.
My best guess is that she stays with News UK out of loyalty. The Times spotted her talent early on – giving her a job at the age of 19, almost two decades before How to be a Woman hit and stayed on the bestseller lists for the whole of 2011.
And perhaps she remembers what happened to Julie Burchill, who went in the opposite direction in 2004. Burchill’s weekly columns seemed much more suitable for The Times than her home at The Guardian, and she fancied the money – telling Sathnam Sanghera, then at the FT, that when she asked for a payrise, the Graun had insulted her by offering “a new sofa” instead. But Burchill’s writing never quite bedded in at her new home, and she was paid off after writing what she called “arrant crap” for them.
If the Guardian does win her over, of course, it’ll be the best day of Giles Coren’s life. But will it work out for Moran, or could it all go a bit Burchill?