NEWSMAKER/ROSIE BOYCOTT: An intuitive editor poised to revitalise the Express - Can Rosie Boycott take the paper upmarket and to the left, Michele Martin asks?

Despite being flagged in Punch a week earlier, Rosie Boycott’s resignation last Friday as editor of the Independent and the Independent on Sunday still shocked staff. ’There was a fair amount of confusion and the press office didn’t have a clue,’ one observer says.

Despite being flagged in Punch a week earlier, Rosie Boycott’s

resignation last Friday as editor of the Independent and the Independent

on Sunday still shocked staff. ’There was a fair amount of confusion and

the press office didn’t have a clue,’ one observer says.

Boycott controlled the news of her departure to edit the Express more

effectively. Press releases hit journalists’ desks on Friday morning and

hours later she was seen introducing herself and her personal PR, Julia

Hobsbawm, to staff. Just down the corridor, the ousted Express editor,

Richard Addis, was still clearing his desk.

The nature of Boycott’s exit and entrance gives some hint of the energy

and style of a woman who has made the difficult transition from

magazines to daily newspapers in an astonishing 20 months. In 1996,

Boycott was editing Esquire, the men’s monthly whose growth at one point

hit 40 per cent under her stewardship. This week she became the first

woman to edit a daily Fleet Street tabloid, with a brief to take the

paper upmarket and left of centre, and to boost a circulation of 1.1

million against the Mail’s mighty 2.3 million.

It won’t be an easy job, but it will be helped by Boycott’s ability to

promote and market whatever she finds herself steering - whether it’s

her own career or a publication. She is a consummate networker with ’the

best contacts book in London’ and an ability to keep her personal

profile fresh by hosting talked-about soirees. As an editor, her

promotional talent shows itself in a nose for headline-grabbing stories,

such as her recent crusade in the Independent on Sunday for the

legalisation of cannabis.

Hobsbawm says: ’Rosie has a tremendous eye both for a story and how to

promote it.’

This knack was meant to make her the ’dream team’ with Andrew Marr, the

Indie’s former editor, who left in January to be replaced by Boycott,

then editor of the Independent on Sunday. Marr was brought back a few

weeks ago as editor-in-chief by the paper’s new owner, Tony O’Reilly,

but his joint editorship with Boycott disintegrated - partly thanks to

the Express’s offer (a rumoured pounds 250,000 a year), partly because

Boycott, having tasted power, was unhappy with dual control.

Now she has autonomy - along with twice the staff and budget she had at

the Indie - can she deliver? The Express seems to want Boycott to take

it to the same mythical place that the then Mirror Group-owned Indie

once sought - somewhere between the Times and the Daily Mail - but the

jobs are very different. Fortunately, Boycott is credited with an

instinctive sense of her readers’ needs. ’Rosie’s in tune with whoever

she writes for - I’m sure she’ll work out what the Express reader

wants,’ one ex-colleague says.

A glance over Boycott’s CV is testament enough to this skill, which has

taken her from radical feminist to mid-market golden girl. Educated at

Cheltenham Ladies’ College and the University of Kent, she started her

career on an underground title called Friends, where she rubbed

shoulders with colleagues such as Germaine Greer. It was with Greer that

she later founded the acerbic feminist magazine, Spare Rib.

By the 80s, she had made the move into more mainstream journalism,

writing for a typically eclectic mix of titles from the Daily Mail to a

Kuwaiti women’s magazine. By 1987 she was the commissioning editor for

the Sunday Telegraph, a job she relinquished in 1989 to become the

deputy editor of Harper’s & Queen before taking the editor’s post at

Esquire in 1991.

The editorship of the Independent on Sunday came less than two years


In between were decadent periods of partying and a successful battle

with drugs and alcoholism that she chronicled in her autobiography, A

Nice Girl Like Me. Now 46, she lives the relatively quiet life of a

Notting Hill divorcee with a teenage daughter.

How she will take to the Express is a question that divides the


Some point to her lack of hard news experience and predict that she

might leave by Christmas. Others cite the way she humanised the

Independent on Sunday and Independent in a relatively short time

Boycott herself appears to be under no illusions of her ’steep learning

curve’ but is backed by her trusty Indie deputy, the ’legendary

news-getter’, Chris Blackhurst, and has genuine enthusiasm for the task.

’The opportunity to edit the Express in the most exciting middle-market

tabloid climate for years is too great a challenge to miss,’ she

declares. Besides, she is used to people sniping. She had many doubters

at Esquire but was twice named Magazine Editor of the Year by the

British Society of Magazine Editors.

Ultimately, the real test lies in how far Express readers will let her

go. Older, more conservative and more downmarket than Boycott, they

comprise a kind of audience she has never had to face before and will

test her natural readership antennae to the full. It is no coincidence

that Addis - an editor with conservative and slightly fogeyish

tendencies - had some success in stabilising the paper’s weekday

circulation. Boycott is neither conservative nor fogeyish.

However, she seems to have been hand-picked for a role destined to be

about more than just the vision of an individual editor. The link

between Boycott and the Express appears to have been made by the New

Labour architect, Phillip Gould, whose research company has been working

on repositioning the paper for some time. Endorsement from Gould means

that Boycott’s Labour credentials fit with his own broad vision for the

paper and those of Lord Hollick, chief executive of its owner, United

News & Media. Boycott, therefore, is one element in a grand scheme.

Boycott may have a tricky path to steer between the expectations of her

proprietor and those of her readers but if she can do it, the Express

has interesting times ahead.