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
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.