Paul Haigh Resigns

One of the talking points within racing over the last week has been the decision of journalist and columnist Paul Haigh to leave the Racing Post after 23 years.

“The agenda of Britain's only racing/sports newspaper is now being dictated entirely by its main advertisers," he said in an interview with The Guardian.

"Almost all the racing media is now under the effective editorial control of the bookmakers either because bookmaker advertising is essential to their survival, or because other racing correspondents have been made aware of, er, the side on which their bread is buttered."

The only real surprise is that some are surprised at what Haigh says.

Of course the defensive wagons have been circling at the Post’s headquarters at Canary Wharf and the Post’s editor has been quick to condemn Haigh and the senior hacks have begun a whispering campaign to discredit him. Both of which are to be expected.

After all if editor Bruce Millington were to say the truth and confirm what Haigh said is absolutely true then he would be the next one out of the door at Canary Wharf.

I worked in the IT industry for 20 years, the last twenty in the insurance and banking sector. For the final half dozen years I worked in what was called a Relationship Management role.

The role was an interface between the IT department and the users of the IT systems – i.e. the business areas and, ultimately, the banks customers.

Sounds grand but the job was effectively that of a spin doctor. The usual scenario being IT cocked up and our role was to limit the damage and of course never admit there had been a “cock-up” unless there was no other choice.

Of course the business users were not stupid and able to “read between the lines” and as long as we were honest “off the record” there was a general acceptance these things happen.

Occasionally there would be a senior manager, even Director who would get fed up with the constant cover-ups and speak out. However there bravery came at a price and no matter how good they were it signaled the end of their career in the bank.

There was one exceptionally good Head of Banking, very competent, plenty of good ideas. He had the temerity to question the ability of the IT department to deliver (justifiably so) and he dared raise it at an executive board meeting. The IT director (who was also very close to the Chief Exec and Chairman) took umbrage and within a week it was announce the Head Of Banking was looking to further his career elsewhere. His crime – speaking the truth.     

Of course, to the outside world, nothing was ever admitted. Even when a new IT system that had not been completed properly or fully tested was implemented because senior management has decreed it would go live on a certain day - there was never an admission as to what had happened.

So yes I understand Mr. Millington’s public pronouncements that the bookmakers have no editorial control over what happens in the Post or that the Post is “soft” on bookmakers.

However anyone working in the industry knows it is true.

When the representative of a leading bookmaker openly says, “the Post will not be a problem, we are a major advertiser and have an influence,” it leave little to the imagination.

My personal belief is the problem is not the influence of the advertisers per-se, it is the lack of credible competition.

If there was a decent competitor the Post would have to take news gathering much more seriously. Currently it does not need to. It can take the easy option.

It could, if it wanted to, also stand up to the bookmakers. Although the bookmakers may bluster and feel they can dictate if the Post stood up to them what would they do?

Does anybody seriously think a major bookmaker would stop advertising in the paper because the paper did not tow the line?

Of course not. Although the post needs the advertisers the advertisers need the Post just as much.

It is a symbiotic relationship. A parasite and a host, the only area of debate is which one is which?

It is a pity the Post management do not have the desire to produce more (any) investigative journalism. Indeed, if word on the street is to be believed, the Post will actually be reducing the number of journalists it employs and moving towards using input from the PA.

What is really needed is some viable competition to the Post.

Until such time and until there is a strong management at the Post it will be a case of “he who pays the piper, calls the tune” and the only ones who will benefit from that are the pipers.     


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