The FWA Interview: Paul McCarthyBy CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
Paul McCarthy still misses the adrenaline rush on a Saturday night he experienced when he was sports editor of the News of the World. The 19-hour shift - he left home at 6.30 and returned at 01.30 – did not bother him. Quite the opposite, he loved it.
“The time flew by,” he said. “It was brilliant, especially during the football season. I miss that buzz. I guess it’s like a footballer missing the craic of the dressing-room, the excitement of working with a team of people you like and respect.”
McCarthy, now a media consultant, has not experienced that high since the NotW closed last July but he, as much as anyone, knows how difficult it would have been for those involved as News International launched the Sun on Sunday with only a week’s notice.
“It would have been tough,” he said. “You have to change all the production rotas, you have to decide whether to have a small, bespoke team working exclusively on the Sunday edition...there were a lot of logistical problems that had to be sorted quickly and they were not ironed out until the Thursday. The advantage they had was that the production staff on the sports desk, and I can only talk about that department, are brilliant.”
The NotW’s downfall significantly benefited their rivals. The Daily Star Sunday doubled their circulation, the People, Sunday Mirror, Mail on Sunday and Sunday Express have also enjoyed significant increases but figures showed a shortfall of around a million from the NotW’s 2.7 million circulation.
McCarthy was not surprised when News International decided to publish another Sunday paper but it was never going to be a carbon copy of the News of the World. He said: “There was too big a hole in the market for News International and Rupert Murdoch to ignore. When all the figures settled down there was a gap of almost a million people not buying a Sunday newspaper. It was too obvious for News International to turn down. Something was always going to fill the void.”
After months of rumours the first Sun on Sunday was published on February 26, the hope that many of the Monday to Saturday Sun readers would buy the Sunday paper. While it would be easy to imagine the vast majority of Sun readers also bought the News of the World, this was not the case. McCarthy said: “Research indicated only about 55 per cent of Sun readers bought the News of the World.
“The Sun on Sunday is a seventh day Sun. There was never any pretence of making it a News of the World with a different hat on. News International could not have afforded to have done that because they would have been charged with arch hypocrisy, closing a paper in July and bringing it back under a different guise in February. It’s the same typeface as the Sun, the only difference is better quality newsprint.”
Inevitably sport, particularly football, is a major part of the new paper’s appeal. McCarthy said: “They had 45 pages of sport out of a total of 120 in the first edition. Whether they will maintain that I don’t know but sport will obviously be a huge driving force for the paper.”
While, with a few exceptions, the other Sunday tabloids have their own football reporters writing exclusively for their paper the Sun on Sunday used many of the Sun staffers. This meant double the usual work-load for the likes of Rob Beasley, Steve Brenner, Paul Jiggins, Graeme Bryce and Ian Gordon who covered their Saturday games for both papers.
“It’s a challenge. You have to do a straight match report for Sunday and then a follow-up for Monday. I wonder whether they can keep doing that or whether the Monday morning piece has to be far more analytical? Whichever approach you have, you are asking a writer to do two different reports on the same game.
“The Sunday report is very different from what it was 10 years ago. By the time people read it many will have seen the goals and heard discussions about the match on the radio so the Sunday report has to have a real edge to it. Once you have done that for a Sunday it is very difficult to do something similar for the Monday. I don’t think the Monday report can be quotes-led because most readers will have heard managers and players speak about the game.
“Some Monday papers have marginalised their reports from the Saturday matches, giving the emphasis to Sunday games. While the bulk of the weekend’s matches will always be on a Saturday, the best games are on a Sunday so the the Sun’s Super Goals Monday supplement can have extensive coverage of the Sunday matches.
“Had the News of the World still existed we’d have shared production team with the Sun. There would have been two distinct editorial teams but only one production team which is what the Times and Sunday Times have gone over to. What we are seeing now with the Sun is the first true seven-day operation since the Express tried it in the late Nineties.”
In his new media role McCarthy remains a regular and popular contributor to Sky Sports and talkSPORT but his company, Macca Media, occupies most of his time.
He said: “It involves public relations, crisis management, media training, image consultancy and a whole raft of transferrable skills you acquire as a journalist. I’m enjoying it. It’s completely different. I never envisaged myself doing this at this stage of my career but sometimes change is forced upon you and you have to embrace it ”
McCarthy’s name has appeared on the sports pages regularly in recent months because one of his clients is Kia Joorabchain who is Carlos Tevez’s agent.
“It means I am still in touch with journalistic friends, just on a different side of the fence. The one thing anyone who phones me knows is that I can see things from their side as well. They also know I’ll be absolutely honest with them. If you tell people lies or misguide them you get found out very quickly. It can come back to haunt you so it’s best to tell people how it is.”
As Tevez attempts to rebuild his career with Manchester City, McCarthy could not predict where the Argentina international will be next season.
“I’ve learned pretty quickly with this story that trying to second guess what will happen can make you look like a fool so I’ll plead the fifth on that one.”
Paul McCarthy is a former FWA chairman and a member of the national committee.