The return of Jurassic Clarke
Boorish, ruthless and talented, Martin Clarke, the fearsome former editor-in-chief of Ireland On Sunday, has arrived from England to oversee the launch of the Irish Daily MailHis editorial meetings at Ireland On Sunday were known as “the Vagina Monologues” because of his constant and indiscriminate use of the word ‘cunt'. His various nicknames – Jurassic Clarke, Satan, or simply ‘that English prick' – were testament to his boorish behaviour and intolerance of dissent from his underlings. And when Martin Clarke was recalled to the mainland in June 2004, having raised both the circulation and quality of Ireland On Sunday significantly over the course of three years as editor-in-chief, his Irish staff breathed a very long sigh of relief.
But now he's back, and it's not just his new batch of journalists who will quail at the thought of his presence. Clarke is leading a team from Associated Newspapers, the company which owns the Daily Mail in England and Ireland on Sunday, to oversee the launch of the Irish Daily Mail. Its maiden edition came out free-of-charge on Monday, 6 February, with a print-run of 200,000, an exclusive interview with Annie Murphy, bishop Eamon Casey's ex-lover, and a €1million advertising campaign behind it. Associated Newspapers are intent on increasing their stake in the lucrative Irish market, and on disrupting the dominance of Independent News and Media (IN&M).
“Obviously we believe we can take a significant number of sales from [the Irish Independent],” said Paul Drury, the executive editor of the Irish Daily Mail, during the course of an interview with RTÉ radio's News At One recently. “But we believe there is a potential to grow the market, to take sales from a number of different titles and to grow the market itself... We believe we can carve out a significant slice of that market for ourselves.”
‘The man-management skills of a galley-master'
Martin Clarke has been described as having “the man-management skills of a galley-master on a Greek trireme”, and has a notorious reputation in British newspaper circles. His entry into journalism came in the mid 1980s, courtesy of the Daily Mail's London newsroom, where he worked on news, features and the pictures desk. After nine years he had a short period as news editor of the Daily Mirror, where he earned the nickname “Mickey Rourke”, since his stint lasted just nine-and-a-half weeks. Then he was sent up to Scotland to edit the Scottish Daily Mail, and after that was hired by the Scotsman. In the late 1990s, he took over at the Daily Record, a lurid Scottish tabloid. He was fired from the Daily Record in 2000, partly for running a campaign against the repeal of Section 28 (which banned the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities) and publishing anti-New Labour stories. A short period in the wilderness followed, before he was rehired by Associated Newspapers.
When he took over at Ireland On Sunday in 2001, anybody who didn't fit in was fired without a second thought. Many others left in protest at Clarke's style of rule. He'd stub his cigarettes out on the carpet floor. He'd order people about and forget their name a few minutes later. And senior journalists and production staff, used to a life of ease and routine, were suddenly being humiliated in front of the whole office for not meeting his demands. “Are there any journalists out there,” he would roar, “Or did they all win their jobs on the back of a Rice Krispies packet?”
“He used to get very frustrated when a story wouldn't work out, and he'd lose it really easily,” says one source. “But he has brilliant news sense. He is a genius, even if he treats people very badly. He could spot a hole in a story at 50 paces, and he'd always ask you the question you didn't want to be asked. He has really high standards, that he got in the Daily Mail, and he didn't think that a lot of the Irish journalists were up to it. But once he got out of the office and down to the pub, he was excellent company. He did have this quite condescending attitude towards Ireland, though, but he had clearly done a lot of research when he got the job in Ireland, because he knew Irish history very well.”
Cultural differences arose between overseer and native staff, however. The use of British titles (Sir Alex Ferguson) chafed with some of the greener workers, as did Clarke's loud public-schoolboy pronouncements about Ireland (Addressing a British member of staff: “Danny, you ever been in an Irish hospital? You're in for a facking nasty surprise. They're awful, mate”).
But while morale at Ireland On Sunday slid, the paper got better. The subediting, overseen by imported English journalists, became punchy and aggressive. Clarke's insistence on rigorous fact-checking transformed the news section. He focused on the private lives of public figures with great intensity, running exclusives about Bertie Ahern and his former girlfriend Celia Larkin (although these intrusive stories made some journalists at the paper very uneasy).
Associated Newspapers moved Ireland On Sunday to a swanky new open-plan office in Ballsbridge which now houses all of their titles. Eamon Dunphy was hired, as were columnists Mary Carr, Mary Ellen Synon and investigative journalist Frank Connolly. Prominent advertising campaigns were conducted, including advertisements in the national press mocking Tony O'Reilly and his newspapers. And also came the pioneering weekly CD giveaway, which caused rivals to refer to the paper as “Free CD On Sunday” – although they quickly followed suit when sales increased accordingly. Sales did rise dramatically under Clarke – by the time he left Ireland on Sunday to work as executive editor of the Mail on Sunday, circulation had trebled, spiking at 167,996 in early 2003 – although this had fallen to 139,170 by the first half of 2005. This all came at a cost, however – the paper has accrued losses of about €50 million.
The next editor of the Daily Mail?
For years, Martin Clarke has been touted as a possible candidate to take over the top job at Associated Newspapers – that of editor of the Daily Mail. Ireland On Sunday is running smoothly under the control of Ted Verity, another Englishman and former editor of the Mail On Sunday. And Associated Newspapers' new freesheet Metro had a circulation of 55,196 at last count, although that is 10,000 behind IN&M's rival, Herald AM.
He may not be liked, but Martin Clarke has left his mark on Irish journalism.