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11 Oct 09 | Re: Correct editorial decision

Imagine my delight on opening the latest Spectator and seeing that the Portrait of the Week has been restored to its rightful place near the front of the magazine. For those who don’t know, this venerable feature offers a concise, pithy summary of the week’s events that is the ideal reading for a weekend breakfast time. It also comes accompanied by Heath’s cartoons, which are an acquired taste by themselves but somehow go perfectly with a feature like this.

The whole package has an air of real gravitas (though it is by no means dry) and feels part of an unbroken lineage that goes back to the beginnings of the news media in the 18th century. Changes in the method of delivery are all very well if there is a reason for them, but a well-established format has the great advantage of allowing the reader to focus on content without fussing about how it is delivered.

This is a very encouraging decision by the magazine’s new editor Fraser Nelson, and starts to make Matthew D’Ancona’s brief-to-medium tenure look like a weird dream. The Spec wasn’t terrible under MD’A, but he did replace the Portrait of the Week with a possibly popular but undeniably throwaway spoof diary (still in there but now judiciously buried in the middle); and he did institute a briefly-tolerated style and travel section with the unspeakable title “You’ve Earned It”; and he did give himself an occasional pop column purely so he could go and see the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones; and he did hire two indistinguishable airheaded middle-aged woman to bore on about how they can’t get a gasman every week; and he did allow the Spectator Classics Cup to sink without trace; and he did replace Frank Keating, a diamond of a sports columnist, with a burbling pumpkinhead called Roger Alton. So not amazing.

Fraser Nelson, on the other hand, seems very clued-up. Not only is the Portrait back and as good as ever, but it also uses the word ‘throve’, which I guarantee never appeared even once anywhere in the publication under his predecessor. May the Spec thrive during his tenure.


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