By George, my old MD was right about editorial integrity

He wasn’t the biggest of men.

But he had a presence and a sense of authority that made you take notice.

So when George Higgs said editorial integrity was far more important than short-term advertising revenue, his word was law.

He was the managing director of Wiltshire Newspapers – a company not named after me, but rather the one which in the late 80s and early 90s owned the Evening Advertiser in Swindon.

I can clearly remember, 25 years on, some kind of gathering of employees at which the indefatigable George left people from all parts of his business in no doubt about the way in which commercial considerations should play second fiddle to straightforward news judgements.

It was refreshing to hear even then, and it’s been equally gratifying to hear since at various times – especially when the mantra has come from national leaders of newspaper businesses.

I was reassured to be told that a senior commercial person in our company had said something similar this week, too.

The faultline between editorial and advertising is much like its geological equivalent. It’s always there, but for long periods, life goes on regardless.

Then, an issue such as the Telegraph’s coverage – or alleged lack of coverage – of HSBC’s tax affairs blows it open again.

The regional media is well used to far-fetched accusations that it is in hock to all manner of organisations – particularly local authorities – because of advertising contracts.

But in 30 years of journalism, I haven’t witnessed a single, watertight story shelved because of pressure from an advertiser.

There has been the odd press release from a business offering to sell your house without the need for an estate agent that hasn’t quite generated the level of coverage that firm would have liked.

But has the ‘I’m going to pull all my advertising if you run this story’ threat ever led to a last-minute change of splash?

Not in my experience.

Of course, when we go searching for experts to quote in the property, retail or widget-making sectors, we’re likely to prioritise the firms that support our own business.

That seems to me to be common sense.

And that is all about what we do do, what we do cover.

The more sinister question is what we don’t do, what we don’t cover.

And I’m pretty confident we can answer that one with a clear conscience.

In fact if we can’t, we might as well all pack up and go home.

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