Monday 23 April 2018

Diverse character of paper reflected its editor

IT was the questions Aengus Fanning asked. Whatever the topic, or the story, he would ask questions which were different from anyone else's.

That made them difficult to answer, and easy to dismiss as eccentric. But they were difficult to answer because they required some original thinking, and they nearly always got to the heart of the matter.

They were nearly always questions readers would want answered, even if they had not thought of the question. Aengus despised what the American economist JK Galbraith christened "conventional wisdom", or what Oscar Wilde dismissed as approval of what is approved of.

The financial pages of the 'Sunday Independent' were unconventional, and often met with disapproval. It takes courage to do things differently from one's rivals. Many felt it would be safer -- and certainly a lot less trouble -- if things were done just a little bit more like they were done elsewhere.

That was true for the whole newspaper, but it was a particular challenge in financial coverage. It can easily be boring, and Aengus hated boring. It can be repetitive, and he hated that just as much.

It can also cause a lot of trouble with the rich and powerful. Aengus had that other gift which all great editors require; to deal with objections, both external and internal, accommodate them where necessary -- and somehow get their own way in the end.

In such battles, he had the massed regiments of the circulation figures on his side.

Writing a column on fairly obscure matters, in a fairly obscure corner of the paper, it always astonished how many people would mention they had read it. Even more astonishing was the wide spectrum of society they would represent. Of course, most of them also had a complaint about some aspect of the 'Sunday Independent'.

One suspects that Aengus would have been very unhappy about an edition which produced no complaints. But he knew, and the complainants knew, that there would be lots in each edition that they would not want to miss.

The diverse character of the newspaper is surely the secret of its success. It reflected the character of its editor.

He carried his learning and unparalleled knowledge of what was going on lightly, behind a facade of sardonic, usually hilarious, humour.

Brendan Keenan is economics editor of the Irish Independent

Irish Independent

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