My blog, yesterday, about Simon Barnes’s departure from The Times caused quite a stir. It was read by more than 4000 people and received comments here but also mainly on Twitter.
Opinions were divided as to whether Simon’s departure (and yes, I should have called a sacking a sacking, not a redundancy – but sacking sounds so harsh) was anything or nothing to do with his outspoken stance on the evils of driven grouse shooting but that is why a quiet word in the ear is so effective – no-one knows it has happened.
I do know the story of one journalist whose life was made very, very difficult when he wrote some good stories, in journalistic terms, that were unpopular with some powerful people. He moved to another paper to escape.
And I was amused to see that The Shooting Times (@ShootingTimes) was claiming that its conservation writers, in which they count Robin Page, are amongst the best – and apparently writes ‘every bit as well’ as Simon Barnes? Really? The Shooting Times also tweeted ‘Leaving aside unhinged theories over grouse moor owners, Simon Barnes’ departure from The Times might make it more balanced, less thunderous’ so there isn’t any doubt where the shooting fraternity’s sympathies lie. In fact, their enthusiasm to deny any role merely makes one wonder… (no, on this, they can’t win!!).
And it was a journalist on the Shooting Times who, a long while ago, told me that he had been threatened with losing his job at ST after writing something that was a bit critical of some grouse moor owners. The threat came from a moorland manager who claimed he could fix for the journalist to be dismissed. And the name of the same moorland manager came up when another journalist wrote a critical piece for another shooting organ about the excesses of some grouse moors. And I tell the tale in Fighting for Birds (p284) of the grouse moor manager who told me, in my own office at the RSPB, that he was a very powerful person in the Conservative Party and would make sure that the RSPB did not get a look in with the new government when and if the Conservatives got back into power (which they have). So, it isn’t impossible that such people seek to exercise whatever influence they have – and, in a way, I don’t blame them for doing so.
But we don’t know. It’s all speculation – but not completely idle speculation in my opinion. And remember, that Simon wondered about it too…
What is more certain ground is that many people respect and admire Simon Barnes as a writer – on sport, nature and anything else he writes about. Many say they only read The Times for his writing, and whilst that may be an exaggeration, it captures a feeling of many others.
Zac Goldsmith MP (@zacgoldsmith) tweeted ‘Simon Barnes is one of this country’s most brilliant nature & sport writers. Very sad the Times has let him go: http://markavery.info/blog/‘.
Ben Goldsmith (@BJGoldsmith) tweeted ‘Wtf… why has @
thetimes dropped Simon Barnes, brilliant writer on sports and nature?! He’s why I buy The Times: http://markavery.info/blog/’.
Prof Bill Sutherland (@Bill_Sutherland) of Cambridge University tweeted ‘Sad to hear the great sports and nature writer Simon Barnes has been sacked from the Times. Mark Avery speculates why http://bit.ly/1q9zX8v‘.
George Monbiot, author and Guardian writer, (@georgemonbiot) tweeted ‘Simon Barnes sacked by the Times. @markavery suspects might be due to his robust line on grouse moors. Censorship?: http://markavery.info/2014/06/25/curious-case-simon-barness-departure-times/ …’.
London Wildlife Trust (@WildLondon) tweeted ‘Gifted nature writer Simon Barnes ‘let go’ by @thetimes – raptors to blame? @
MarkAvery reports: http://markavery.info/2014/06/25/curious-case-simon-barness-departure-times/ …’.
British Wildife Magazine (@britishwildlife) tweeted ‘V sad to see the great Simon Barnes leave The Times. @
MarkAvery on why it may have happened: http://markavery.info/2014/06/25/curious-case-simon-barness-departure-times/ …’.
Journalist and writer Mike McCarthy (@mjpmccarthy) tweeted ‘Everyone interested in nature should read: Mark Avery on why Simon Barnes has been sacked from The Times see http://markavery.info/blog/‘.
Quite a lot of Guardian readers would like Barnes in their paper…