The media column - Peter Wilby on what Monty will do in Berlin

I could fill a book with stories about Montgomery and his peculiar personality. But these are of les

When David Montgomery was chief executive of the Mirror Group in the mid-1990s, the journalists called him Rommel - because, they said, Montgomery was on our side in the war. I suppose he will at least be spared this soubriquet in his new role as publisher of the Berliner Zeitung and Berliner Kurier.

Otherwise, the news has been greeted with horror and foreboding in Germany, which is unused to Anglo-Saxon downsizing and cost-cutting, of which Montgomery is an acknowledged maestro. One paper printed his picture next to that of a locust.

I was among many editors sacked by Montgomery at the Mirror Group (which then part-owned the two Independents), my survival for 17 months being about par for the course. Like most of his former employees, I could fill a book with stories about Montgomery and his peculiar personality. But these are of less interest than what his career tells us about newspaper ownership.

Montgomery, after all, is just an instrument of capital. After Robert Maxwell's death, the shareholders who picked up the ruins of the Mirror Group put him in charge because they believed he could make them a quick profit. The group behind his German venture takes a similar view. Montgomery's attraction to investors is that, as a former tabloid editor, he knows how to slash costs speedily while still bringing newspapers out. He can bully, divide and fool journalists. Whether his tricks will work in Germany, I doubt.

Montgomery had started as a sub-editor on the Daily Mirror, and knew how it operated. He had enough trouble transferring his skills to the upmarket Independents, never mind to a country where he doesn't speak much of the language.

Montgomery stands or falls by short-term shareholder value, not by how he builds reader and staff loyalty or a paper's journalistic reputation. When the Independents were for sale in 1994, Andreas Whittam Smith, their founding father, preferred Montgomery's Mirror Group as a buyer to the Irish businessman Tony O'Reilly. The Mirror Group was owned by a diverse range of shareholders who only wanted to make money - just like the Independent, which had been set up to get away from the traditional proprietor who had a controlling interest and hoped for power and influence. Shareholders, unlikely to agree among themselves about a newspaper's contents, if they were interested in them at all, were the best guarantors of editorial autonomy. Whittam Smith said he would rather open a seaside boarding house than become a rich man's plaything.

At the time, I agreed, and not only because I didn't think anybody would stay in a boarding house run by Whittam Smith. Now I think newspapers are better owned by people who have some engagement with their contents, and will stick with them for the long term, rather than by detached money men. The late Paul Foot's tenure at the Mirror survived Maxwell, but not Montgomery. The likes of Beaverbrook, Rothermere and Murdoch, for all their faults, have produced memorable newspapers. Some may be rogues, but that is often what makes them good proprietors: the Telegraph's Conrad Black was ousted (and now faces criminal charges) precisely because he treated shareholders in his company with contempt, and thought they should take a running jump if they didn't like how he ran things.

The Mirror Group eventually merged with Trinity, which owns a string of local papers. On 7 July, after the London bombings, Trinity Mirror sent a circular to its editors in the south, telling them: "Staff safety is the NUMBER ONE priority . . . call back into the office everyone out in the field whether on bomb-related stories or not. Alternatively, send them home."

It is hard to imagine anything more contrary to the spirit of journalism and more dictated, presumably, by some bean-counter's fear of a large sick pay bill and other liabilities for injured reporters. If anybody working for a Beaverbrook or a Black had issued such an order, he would have been out on his ear.

Why, as Crossbencher might have written in the old Sunday Express, is there a spring in my step this week as I stride out to buy the daily loaf? Why do I greet my neighbours with a smile and a wave?

Because the clocks have been altered and I no longer have to get up in the dark. Yet the papers think we should have summertime all year round. The Daily Mail's Michael Hanlon mysteriously argued that "political correctness" required us to put the clocks back, while a Times leader, equally strangely, envisaged "added earnings from tourism" from year-round BST.

Why are national newspapers so keen on dark mornings? Simple. Journalists and editors do not have to get up early. Many do not start work until 11am. If they take longish lunches, as some still do, they are embarrassed to find it is twilight when they emerge. I hope the government ignores their selfish lobbying for change.

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