Press Gazette’s former chief reporter Jean Morgan has died aged 86. She retired after 19 years reporting on the national and regional newspaper industry for Press Gazette in 2003. Here, former Press Gazette deputy editor and news editor Jon Slattery pays tribute to her.
Jean was a news editor’s dream. She had fantastic contacts and was a brilliant story getter. Journalists always took her calls because they wanted to know what she knew.
Jean joined UK Press Gazette, as it was then, in 1984 but her roots were very much in newspapers and the regional press. She regarded UKPG as a newspaper and not a magazine.
She was passionate about national and local newspapers and the importance of a free press. Jean was trusted by tabloid journalists and editors at a time when they felt under fire from the “posh” papers and broadcasters and were often reluctant to speak publicly and put their head above the parapet to defend themselves.
Jean’s appearance could be deceptive. I once overheard a Fleet Street editor telling members of his staff that Jean “looks like everyone’s favourite aunty but is very dangerous”. She was fearless and liked to bypass PR offices and go straight to the source. I remember Jean putting it bluntly to an evasive editor about the sudden departure of two of his staff: “I heard that you caught them rogering each other on your desk.”
As Press Gazette’s various owners came and went and the office moved around London to Croydon and back to Fleet Street, Jean was a constant. She had a fierce intelligence and never ever backed down when she thought she was in the right. The force of her personality won over every new Press Gazette publisher and owner who quickly realised Jean was not be underestimated or patronised. When Jean finally retired from Press Gazette in 2003 she held a huge farewell bash attended by many of the editors and journalists she had spent the previous 19 years writing about.
One of them was Roy Greenslade, who had given Jean such an honest interview about the future of the tabloid press while he was editor of the Daily Mirror that Robert Maxwell sacked him.
Roy wrote in the Guardian: “I can certainly testify to Morgan’s honesty and understanding. When I gave her what was considered an outspoken interview during my brief and stormy editorship of the Daily Mirror, she called back to ask whether I was really happy to be quoted on the record.
“For a reporter with an explosive scoop on her hands, she showed amazing concern and compassion. I agreed that she should publish and that article was later cited by Robert Maxwell as the reason for my departure from the Mirror.”
Both the Sun and Daily Mirror presented Jean with dummy front pages on her retirement, which she proudly displayed on the walls of her flat in London.
I once persuaded Jean to come out of retirement to help for a couple of weeks when we moved back to Fleet Street under the Piers Morgan/Matthew Freud ownership of Press Gazette. Naturally, she got the splash with an exclusive story on how Hollywood star Sharon Stone was suing the Mail using a no-win, no-fee agreement.
Piers Morgan tried to make her return permanent claiming, in his understated way, that it would be the “biggest comeback since Lazarus”. He had obviously forgiven Jean for one of her Press Gazette front page stories which was headlined: “Piers Morgan ‘I’ve been a total prat and a tosser’”, based on a leaked private letter he had sent to the editor of the Sun.
Jean could not be persuaded to return but in retirement did sterling work as a trustee and member of the management committee of the Journalists’ Charity.
She was also a member of the Old Codgers group of journalists who used to meet for lunch but whose guest speakers, agonisingly for Jean, spoke strictly off the record so she could not report on what was said.
Jean started her journalism career on the Bridgend Advertiser as a trainee in 1954. Later she worked for the Bedfordshire Times, Leicestershire Evening Mail, South Wales Echo and then Thomson Regional Newspapers London Office, where among her assignments was interviewing pop stars and covering the Paris fashion shows.
At the South Wales Echo she met and married Phil Morgan who went on to be a news editor at the Sun.
In the last few years Jean moved out of London to Falmouth in Cornwall to live near her daughter, Clare, a journalist who works in university communications.
Jean was sharp, funny, good company and a great friend to me, my family and many of her old Press Gazette colleagues. We will all miss her very much.