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Excuse Me, Can I Speak to the Editor?
In his first major interview, Aengus Fanning, editor of the Sunday Independent, discusses how he manages the most successful paper in Ireland and the death of Veronica Guerin.
Jason O'Toole, 04 Nov 2008
Aengus Fanning is arguably the most successful newspaper editor in modern Irish journalism. He's also probably the most instantly recognisable too, thanks to his long, silvery mane and dapper attire. Yet surprisingly for such an influential media figure, this is actually Fanning’s first major interview.
When Fanning took over the reins of the Sunday Independent back in 1983, he revamped the paper into a celebrity and opinion-driven publication. It was a gamble that paid off, with the paper boasting the highest circulation of any newspaper in the country, with an impressive readership of nearly a million.
During the last two decades, the public has lapped up often controversial articles by the likes of Eamon Dunphy, Gene Kerrigan, Eoghan Harris, Terry Keane, former Hot Press scribe Declan Lynch and, of course, the late Veronica Guerin. It was evident during the course of this interview that the brutal murder of Guerin still haunts Fanning. Talking about Veronica, Aengus became emotional in mid-conversational flow, and had to take a moment out to re-compose himself.
During a recent conversation with Senator Eoghan Harris, he told me this about Fanning: “For my money his great strength as an editor is that he seeks out good writers – not just journalists – and supports them. He has no hang-ups about personalities or politics – as long as you can write, Aengus will give you a break.”
Accordingly, the Sunday Independent has nurtured young writers like Barry Egan, Antonia Leslie, Carol Hunt and Brendan O’Connor.
“He's never taken any notice of the petty minded critics who think real journalists should be scruffy males who never use the first person singular,” Harris argues. “As such, he broke the mould and created the modern, opinionated, personalised columnist long before the papers across the water caught up with him.”
Fanning himself maintains that the credit for the rise of the Sunday Independent has to be shared with his partner Anne Harris – the former wife of Eoghan – who he credits with discovering and cultivating many of the new talents at the paper.