How to choose a maestro (by a liberal newspaper)

You may have recovered by now from the news that Alan Rusbridger is stepping down after 20 years as editor of the Guardian.

You may be wondering how his successor will be chosen. At a time when the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris and many other ensembles are contemplating the same critical decision, here’s now the next editor will be chosen.

So here’s how:

Liz Forgan, the chair of the Scott Trust, which is the ultimate owner of the titles, has outlined the procedure for choosing the successor to Alan Rusbridger – including an indicative ballot which would guarantee the winner a place on the shortlist for the job.

Get that? The journalists are allowed to vote on the next editor, but their decision won’t count.

‘The Scott Trust retains the right to choose a candidate irrespective of the result of that vote,’ Forgan said.

So, the musicians choose a new conductor, but the board overrule them. That’s 21st century enlightenment for you.

conduct unbecoming

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  • Umm, hold on. There’s a difference between situations in which the business is employee-owned (e.g. the Berlin Phil is owned by its members) and situations in which it is not. If you own a business, you should be able to appoint a manager/editor of your choosing to run it. Employee consultation is great and pays various dividends, but it’s right that its results should not commit the owners.

  • Assuming the invitation to the employees is sincere, it is a great idea. It lets the owners hear who has attracted the respect of the staff — it may include people who have fallen beneath their own radar. Without committing them, f a consensus is arriving around someone else. It also lets the owners know if the staff are favourably disposed to those they are most interested in. As long as staff are in no doubt as to where the decision lies, then participation in this ballot is up to them.

  • There are two many differences to make the comparison easily.
    An orchestra managed by its players is in a different situation from a publisher not owned by its journalists.
    For orchestras not run by the players, it is commonplace to seek the input of the players when a conductor appointment is being made; that seems similar to here.
    A conductor’s job, in any case, is very different to the editor at the Grauniad. A conductor has daily, almost constant contact with each and every player. An editor does not have that close an observation or relationship with every journalist.
    And all of that said, it’s also entirely possible that a group of musicians might choose a conductor who satisfies them, but isn’t capable of developing them further or taking their ‘message’ to a wider audience; a board appointment may be better at seeing the bigger picture. I’m sure there are orchestras who have become better ensembles from having a conductor who works them hard, even if the players hate it at the time. Likewise with publishers, maybe it’s good to have someone shake it up a bit from time to time.

    • …. “A conductor has daily, almost constant contact with each and every player.”… Sadly that is rubbish, just not the case nowadays. How does a GMD or Chief Conductor on a contract for 12 weeks or 15 performances a season fulfil that sort of constancy? I know of very few conductors on the international scene who live up to that sort of ideal.

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