British-American journalist Harold Evans died at the age of 92, writes his employer, news agency Reuters. As editor-in-chief of The Sunday Times, he made a big mark on the British press in the post-war period.
Evans was committed to thorough investigative journalism with the specially created Insight editors of the newspaper. The Sunday newspaper could thus reveal that Russian spy Kim Philby was an important MI6 employee, rather than an insignificant official as the government claimed.
The Sunday Times also published its own research showing that a series of accidents involving DC-10 aircraft were caused by a production failure. The newspaper was characterised as “a permanent parliamentary committee of inquiry”.
The fact that the newspaper was only published once a week benefited journalism, Evans believed. “Sunday magazines create a more radical, more stimulating, irritating form of journalism. I think that is because they are read on a day of rest and because they have to worry much less about the events of the day than the newspapers.”
Evans did everything he could to bring the pieces to the attention of policymakers. For example, he had an article on the softenon scandal sent to all 600 British MEPs.
In this affair, The Sunday Times went to battle for children who had contracted birth defects because their mothers had taken a cure for nausea during pregnancy. This ultimately resulted in compensation from the manufacturer for the affected families.
And by the way, Evans extended the strict press laws in Britain with this case. He fought against a ban to publish as long as the case was under court. In the end, the European Court gave him the right to gain freedom of the press in his country.
Arguing with Murdoch
Evans once said he was fascinated by the profession of journalist as a child. “I loved gangster movies: journalists who used flabby brown hats to fight crime in Chicago.” He called himself a romantic: “I have loved searching in journalism from an early age.”
The son of a train driver started at the age of 16 as a reporter of a newspaper in Manchester. He made a name for himself as a muckraker in a struggle for reinstatement for a man who was wrongly executed in 1950 for the murder of his wife and child. This miscarriage of justice (serial killer John Christie proved to be the perpetrator) heralded the end of the death penalty in Britain.
When Evans moved from the Sunday edition to the regular Times in 1981, he was considered a white raven: unlike his predecessors, he did not come from the upper class with training at boarding schools and Oxford or Cambridge.
He didn‘t last long at The Times. The newspaper, long an inviolable institution in British society, had just been taken over by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Despite his assurances about editorial freedom, Evans felt committed: according to the editor in chief, Murdoch put himself too much for Prime Minister Thatcher’s cart.
For example, Evans announced his resignation at The Times on television and looked back at his conflict with Murdoch about the editorial freedom of journalists:
He left and wrote Good Times, Bad Times about the bitter fight. A letter submitted about the affair refused to publish The Times initially, until Evans received his reply through the court.
Evans went to the US with his wife and became a publisher for Random Press for several years. For example, he published the key novel Primary Colors about the Clinton campaign and the memoirs of General Colin Powell. He also wrote some books about the trade, such as a review of 25 years of World Press Photo and textbooks for newsprint makers in which he shared his tricks of the trade.
In a necrology, Reuters colleague Stephen Grey calls him in a breath with Watergate journalists Woodward and Bernstein, as “an icon who inspired a generation of young British to take up the pen with anger”. “He showed us that journalism can not only make the world a better place, but that you can enjoy it sincerely.”