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Why Charles Moore could be wrong about the changes at Horse and Hound

25 May 2014

10:24 AM

25 May 2014

10:24 AM

As Charles Moore has reported in his Spectator’s Notes this week, changes are afoot at equestrians’ favourite publication, Horse and Hound. Speculating on the decision to replace their editor with a new ‘content editor’, Charles worries that the recent upheaval could damage the ‘brand’ rather than strengthen it.

But neither H&H nor its departing editor, Lucy Higginson, are strangers to controversy. Let’s not forget that when Lucy took up the reins in 2002, the arrival of the first female (and the youngest) editor of the 130-year-old publication caused an almighty kerfuffle amongst the old-guard, who worried that her plans to ‘spice up’ the magazine would prove detrimental.

The magazine’s new ‘content editor’ Sarah Jenkins may not be a regular on the hunting field, as Charles points out. But she does at least own three horses, and has previously been the magazine’s dressage editor, so it’s not as if she knows nothing about horses. She has also done a fair stint on the magazine in various roles, so she ought to know ‘brand’ H&H inside-out.

I have been told that, contrary to Charles’ prediction, the role of hunting editor will still exist post shake-up. Whether or not the current hunting editor, Polly Portwin, will stay in the job is unclear, however.  So there will still be someone whose job focuses solely on hunting coverage. One of the reasons for the restructure is said to be so that section editors can get out and about, instead of being office-bound, which makes sense. It’s unlikely that anyone who enjoys hunting as much as a hunting editor should would want to spend five days a week sitting in an office, even if the offices in question are in IPC’s modern structure on the Southbank. Surely the best people to provide hunting coverage are those who are out doing the actual hunting? Catherine Austen, their previous hunting editor, left in 2013, with office hours allegedly being one of the reasons for her decision. Many keen hunters (and H&H subscribers) who I have spoken to since the announcement told me that their favourite hunting pieces in the magazines were those written by visitors to hunts – something that can’t be done from an office.

As for Charles’s statement that Polly is ‘the only person on the magazine who knows about hunting’, that’s certainly debatable. Even after the changes, I know that there are still plenty of people on the H&H payroll who have done time on the hunting field, and still get out there when they can.

Of course if Horse and Hound were to abandon – or even decrease – their hunting coverage, that would be a huge shame. There are already plenty of other ‘horsey’ magazines on offer for happy hackers, and as Charles himself points out, ‘one of the magazine’s biggest markets is hunting people, whose number has grown since the ban’. But apart from the slightly niche Hounds magazine, H&H is the main publication to provide hunting coverage.

There’s no way that H&H would have survived for 130 years without moving with the times. And as anyone who reads online content will know, a magazine’s online presence is in many ways almost as important as the print product nowadays. Of course it’s always terrible when people’s jobs have to go in order for change to happen. But perhaps for the magazine to continue, that’s what has to happen.

As for rumours that the print magazine might not survive – well, who can say in this day and age? But from what I hear, that certainly won’t be happening anytime soon.

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