Kelvin MacKenzie's apparent new career as star columnist on the Daily Telegraph website is over inside two days.
Sources at the paper said the former editor of The Sun would not continue to write for the broadsheet’s website after a storm of reaction to his opening salvo, which attracted around 800 comments following publication on Thursday.
The right-wing polemicist carries a lot of baggage, particularly in relation to the Hillsborough football disaster. For years he refused to apologise for The Sun’s notorious front page headline, “The Truth”, blaming Liverpool supporters for the deaths of 96 of their fellow fans.
MacKenzie’s arrival had been greeted with excitement on Fleet Street. The trade magazine Press Gazette said his arrival at Telegraph Media Group “underlined its investment in online ahead of the launch of its metered paywall”. The group is planning to charge regular users for online access and is looking to emphasise the value of its website content.
The Telegraph gave the MacKenzie column a front page fanfare online. “In the first of a new weekly column for Telegraph.co.uk, Kelvin MacKenzie has plans for the future of our classrooms, Masterchef and even some timely advice for student investors”, it said.
Since editing The Sun he has had a successful and lucrative career in the media, and has enjoyed high-profile roles in television punditry and in writing newspaper columns.
But the findings of the recent Hillsborough inquiry, which prompted MacKenzie to make “profound apologies”, have made him the subject of renewed anger.
The Telegraph website was deluged with negative comments about the former tabloid editor, and references to the publication having “dumbed down” and turned itself into “fish and chip paper”. Most of the criticisms were not aimed at the content of the column. Instead, the commentary was focused on the mere presence of MacKenzie’s byline on the website of a quality newspaper. “This ghastly little man”, was one of the kinder comments.
“It beggars belief they would even consider the man,” Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, told the Liverpool Echo.
“The timing with the upcoming anniversary was an absolute disgrace.”
The Telegraph’s management were sufficiently concerned by the level of vitriol, and the number of references to not subscribing to the new service, to order that Mackenzie should not write for the site again.
The Telegraph will be anxious that its writers do not regard MacKenzie’s disappearance from the site as evidence that all their jobs are vulnerable to a backlash of online criticism. The paper recently stood by controversial writer James Delingpole after he apologised for crude sexual comments made about the journalist Suzanne Moore, despite a campaign for Delingpole to be sacked.
It is understood that despite the star billing this week, MacKenzie was not considered suitable for writing in the print edition of the Telegraph and that he did not have a formal contract.
But the sacking will have come as a surprise to Mackenzie himself. He had littered his 1,800 words of prose with requests for interaction, asking readers to contact him on his new Telegraph email address. Sadly for him those responses, if publishable, no longer have an outlet.