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The question I was always asked in the four years I worked at the Daily Mail was: “Is the swearing really as bad as they say?”

“Oh no. Nothing like,” I’d reply. “It’s much, much worse.”

So when Trevor Yapp, deputy-editor of the mid-market tabloid the Daily Bugle, in Stephen Glover’s Splash!: A Novel calls graduate-trainee Benedict Brewster a “certifed clot”, I found myself thinking, “clot” isn’t quite the word he’d have used.

Glover, a columnist at the Daily Mail, co-founder of the Independent, and editor of The Penguin Book of Journalism, is a newsman to his bones. The Daily Bugle is a novel — and it is very much emphasised by the title that this is a novel and any similarity to editors, reporters and star columnists is entirely coincidental — about a once-great newspaper threatened by Twitter, smartphones and 24-hour rolling television news. Threatened, most of all, by its own succubus creation: Bugle Online with its instant-click, instant-hit stories of shark attacks, sneezing squirrels and half-naked “lovelies” taking a shower.

The longstanding Bugle editor Eric Doodle is making plans for his knighthood and retirement to a grouse moor with a pack of gundogs. He’s a stickler for ties in the office and an avid circler of houses in a glossy property weekly called Rural Retreats. The proprietor, Sir Edwin Entwistle, is keen to pack Doodle off to his Georgian rectory and install the barracking Yapp, Bugle Online’s man-of-the-future, at his desk. With Yapp in place, Entwistle can offload the failing Bugle and its page leads about the perils of drinking too much bottled water onto the nearest handy Chinese or Russian billionaire. Tables have already been booked at the Fig Leaf — London’s most fashionable restaurant — with Mr Po and Mr Vrodsky. Again, any similarity to Country Life, the Ivy, or newspaper-owning Russian oligarchs is entirely coincidental. (Though no proprietor’s wife could object to being described as “a corker”, and so beautiful as to “make your eyes prick with tears”.)

While the editor is driven to Downing Street for tête-à-têtes with the Prime Minister — “We’ve an election coming up, and we will need to count on the Bugle’s support” — the paper’s chief reporter Sam Blunt — manner blunt, pencil sharpened — is sinking pints in the Half Moon and reliving the great days of the foreign dispatch, the commandeered helicopter, the race against deadline and pursuing militia. All Sam does now is rewrite agency copy and stories that come in on the news wires. He has been asked to babysit Ben Brewster, a young Old Etonian with a First in Anthropology from Oxford who is not so much wet behind the ears as leagues out of his depth. Ben botches his first story for the paper and is banished to the basement to be a “galley slave” for Bugle Online, uploading stories about amusing chimpanzees. In the Half Moon, Sam, who is fired and rehired at editorial whim, and Ben hatch an investigation into dodgy donors, ministers campaigning to strangle the free press, and government links to the gold mines of Kangala, a despotic African state. They hope for the “splash” — the front-page story — that will save Sam’s career and make Ben’s.

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