'Sunday Independent' editor dies

 

Sunday Independent editor Aengus Fanning has died aged 69 after a long battle with cancer.

Mr Fanning was the most successful Irish editor of his generation in terms of circulation with the Sunday Independent selling almost 300,000 copies weekly in the middle of the last decade.

The latest audit circulation figures saw sales at 255,806 copies for the first six months of last year.

The paper has always been controversial with a mix of trenchant views and lifestyle features, but it remains by a wide margin the most read Sunday newspaper, taking almost 30 per cent of the market.

A native of Tralee, Co Kerry, Mr Fanning has been the editor of the Sunday Independent since 1984 having previously worked as the agricultural correspondent of the Irish Independent.

He is survived by his wife Anne Harris, who is the deputy editor of the Sunday Independent and his sons Dion and Evan and Steve Fanning. His

first wife Mary Fanning predeceased him

Independent News and Media chief executive Gavin O’Reilly described Mr Fanning as “one a kind, possibly the greatest and most instinctively brilliant editor that Irish journalism has ever produced”.

“Not only was he absolutely fearless but he had an innate ability to read and understand both the aspirations and fears of the Irish people and it was this skill that allowed him embed the Sunday Independent into the very fabric of Irish society over almost three decades as editor,” he said.

“If you wanted to know what people were thinking of the big issues of the day or, indeed, what would be the big issues of tomorrow and next week all you had to do was ask Aengus. He is a huge loss to Irish journalism but an even bigger loss to his family. Our thoughts today are with Anne and his three sons, Dion, Evan and Steve.”

Both Dion and Evan Fanning write for the Sunday Independent.

President Michael D Higgins said Mr Fanning was “a very committed journalist and editor whose energy and talents will be greatly missed by his colleagues, not only in the Sunday Independent, but also in the wider world of journalism”. Mr Higgins extended his sympathies to Mr Fanning’s family and said he will also be missed by his many friends in the world of music.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Mr Fanning as a “charismatic and significant media figure” and said the Sunday Independent “remained relevant and influential on the important news stories of the day”. He expressed his condolences to Mr Fanning’s wife Anne and his family.

Former taoiseach John Bruton said he first came in contact with Mr Fanning in 1972, when the journalist was agricultural correspondent for the Irish Independent, and he was a very young Fine Gael spokesman on agriculture.

"He immediately struck me as someone exceptionally willing to help others with his professional knowledge, accessible and always affable, and above all an enthusiastic newspaperman. He retained those qualities to the end of his life."

Journalist and former colleague Sam Smyth said Mr Fanning’s success as a newspaper editor was down to his “basic instinct for what middle Ireland wanted to hear. The people couldn’t get enough of it”.

He described his politics as “anti-Provo through the 1980s and 1990s and pro-business”.

Mr Smyth said the Sunday Independent’s criticism of John Hume at the start of the peace process amounted to the journalistic equivalent of a “drive-by shooting”, but the public liked the “strong red meat and potatoes and they got it in his newspaper. Even his enemies went out to buy the newspaper.

“He was a tough and often ruthless journalist, but he was often quite compassionate too and very loyal to his friends,” he told RTÉ’s News at One programme.

Bernie Guerin, the mother of murdered Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin, said she would remember Mr Fanning “with affection and respect for him as a journalist, as her editor and as a friend”.

She said that after Veronica’s death he remained a friend of hers. “I couldn’t speak highly enough of him.”

Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists Seamus Dooley said Mr Fanning was a journalist of skill and imagination who brought his “unique style and colour” to the editorship of the Sunday Independent. Mr Dooley said he was “loyal to his journalists and commanded in turn their loyalty, affection and respect”.

Mr Dooley said his death is a loss to the newspaper but especially to his family. "Our thoughts are with them at this time," he said.

Mr Fanning's friend Michael Denieffe, who is also managing editor of Independent Newspapers, described him as a “colossus of Irish newspaper journalism”.

He said Mr Fanning's death had come as an “absolute shock” to friends and colleagues, adding that he was a "gifted editor, wordsmith and raconteur, confidante of politicians, sportsmen and musicians who majestically strode the editorial bridge of the Sunday Independent for an unmatched 28 years".

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.