Alex Catto Remembered
Alex Catto, an appreciation
by Graham Ridout, former investigative journalist on Contract Journal and Building magazine
Alex Catto, a long-standing editor of Contract Journal and one of the most influential journalists of the 1980s was laid to rest on 8 May, aged 78. He presided over Contract Journal during the halcyon days of construction and property journalism when eight weekly news titles vied competitively against one another and a further 20 or so monthly and less frequent titles doing battle for readers and advertisers.
Both Alex’s father and grandfather were journalists and he followed in their footsteps and was fiercely protective over maintaining editorial and ethical standards. Of Highland stock, his height and girth made him a formidable figure. This coupled with a perceptive grasp of detail and, at times, a caustic way of expressing an opinion if he thought somebody was being economical with the truth.
As an editor, he was steadfastly loyal and highly supportive of his staff. And at the end of the day, he enjoyed nothing more than having a drink with colleagues and chatting about all things under the sun, but especially his beloved Crystal Palace football club.
During his tenure, CJ pioneered a series of tests during which major manufacturers’ earthmoving machines were pitched against one-another in various performance tests. At the time, it was a risky strategy as the manufacturers were major advertisers and a poor showing could be costly in advertising revenue to the journal. However, Alex’s dedication to accurate, objective reporting ensured no manufacturer had grounds for complaint.
Honorary IBP Vice President Peter Bill (President 1992-96 and 1998-2000) entered journalism under Alex’s reign at CJ. He recalls: “I can see him now at his desk half hidden behind toppling stacks of paper. Sat there like a benign owl, dispensing wisecracks, anecdotes and occasional shafts of wisdom. He enjoyed holding court at news meetings. He radiated bonhomie, but was capable of withering sarcasm, but delivered from a good heart.” After leaving CJ, Alex settled in Hastings with wife Shona and pursued a freelance career editing several environmental magazines.
Contract Journal ‘s proud 130-year history ended in 2009 when publisher Reed Business Press closed the magazine. The economic fall-out of 2008 and a seismic shift in the way projects were procured proved fatal. CJ made its name by employing a handful of dedicated employees whose job was to garner information about the major contracts that were about to be let or had recently been awarded. This provided valuable information to suppliers and subcontractors about possible work opportunities. European Union legislation requiring contacts over a specified value to be advertised the European Journal, the entry of a number of specialised information providers, and growing power of the internet provided the coup de gras.