Peter Wilby is a former editor of The Independent on Sunday and New Statesman. He is now a freelance writer and media commentator.
Peter Wayne - Journalism on the inside 5
Telegraph revolutionPeter Wilby - Brave new world? 15
Bill Hagerty - Up to a point, Lord Deedes 23
Iason Athanasiadis - Mid-East media: the news wars 29
Marilyn Johnson - Walking the dead beat 37
Martin Moore - In news we trust 45
David Rowan - Fireworks, fun and Richard Desmond 52
Stephen Kingston - Voices of the people: community journalism 58
Virginia Ironside - The last great agony icon 65
Peter Stansill - Life and death of International Times 71
BOOK REVIEWSStewart Purvis on John Grist 82
Kim Fletcher on W F Deedes 84
Chris Hutchins on Hunter Davies 86
Stephan Russ-Mohl on Marion Elizabeth Rodgers 88
Charles Perkins on Michael Isikoff and David Corn 90
Don Hale on Edward Riley 92
Geoffrey Goodman on Hugh Cudlipp 95
Quotes of the Quarter 22
Academia Digest 28
Ten Years Ago - The way we were 36
If you want to get a flavour of the thinking behind the Telegraph revolution –
which has been described as “the most significant media revolution since
Wapping” – the Telegraph's own blogs are probably a good place to start.
There, on October 30 2006, Shane Richmond, news editor of
telegraph.co.uk, responded to a claim by a City analyst that in 30 years' time
online advertising would account for more than half of all newspaper
revenues. “You think,” blogged Richmond rhetorically, “we'll still be
printing newspapers in 2036?” Many Telegraph old hands would observe, the
way things are going, that the company will struggle to print newspapers
even in 2007. Since the Barclay brothers, Sirs David and Frederick, took
control in June 2004 – with the company still making money and still
publishing a daily title which, despite an ageing readership and a declining
circulation, comfortably outsells its rivals in the quality market – events have
moved at dizzying speed.
The incumbent editors of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph have gone. So have their successors (one of them never more than a mere “acting editor”). Every senior management figure has been replaced. The entire marketing department left, along with the top 16 people in advertising. On the daily, the deputy editor, an assistant editor, the comment editor, the foreign editor, the managing editor, the City editor (and his deputy), the picture editor, the features editor and even the editor's long-serving secretary have all departed, after resignations or sackings. The staff leader-writing team has been disbanded. The Washington bureau chief, the Washington correspondent, the New York correspondent and the Paris correspondent have been axed. In all, 149 journalists have been made redundant, and, in two stages, 433 people (including many editorial support staff ) across the whole company. In November, the National Union of Journalists chapel – which has more than half the two papers' journalists in membership – voted overwhelmingly for a three-day strike, although such action was subsequently postponed when the management backed away from a demand that all production staff should work Saturday shifts. Journalists are habitual whingers, but they don't take easily to worker solidarity and collective action. It has been quite an achievement for the Telegraph management to drive them to the barricades.
Almost nobody who works or has worked for the company would deny the need for change. The Telegraph group, after all, is famed not just for the Conservatism of its politics, but for the conservatism of its working habits. When Max Hastings took over as editor of The Daily Telegraph in 1986, he found the average age of the arts critics was 72. Book-keeping was still done on paper, in longhand. The Telegraph, Hastings later recalled, “possessed no design team or presentational skills of any kind” and the only graphic artists were “a couple of spare hands on the picture desk capable of drawing quaint little maps of the world's trouble spots, of a kind familiar to 19th-century newspaper readers”. Departments suited themselves about typefaces and headings, and pictures were used only grudgingly.
But the Hastings approach – perhaps surprisingly for a man of such formidable physical presence – was gentle and evolutionary, both in easing the paper's politics towards the centre and in changing its editorial presentation and work practices. “It seems essential both to staff morale and reader confidence,” he wrote to Andrew Knight, then chief executive, “that in the early stages of the new regime, there are no dramatic wrenches.”
Radical break with the pastPerhaps it was because change seemed to slow down after Hastings's departure and the arrival of Charles Moore as daily editor in 1995 that the Barclays decided on a far more radical break with the past. Some aspects of the news operation had not changed in decades – reporters' copy, for example, had to pass through half-a-dozen stages before it got into the paper – and the old-style backbench still ruled to an extent that, though the last editor but one announced he would sit on it from late afternoon, no seat was ever found for him. But equally important to the Barclays was that they paid £665m for the papers and Spectator magazine – about twice their value according to some estimates – and found them chronically under-financed and under-capitalised. The printing quality was poor, the computer system partially outdated, the website (though it had been Fleet Street's first) lagging behind the Telegraph's rivals in the quality newspaper market. The Telegraph, it seemed, was always playing catch-up, a state of affairs that was exacerbated by the long period it took for the Conrad Black empire to unravel and by the protracted search for a new owner. “The Telegraph is the market leader,” said one recently departed senior editor, “but somehow it has never behaved as though it were.”
The papers, at a cost that pushed the group into a £12m loss in the last financial year, moved to new offices in Victoria. There, The Daily Telegraph newsroom is organised around “a central hub”, a circular table accommodating the editor and 11 section heads, such as home news, sport and business. Each section then fans out from the centre, producing not just conventional newspaper pages but also website copy, podcasts, videos, interactive “click and carry” pages, and the like. Sub-editors are abolished; instead, there are “production journalists” on “platforms”. Traditional deadlines are out, too. Telegraph journalists will work to “touchpoints”, the stages through the day at which, research purported to show, readers are likely to access different types of media and different types of content. The distinction between old and new media will disappear. It will all be a seamless whole and presumably, when the Telegraph does eventually stop printing on paper, the staff will scarcely notice. A far cry, indeed, from bookkeeping in longhand.
The revolution has gone beyond the transformation in editorial working practices. There has also been a revolution in management style. As the old Telegraph managers moved out, new ones moved in, nearly all of them from Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail and its sister titles. Murdoch MacLennan, former managing director of Associated Newspapers, became chief executive. Lawrence Sear, former managing editor of the Daily Mail, became group managing editor. John Bryant, another Mail man (as well as the former editor of two now defunct papers), became editor-in-chief and then the daily's acting editor.
All this was peculiar for two reasons. First, the new recruits were older than their predecessors; indeed, at the Mail, they were unfondly known as “the last of the summer wine”. Second, the Mail has hardly been in the forefront of technological change; it regarded the internet with lofty indifference until quite recently. But newspaper owners tend to be dazzled by Associated and its achievements, during four decades, in making its daily and Sunday titles the second highest-selling on Fleet Street, and in pulverising the once-mighty Express. Nobody loves the Mail papers but they are the most admired and imitated in the industry.
The Mail's success, however, is not based on management prowess as such but on the high value it places on its journalists (at least in monetary terms) and the untrammelled power it gives to its leading editorial executives, particularly Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail (it is impossible to imagine Dacre being told by any mere bean-counter whom he should appoint to his staff ). But MacLennan took the opposite course. It quickly became apparent, after his arrival, that he and Aidan Barclay (son of Sir David and chairman of the group) would call the shots. Management notoriously vetoed, late one afternoon, a leader supporting David Cameron for the Tory leadership. It hired journalists, including the columnist Simon Heffer – like a remarkably large number of recent editorial recruits, he came from the Mail. Management also fired journalists, most recently the three America correspondents. On some occasions, journalists have been assured by their editor that they are being moved from one job to another, only to be told by management that they don't have a job at all. All this has given the Telegraph, over the past year or so, the appearance of a comically dysfunctional company.
Opponents left in confusionThe effect, extraordinary as it may seem, is perhaps intended. Erratic and capricious management can work if each apparently whimsical decision is announced with complete confidence, with no apology for or even acknowledgement of any previous decision. It is important, in particular, to put nothing on paper, to ignore requests for information or elucidation, and to ensure that no individual manager admits personal responsibility for any particular course of action. Opponents are left in confusion, their morale undermined. If MacLennan and his cohorts are trying to organise a revolution, their tactics, including provoking a journalists' strike over the complete lack of negotiation or consultation, begin to make sense. There was, moreover, a distinct whiff of a Kulturkampf. The old oak tables and panels were removed from the boardroom in favour of glass and chrome, and the wine stocks sold. Plans to celebrate The Daily Telegraph's 150th anniversary were cancelled. Journalists began to hear talk, wafting down from management floors, of how they were like a “country club” – effete, over-privileged, backward-looking. Does one detect here a hint of class war, as the suburban, lower middle-class Mail types took on the country house toffs of the Telegraph?
Management might have had a harder time if it had been up against a Max Hastings. But it wasn't up against even a Charles Moore. Hastings's successor, after eight years in the chair, had left towards the end of the Black regime, anxious to complete his official biography of the ailing Margaret Thatcher before she went to the great market in the sky. His replacement, Martin Newland, had been out of the country for several years, working in Black's Canadian empire, and had scarcely been heard of in Britain. He had been in office less than a year when the Barclays took over. They left him, as one Telegraph old hand put it, “dangling”. He had the authority neither of an established editor nor of an editor personally appointed by his new proprietor. He did not, by all accounts, push ahead with any vision of his own for the papers, either editorially or politically. He was, above all, a production man who could see a story on the wires and envisage it, with white-on-black headlines, on page three – which, at least, was a skill not possessed by any previous Telegraph editor.
Newland finally resigned, his authority, he felt, fatally undermined by the appointment of Bryant as editor-in-chief with indeterminate powers. Bryant himself took over as “acting editor”, with a close-to-the-bosses role aptly represented by his retention of an office on the management as well as the editorial floor. He had never previously worked at the Telegraph and, said an editorial executive, “didn't know a soul on the paper”. But that was what the management wanted: a man of easy charm and production competence, astute in office politics, free of friendships, alliances and (being over 60) ambitions, who could keep the show on the road while imposing the worst of the editorial cuts and further softening up the journalists for the revolution to come. Charles Wilson, a former editor of The Times translated into a Mirror Group managing director, performed a similar role as acting editor at The Independent in the mid-1990s and, when the job was complete, was pushed aside as brusquely as Bryant would be. With the cuts safely completed, and the papers ready for the move to Victoria, the management finally showed its hand. The new editor of The Daily Telegraph would be Will Lewis, aged 37.
It is a measure of how completely the management has bamboozled the journalists that nobody quite knows what this means. Lewis was initially recruited from The Sunday Times 14 months ago as business editor, only to be installed as joint deputy editor almost instantly. But he has never edited the paper even for a day. Most of his time has been spent planning the Victoria headquarters, and on honing his enthusiasm for all things digital. Only two months before his appointment, he was made managing director editorial, a new post said to involve preparing the entire group for the multimedia age.
So is Lewis, in effect, just another management man? Will he even edit the Telegraph in the normal sense of the term, given that an able and powerful deputy, Ian MacGregor (also from the Associated stable), has just joined? Management would probably reply (I have to speculate, because repeated requests for an interview with MacLennan were ignored) that, in the multimedia world, an editor in the traditional sense has no meaning.
If the future is uncertain for The Daily Telegraph, it can be no less so for The Sunday Telegraph. With a circulation more than 200,000 below the daily's (and half of that circulation comes from a shared subscription scheme), it is inevitably less important to the owners. Like most Sunday papers, it has a relatively small full-time subbing complement and has therefore, on paper, escaped quite lightly from the cuts. But it, too, has been a target for management whims. Dominic Lawson, an editor in the Charles Moore mould but without the charm, was fired in June 2005. His replacement, Sarah Sands, who had been editor of the Saturday Telegraph, could hardly have been a greater contrast. Her brief was to inject more glamour, femininity and lifestyle into a staid old Tory paper. She did press ahead with her own vision, introducing stories and readers' letters that can best be described as saucy. She changed the masthead from black to blue (and back again). She lightened headline faces. She had the news section set almost entirely in ragged columns. She started a new glossy magazine, Stella, highlighting fashion and beauty.
Out within monthsIt was the classic mistake: changing a paper so radically that you alienate your existing readership without having sufficient means of attracting a new one. The Telegraph's image is deeply traditional and it would take a lot of marketing support (which Sands didn't have) to tell non-readers that it's changed. Did Sands miscalculate or did the management? Or was it another deliberate destabilisation technique? Nobody knows but, at any rate, she was out within months, replaced by the steadier, more cerebral, but no less stiletto-heeled Patience Wheatcroft, recruited from The Times where she had been business editor and columnist. The future direction of the paper is unclear and, if daily journalists are to work round the clock in the Telegraph's digital universe, without distinction between print, podcast or pdf, it is hard to see why Sunday print should be deemed a separate category. Wheatcroft has resisted some but not all proposals to merge certain daily and Sunday operations and may well regret that she ever stepped into this morass.
The Sands episode might have been a warning to the Telegraph management of the pitfalls of rapid, uncontrolled change, but there is no sign that the lesson has been absorbed. No other Fleet Street paper has yet attempted anything as ambitious as the Telegraph in coming to terms with the digital age and the near-certain decline, if not extinction, of newsprint, though The Guardian has its own, somewhat steadier strategy. It is an enormous gamble, an attempt to take control of the future, rather than simply to manage decline, and to that extent deserves credit, even admiration. And just as other newspaper groups quickly followed Rupert Murdoch once he had made his breakthrough at Wapping in 1986, so they are sure to follow the Telegraph's lead if it succeeds.
But media products depend above all on their brands, and on public confidence in them. The Telegraph brand has thrived for more than 150 years on its printed product, with all its quaint eccentricities. “The paper you can trust”, the ads used to say, and you knew where you stood with the Telegraph. Even if that paper is now doomed to decline and ultimately to a marginal role in generating company profits, it remains vital to the brand and therefore still requires nurturing. Journalists may seem absurdly sensitive plants – deeply reluctant to embrace the change that they so often urge on others – but a successful newspaper is a living system and you disturb its ecology at your peril. Destroy it, and you have nothing to take into the digital age. That is the danger of the Telegraph revolution.