The quiet revolution

Job losses at the Telegraph are to be followed by a major review of editorial policy. Ciar Byrne reports
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When the Barclay brothers bought the Telegraph for pounds 665m last June they insisted that they did not regard it as a "broken newspaper" in need of a major overhaul. But having taken stock of the titles, they felt there was a somewhat lackadaisical attitude amongst management and decided the publisher needed to be rebuilt from first principles after all.

Cue Murdoch MacLennan, the former Associated Newspaper chief and ex-Mirror and Express man, whom they poached last autumn to oversee the Telegraph titles.

Since Mr MacLennan came on board, the Telegraph Group has undergone a quiet revolution. The new chief executive has wasted no time in showing the old guard led by former group managing director Hugo Drayton the door and building a more dynamic, some might say aggressive, management team.

The first fruits of the new regime were borne last week, when the publisher announced it is to make around 90 journalists redundant from the Daily and Sunday titles, while up to 300 jobs in total could be cut from across the company.

Cutbacks of up to 100 journalists have been rumoured since the Barclays took control, but some are surprised that Mr MacLennan, who hails from Associated Newspapers, a company that invests heavily in editorial, is implementing them.

The cost cutting, however, is part of the chief executive's deliberate strategy to turn the Telegraph Group into a leaner company. One of his first hirings was John Allwood, former chief of the mobile phone company Orange and an accountant with a strong track record in newspapers. As former deputy chief executive of Trinity Mirror, Mr Allwood is credited with sorting out the financial mess left after Robert Maxwell's death, and spent 11 years in various financial posts at News International.

His role at the Telegraph is to look at the company dispassionately and introduce a greater degree of financial rigour. While there is no suggestion that the previous management was profligate, there is a feeling that they had got into certain spending habits, such as sports sponsorship, which are no longer in the company's interest.

Another of Mr MacLennan's new recruits, Lawrence Sear, has been brought in to apply this new more rigorous approach to the newspapers' editorial departments. The two men worked together closely at Associated Newspapers, where Mr Sear was managing editor of the Daily Mail. Joining the company as he did, just days before the announcement of mass redundancies, Mr Sear will inevitably be tarred with the label of "hatchet man".

Together with editorial director Kim Fletcher, one of the few senior executives to survive the management cull, Mr Sear has been meeting department heads to work out how their sections can be run more efficiently. The new management believes that a certain amount of wastage built up in the 18 years of Conrad Black's ownership, which is now overdue for pruning. There is also talk of establishing "sensible systems" in editorial.

The National Union of Journalists, however, is adamant that the cuts will serve only to undermine journalism, diminish the titles' competitiveness and endanger the health of a workforce already plagued by repetitive strain injury (RSI).

The other front in Mr MacLennan's campaign is the commercial side of the business. Dave King, the former Emap advertising chief, joined the group as executive director at the start of the year. Unproven in newspapers, but described as "energetic and enthusiastic", Mr King's job is to mount a pro-active assault on media buyers.

One insider said: "Before there was a slight feeling that the business would come to us. We're a very successful brand, but when you're trying to sell it to young media buyers who probably don't read it, they have decided it stands for slightly old fashioned values."

This new advertising drive will extol the virtues of the Telegraph's broadsheet format in a quality market that has the compact Independent and Times and the soon-to-be Berliner Guardian. For the first time, the newspapers' editors will become involved in a "road show", going out to meet media buyers to explain exactly what the titles stand for.

Another new recruit, Jim Freeman, who was poached from media buying agency Zenith Optimedia earlier this month to head up advertising sales, will assist Mr King.

On the marketing front too, there has been a major shift in strategy. The Telegraph has poached rising star Katie Vanneck from News International, where she was promotions director for the Times and Sunday Times, to become its new marketing director.

Under Ms Vanneck, who was highly regarded at News International for masterminding a distribution deal between the Times and coffee chain Starbucks, the titles will move from a brand-led marketing strategy to one based on promotions. Instead of selling the Telegraph as a brand with the slogan "Read a best seller every day", the newspaper will feature more special offers to entice readers.

The newspaper's front page "puff line" beneath the masthead is already being used to promote offers such as "two cinema tickets for the price of one", or "dine out at a restaurant for pounds 5" instead of the traditional plugs for writers and articles.

Only in the papers' editorial content is it difficult to detect the beginnings of a radical restructuring, despite the pressures of a circulation decline which saw the Times overtake the Telegraph in full price sales for the first time in November 2004.

Geoffrey Goodman, the founding editor of the British Journalism Review, said: "The changes have mainly been in design, which seems to me to be moving towards tabloidisation without becoming tabloid. The content of the Telegraph has improved far less than I thought it might. I would have thought the Barclay brothers would have added a touch more liberalism, competed with the Times for good writing and returned to good reporting. Clearly they have left it in the hands of the editor and I'm not sure that there isn't a need for a pretty substantial overhaul."

Management insists that a review of the editorial offering by editors Martin Newland on the daily paper and Dominic Lawson on the Sunday is the "next project", once the publisher has achieved a firmer financial footing. Areas the Telegraph wants to build on include its already strong sports coverage and business. Until the Times went tabloid, it dominated the business sector, but now the pages are buried away inside the paper leaving the field open.

With the threat of redundancy on the horizon, however, journalists could be justified in feeling sceptical that an improved Telegraph can be brought out with nearly 20 per cent fewer staff.

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