A chip off the old blog

Will Lewis, newly appointed editor of the 'Telegraph', wants to 'follow his readers' into a brave new techno world. But can he take his battered staff with him?
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The Independent Online

Will he bother to look at the circulation figures? As Will Lewis sits, gently rotating no doubt, at the hub, gazing out digitally at the journalists - the peas in the pods, as he might be tempted to call them - gathering their energies for the next "touchpoint", will he reflect on days gone by when editors looked at sales figures and wept?

Tomorrow The Daily Telegraph completes its move from Canary Wharf to London SW1. New newsroom, new approach, new services, new philosophy... and new editor. Lewis is young (37), ambitious and digital. Conjure up a stereotypical Daily Telegraph editor and you would get an upper-class Ox- bridge male with an interest in country pursuits and Conservative politics. Lewis, appointed editor last week, is white and male, but apart from that, he ticks none of the usual boxes.

But it's not because he went to a London comprehensive, supports West Ham and has no discernible closeness to the Tories that his appointment marks such a break from the past. Rather it is because his vision for the paper diverges so hugely from what has gone before. Indeed, colleagues suggest that the Telegraph Group's digital revolution is his chief priority, and "editing the paper itself is only a minor part" of the job.

"Well, that's not true but I've never been shy of my vision," he says. "In the last 10 months we've been studying other newspaper groups like the New York Times, to see how we can follow our readers into the new digital world. Technology is at a sweet spot right now and the digital revolution makes it very simple to get involved."

The final month of John Bryant's acting editorship provided a small year-on-year decline in the Telegraph's sale, which remains reasonably steady at 900,000 and not a bad base for a new editorship.

In fact, all but one of the serious newspapers lost sales compared with September last year - the exception being The Independent, showing a 1 per cent gain. The Guardian, emerging from the year in which readership figures for its new Berliner format were being compared with its broadsheet predecessor, was down on the Berliner launch month (hardly surprising). But it has had a year of selling more each month than the previous year, so the relaunch can be considered a success.

In the Sunday market, it is necessary once again to blush modestly and say that this newspaper had the best September figures of any, up 15.3 per cent year on year, 7.3 per cent month on month. The other newspaper to change its format, The Observer, increased sales by 4.5 per cent year on year. The two "old" broadsheets, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph, both lost sales.

If Lewis can take his eyes off the blog to look at the market in which he has just become an editor, he will see a depressing picture in most sectors, but least so in the one in which he operates. Those who have appointed him agree with his vision of a multi-platform future in which the print journalists provide the content for far more outlets than simply the paper. In this brave new world, they will be delivering podcasts, vodcasts and blogs, as well as their newspaper stories, and contributing to updated editorial online at the various "touchpoints" - key publication moments - during the day.

Clearly Lewis will be as interested in the digital data as the print sales. At present, the figures for "total unique users" at the leading newspaper websites - the accepted measure for audience - show The Daily Telegraph running third at a little under six million. The Times has around nine million and The Guardian leads with 12.5 million, of which some four million are in the UK. Podcast data is harder to come by, but the Telegraph claims 53,500 downloads in the first 12 days of October, while The Guardian claims 140,000 in the first week of October.

Lewis's vision has been a long time brewing. He left the Finan- cial Times after eight years because he was disenchanted with the way the paper was handling its own digital future, and then he moved to The Sunday Times as business editor, where his efforts impressed retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, who recommended him to Aidan Barclay, the Telegraph Group's chairman. "He's one of the most engaging journalists I've come across," says one admirer. "He's very gregarious and inclusive and you feel he's telling you secrets in the form of a friendly chat."

Socially egalitarian, Lewis sends his three children to north London state schools and plays football at weekends. "He's not so much a dinner party guy as a pint down the pub and takeaway guy," says a friend.

But politically, it seems he may not have broken the mould. Although he ran the SDP society at Bristol University, he now describes himself as "an obsessive liberal with a small l" and shares traditional Telegraph passions about individual privacy and freedom from the state.

"I am very sti-mulated by politics and it's about to get very interesting. Our readers believe in less tax and higher-quality services, and fundamentally they want to be left to live the way they want. We're going to be in people's faces about the sort of Britain it's vital to create; the current situation is no longer acceptable."

Office politics, though, could prove far trickier. Morale among staff has been destroyed by the inept way management has handled 133 redundancies this year - on top of 300 last year. Recent events include journalists with a lifetime's service being sacked in conference calls, or receiving redundancy notices addressed to others.

"To describe the old-style Telegraph as a country club was deeply insulting," says one journalist. "No one went out for long lunches; we all worked our backsides off, sometimes until 11 at night. It's more like a country club now as no one cares any more."

"We could have been better at communicating," Lewis admits, "but it was the right thing to do. We wanted people who'd relish the tough times ahead." These tough times include training to diversify into other areas. Lewis says journalists "recognise the media is fragmenting very rapidly and they're up for it".

But one journalist puts it differently: "Somehow we're all supposed to become all-singing radio and TV journalists with one week's coaching."

Another staffer complains: "It's all very well having fast delivery systems, but you need something to put on them. The number of journalists who have been slashed has destroyed our content. Compare how Max Hastings and Charles Moore would hand-pick people and nurture them, with how this management would rather sack people and bring others in. It's like they're pathologically ill - as though they hate their own paper."

But Lewis contends: "We've put in place a tough culture here. It's respectful but challenging."

Standards slip

The first month of fighting in the London freebies war saw a small advance by London Lite, the title owned by Associated Newspapers. The first audited figures for successful giving of copies to hurrying pedestrians scored Lite at 359,000 and its News International competitor thelondonpaper at 327,000. Associated's Evening Standard, as many predicted, has lost out in the "free for all". Not helped by a 25 per cent price rise, it shed 11.7 per cent of its sale year on year, to record 289,000 for September. Ominous.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

MEDIA DIARY

Unrivalled intelligence

The Daily Telegraph's new foreign editor, Con Coughlin, known for his unrivalled intelligence service contacts, is thought to be keen on moving the paper's Africa correspondent, David Blair, over to Washington. He would replace bureau chief Alec Russell, whose job was abruptly terminated a couple of weeks ago. Blair, of course, had his own brush with the intelligence world when he uncovered documents relating to George Galloway supposedly receiving payments from Saddam's regime. The documents proved no such thing and cost the Telegraph £1.35m in libel and legal costs.

Tory spin-off

What does it say when even your PR man decides to get out quick? Nick Pisani, who was hired only this May to be David Cameron's head of presentation, has quit after just five months. Pisani, previously editor of Question Time, was actively looking for work in TV again when More4 offered him a job on the new series of David Starkey's Last Word, the channel's late-night discussion show. "We were looking for senior editorial staff and when we saw he applied, we snapped him up," says a More4er. Pisani, it seems, never felt he was truly in control of Dave's image machine.

Separate tables

Awkward moments over the cognacs at The Ivy earlier last week when Piers Morgan and his girlfriend Celia Walden found themselves dining in the same room as Marion, the outgoing Mrs Morgan, and her boyfriend, News of the World gossip Rav Singh. The women had not met before, but Marion eventually plucked up the courage to send over a note to Piers via a waiter and he then returned one. After some giggling, the two tables managed to join up in a convivial if socially tricky conversation.

Confidentiality breech

Ever in the vanguard of digital development, The Daily Telegraph has launched a new Westminster blog, Commons Confidential. But hang on - the BBC has been running a column of the same name for at least five years. Its author, Nick Assinder, felt he ought to mention this to the Telegraph's political editor, George Jones. Jones's excuse was that he thought the Beeb column had been dropped. In fact, Commons Confidential had just suspended publication over the summer, as Westminster diaries tend to. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," says Assinder, imaginatively.

Hot news at 'Standard'

Alarums! Fire alarums! The entire office at the Evening Standard was evacuated on Thursday morning, apart from the loyal foot soldiers of the Londoner's Diary, who ignored the threat of an in-ferno to continue tapping out their column. Firemen's hats off to them.

Don't call us, says Al

Is Al-Jazeera International finally going to get off the ground? Foreign correspondents report that they are about to start three weeks of trials, operating as though under real broadcast conditions. However, the London bureau is clearly bored of all the calls asking when an Arabic rival to CNN might actually launch. "Actually, they have been running pilots for ages," says a spokesman. "We have said for a long time it will launch before the end of the year." You have indeed.

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