Donald Trelford on the press

The Barclays have flexed their muscles. What happens next?

Three months after taking over the Telegraph Group for £685m, the Barclay twins appear to be flexing their muscles. Since Murdoch MacLennan was hired as chief executive from Associated Newspapers, reportedly for "a king's ransom", the managing director and finance director have both departed, followed by the independent board of The Spectator.

People had begun to wonder what the Barclays were up to: why were they so quiet? Then suddenly they produced MacLennan, stunning the industry, and announced a new printing deal with Richard Desmond. They are expanding paging capacity and introducing more colour. John Allwood, formerly of the Mirror Group, is joining the management.

The Telegraph certainly needs a shot in the arm after the depredations of the Conrad Black era. When the Hollinger scandal first broke, I was lunching in the boardroom with a senior Telegraph executive (no longer there). I asked him what it was like working for Black. He replied: "At the end of the week it feels as though we're sending a huge envelope of cash to New York. Conrad opens it, takes out some notes for himself and his wife and gives some to his friends. When I ask if I could have some back to invest in the Telegraph, I'm told: 'Sorry, chum, there doesn't seem to be any left'."

For all its upheavals, the Daily Telegraph still has by far the biggest sale among quality dailies. The highest priority of the Barclay-MacLennan regime must be to protect that dominant market position and exploit it ruthlessly. Market leaders survive by the brutal exercise of commercial strength.

Look at the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail, The Sun and the News of the World, who allow no one to challenge them. The moment a rival comes up with a circulation-winning idea - whether it's an add-on supplement, a CD or DVD giveaway, or a giant sales promotion - they either copy it or beat it by pouring money into the product. They also extract the highest rates from advertisers.

The one market leader that has conspicuously failed to strut its stuff is the Daily Telegraph, the industry's sleeping giant. The Barclays' main focus is on the daily, which is the group's cash cow, or should be. Once their new executive team is in place and the new printing facilities are on stream, they will turn their attention to what my source called "husbandry", which means increasing revenues and cutting costs. Only then, when the commercial side is fully overhauled, will they switch their focus to editorial matters and ask: what are these papers for and are they addressing the right market in the right way?

Until then, probably in the new year, Martin Newland and his editorial team are effectively on trial. There has been speculation that Dominic Lawson, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, has ambitions to edit the daily, though the Sunday hasn't been doing so well as to make that an obvious move. Nor, one senses, are the Barclays bowled over by celebrity.

The one editor who might attract the Barclays is Paul Dacre, who has presided over the huge success of the Daily Mail. When I suggested this, however, a Telegraph source commented: "I doubt it. Murdoch MacLennan spent too many years in Dacre's shadow at the Mail. This is Murdoch's own show now and he'll want to keep it that way."

Spectator board had to be sacked

Poor Algy Cluff. I felt for him as the Barclays forced him to quit the chairmanship of The Spectator after 25 years, along with his star-studded board. A number of newspapers have independent directors, but what good do they do?

My experience of independent boards when I was editor of The Observer was mixed. The most powerful director in my time was Lord Goodman, who was chairman of the Newspaper Publishers' Association and confidante of Prime Ministers. However, he had a serious blind spot: an aversion to investigative journalism.

The independent directors saved my job 20 years ago when Tiny Rowland tried to sack me after a report on Mugabe's atrocities threatened to damage Lonrho's commercial interests in Zimbabwe. Some outside directors, like Sir Geoffrey Cox, the founding editor of ITN, David Chipp, former editor-in-chief of the Press Association, and Lord Bullock, the Oxford historian, were supportive. Others were not. Lord Shawcross pressed me to sack William Keegan, the economics editor (who is still there today).

All this arm-wrestling with the great and the good was a distraction from the main business of editing, which is about talking to journalists and reading their copy. Advisory groups are all very well, but it's a mistake to have them on the board, because it gives their opinions an authority that muddles the role of the editor. Sorry, Algy, but I'm on the Barclays' side here.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world