New recruits must be true to the 'Telegraph' spirit

Commercial expertise matters, but it's finding an editorial niche that will make the difference
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The Independent Online

Long ago, when the Telegraph was painted Black, Kimberly was a name you heard in playgrounds and foxes were still campaigning for the right not to be hunted - the best-selling broadsheet daily was doing what it likes least: contemplating change.

Long ago, when the Telegraph was painted Black, Kimberly was a name you heard in playgrounds and foxes were still campaigning for the right not to be hunted - the best-selling broadsheet daily was doing what it likes least: contemplating change.

Actually, it has been only a few months since the Barclay brothers completed their purchase of the Telegraph titles. The twins did not roll up in limousines and charge round the office yelling about how things were going to change round here. They didn't roll up at all. The journalists got on with their work; sales declined a bit, and all the attention was focused on compact wars. Who would spare a thought for a poor broadsheet under new ownership?

The publicity lull suited the Telegraph well. New ownership is always stressful. The management changes came soon enough, and were comprehensive. Murdoch MacLennan - ex-Mail, ex-Mirror, ex-Express, tough and highly respected - became chief executive. Accountant John Allwood - former head of Orange UK, formerly of News International - became executive director. Dave King, once of Emap, was put in charge of building advertising. The top team will be complete soon when Katie Vanneck arrives from News International as marketing director.

Two days ago, MacLennan announced that he was bringing in Laurie Sear, the recently retired managing editor at the Daily Mail. Sear will work with Kim Fletcher, the editorial director and the one person at the top to straddle both editorial and management before and during the Barclays' era.

This is the first sign of the new management's attention turning to the style and content of the newspapers themselves. The editor, Martin Newland, who had an unenviable first year with the change of ownership, seems secure at present, and the next few months will demonstrate the direction the Telegraph is taking.

That most un-Telegraph of words - "brand" - is now being used, which will certainly be the language Ms Vanneck will talk. She believes in the power of promotions, so expect the Telegraph joining the rush to draw extra sales through costly but effective bolt-ons. The dominance of the boardroom by the Mail and Times tendencies will surely become more evident, particularly since thoseare seen as Telegraph competitors. But it is complicated. The Mail and Times are both right-wing tabloid/compacts. The Telegraph has prepared its compact dummies, but don't expect downsizing soon, if at all.

We are back to brand and identity. Three titles: two tabloid, one broadsheet; two upmarket, one mid-market; one rising sale (Times), one steady (Mail), one falling (Telegraph) - and all right of centre. Only the Telegraphhas an identity crisis. It is supposed to sell well where few people live, the country; to the landed inheritors, of whom they are few left, and to the fox-hunters, another small minority. This is a perception the Telegraph has done little to combat. Newland knows that it is rubbish. He talks of "hard-working families, the expanded middle class." He is right. The Telegraph's present, and, it must hope, future readers live in towns and cities. They commute, they are heavily mortgaged, and they are the old middle class and the new middle class. They are different from Mail middle England, in that they are more tolerant, and from Times middle England, because they have fewer pretensions. The older readers with their cut-price subscriptions to the Telegraph (an important constituency) will pore over the births and, particularly, deaths columns. The younger readers will respond to the new emphasis on films and music.

There is another aspect to the Telegraph's crisis. Just as its readers are not rustic aristocrats, so they are also not the rich, nannied, public-school, four-wheel-drive owning classes who buy mail-order organic vegetables. They are not the women columnists, often called Johnson and related to Boris, who write me-columns on Saturdays.

The Mail-Times tendency at the Telegraph needs to realise that while their management and marketing experience can be nothing but helpful, keeping an editorial distinction between the Telegraph and the Mail-Times is important - because those two titles already exist.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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