Gideon Spanier: Jason Seiken brings a radical vision to the conservative Telegraph Media Group. But who’s buying into it?

Every newspaper group is struggling with the biggest communications revolution since the invention of the printing press

Executives at the Daily and Sunday Telegraph recently received an internal questionnaire on 20 key issues. It made for slightly bewildering reading for print veterans.

Among the questions were: “What times of day do you publish? What works best at a particular time of day? What kind of new metabolism will your department develop? If 20 page impressions are free, how do you tempt a visitor to pay for the 21st [the Telegraph introduced a metered paywall earlier this year]? What types of video work best in your area? What could you do with your star performers and a camera?”

Other questions asked about how to improve the use of data and graphics, to make more money from areas such as sponsorship and events, and to ensure that an increasing focus on digital did not undermine a commitment to print.

Most of these seem eminently sensible, apart from the bizarre reference to metabolism. Every newspaper group is struggling with the biggest communications revolution since the invention of the printing press, so Telegraph Media Group (TMG) deserve credit for tackling it head-on and appealing for ideas from their lieutenants. Few within the industry would claim to have all the answers but some other rival groups show little sign of even asking the right questions – let alone much urgency.

The “20 Questions” memo puts into context last week’s surprise appointment of Jason Seiken as TMG’s new chief content officer and editor-in-chief. Mr Seiken comes from America and is steeped in digital. A dual US-UK citizen, his role for the last six years has been general manager of digital for Public Broadcasting Service – better known as PBS and the closest thing to the BBC in the US. Before that, he worked for AOL in London and was editor-in-chief of

The announcement about his appointment promised a “root and branch restructuring of TMG’s editorial operations to complete its transition to a fully integrated digital business”, adding the newsroom must develop “a dynamic, entrepreneurial culture with digital products at its core”. Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of TMG, emphasised Mr Seiken’s “pioneering track record of delivering radical, durable change” and “completing profound business transformations”.

TMG declined to comment further, but among journalists, there is trepidation and optimism. Insiders worry that Mr Seiken will bring in his own team, even though the editors of The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, who will report to him, are said to be safe. There has already been a lot of change at TMG. In March, there were 80 redundancies as the company became more “digitally-focused”. With 54 million worldwide users, the Telegraph is the third biggest UK newspaper website, although it is still the biggest quality in print, with a daily sale of close to 560,000.

Considering its Torygraph image, TMG has been surprisingly radical. It became the first UK newspaper group to introduce a single, integrated print-and-digital editorial operation in 2006, with a much-imitated “hub-and-spoke” newsroom layout. Yet my understanding is that some at the top of TMG feel many of its journalists are still stuck in a print mindset. With print revenues falling across the industry and, in the Telegraph’s case, an older readership, there are reasons to worry, even though TMG is rare among quality papers as it makes handsome profits – £57.2m last year on sales of £327.5m.

The status quo won’t last with Mr Seiken, judging by an speech he gave at PBS last year. He talked about how most people dream of being inventors but fear change, and cited the example of camera firm Kodak, which resisted digital and went bankrupt. His solution was to create more online video and locally-tailored content, aimed at every community in the US. Internal culture was crucial. Every staff member of should feel “they are entreprenuers” who “favour action, over discussion” and “pivot fast”. The mantra should be: “Act, learn, build, repeat.”

To that end, Mr Seiken launched PBS Digital Studios to make original, online TV shows and won a hatful of awards. Video views on the PBS site rose 100-fold to 225m a month in the last four years, according to the Digiday industry website. How Mr Seiken applies such thinking to the Telegraph’s journalism is not yet clear. He certainly promises radical change, if he can win over the newsroom.

Bring on a new generation of risk-takers

Richard Desmond made a good point when he warned that many senior figures in British media were risk-averse. “If I had gone to one of these great universities, I wonder if I would be speaking here today?” the owner of Channel 5 and the Daily Express told an industry audience at Cambridge University. “I worry that this kind of structured education means you become structured in your thinking. And that affects how you approach taking risks.”

It is hard to think of many successful digital media companies that have emerged from British universities in recent times – certainly when compared to, say, Stanford in Silicon Valley, in the United States, where venture capitalists mix with professors in campus cafes and every other person wants to create the next Google, Facebook,  Instagram or Snapchat.

However, that could change: the new generation of undergraduates who are heading off  to UK universities are digitally-savvy customers paying  big tuition fees.

They got their A-level results electronically, were wooed by their university by e-mail, and some have been meeting fellow students through Facebook,  even before they get to their  halls of residence.

It brings a whole new meaning to media studies. And there’s nothing like finishing university with £27,000 of debt to encourage some entrepreneurial spirit.

Bauer acts for its  own greater good

As Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, was about to begin on Friday, media giant Bauer finally bowed to months of protests and shut Der Landser, a magazine accused of glorifying German Second World War soldiers.

Bauer has been under pressure thanks to a campaign by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. In Britain, Ofcom is being pressed to investigate whether Bauer, owner of radio stations Kiss and Magic and magazines Grazia and Heat, is a “fit and proper” broadcaster.

That is no small matter when the company needs regulatory approval for its takeover of Absolute Radio. Bauer says Der Landser did not glorify National Socialism and complied with German law. But it does not take long for a crisis to escalate in the digital age when social media amplifies protests and advertisers can get the jitters.

The Der Landser saga shows media companies will act quickly once their wider commercial interests are under threat.

Ian Burrell is away

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

Personal and Legal Assistant – Media and Entertainment

£28,000 - £31,000: Sauce Recruitment: A Global media business based in West Lo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice