Rebekah Wade's attack on her husband dominated last week's column at the expense of Andrew Gowers' departure as editor of the Financial Times. To tell the truth, I was rather relieved not to have to write about the FT. It may be a serious newspaper, but it is also a monument to dullness. Its leaders are almost ludicrously commonplace, and most of its columnists pedestrian. Just picking it up can make me feel depressed. No doubt this all reflects very badly on me, and I should embrace the FT as the newspaper that has dumbed down less than any other, but I can't.
And then, a few days ago, Mr Gowers popped up in the London Evening Standard with a surprisingly lively column that contained the alarming prediction that newspapers as we know them are doomed. According to him, the future lies with the internet. It is what many people in the media believe, though few of them express themselves with the apocalyptic certainty of Mr Gowers. They point out that newspaper circulation is declining in every advanced country in the world. The young are not picking up the habit of reading newspapers as their parents and grandparents did. For many of them, the internet is a far more natural medium.
All this is true. It is also the case that, while display advertising revenue in many newspapers has been guttering - a sure sign of a stagnant economy, and maybe even of an impending recession - advertising on the internet is increasing by leaps and bounds, though admittedly from a much lower base. Advertisers are at last taking the web very seriously. Meanwhile, no less a person than Rupert Murdoch tells us that the future lies with the internet, without saying precisely what that means, and castigates himself for not having woken up to this truth sooner than he did.
It would be useless to deny that something quite significant is going on, and yet I can't help feeling that the predictions of the death of newspapers are greatly overdone. I'll take a bet with Mr Gowers (though someone else may have to enforce it since we may not be around) that in 20 years, national newspapers printed on newsprint will still collectively have a greater revenue than their online counterparts. Of course, they cannot compete with the internet in terms of up-to-the- minute information, but they still offer a portable form that many people will continue to find more convenient than a computer screen for reading longer, more reflective (and less time-sensitive) pieces.
Perhaps Mr Gowers overstates his case as a result of his experience at the Financial Times, whose fully paid-for UK circulation has collapsed in recent years. A financial paper is probably particularly vulnerable to online competitors that can track markets and offer more or less instant analysis, and I am sure the Financial Times has lost some of its British sales to its own online version. But there are also other factors that explain why it is struggling in this country. A paper aimed at the peripatetic international executive on the morning shuttle to Milan or Osaka is likely to appeal less to many British businessmen, who are being offered increasingly good domestic business coverage by The Times or The Daily Telegraph that is more tailored to their needs.
Mr Gowers and other prophets of doom have to answer this point. The Times, The Independent and The Guardian are all selling more copies than they did two years ago. It is perfectly true that some of this extra circulation is being bought with free DVDs and cookbooks, but some of it has come as a result of these papers having adopted a smaller and - as it has turned out - more reader-friendly format. Innovation has brought its rewards. This suggests to me that traditional newspapers, if they adapt, do have a future. And so, I am sure, do online newspapers, but to suggest that they are inevitably going to kill off all titles in their existing form seems to me a little bit babyish.
Why Bryant is unlikely to 'kick arse' at Telegraph
There was widespread wonderment last week when the appointment of John Bryant as editor-in-chief of the Telegraph Group was announced. Martin Newland and Sarah Sands, editors of the daily and Sunday titles respectively, must have been astonished, as well as upset, to learn that they would be reporting to a new editorial supremo. And at the Daily Mail, where the 61-year-old Mr Bryant works as a so-called "consultant editor" on a part-time basis, there was a good deal of shaking of heads and pursing of lips at what seemed, to put it mildly, a strange turn of events.
Now it emerges that Mr Bryant may not quite be the editor-in- chief of the Telegraph titles in the sense, say, that Paul Dacre is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. Mr Newland and Ms Sands are more relaxed than they were. They will evidently not have to report to Mr Bryant in a formal way, though he will be there to offer a helping hand if needed. They have nothing to fear.
In any case, John Bryant is not the sort of newspaper executive who "kicks arse". Almost everyone who has ever worked with him likes him. He is a shrewd, nice, skilled newspaperman. A former deputy editor of The Times, he eventually departed company with the then editor, Peter Stothard, and subsequently offered a berth at his old paper, the Daily Mail. After a few years of working there, retirement was beckoning when, to his surprise, the call came from the Telegraph. Lawrence Sear, managing editor of the Telegraph, is a former Mail man who, until a year ago, shared an office at that newspaper with Mr Bryant.
At this point, I cannot help mentioning the name of Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Group. In the past, I have fondly imagined Mr MacLennan bending over his new train set, the Telegraph Group, with Mr Sear. Now, they have come up with the idea of making Mr Bryant their stationmaster. He knows, as an experienced newspaperman, how to pull the points and clear the sidings, as perhaps they do not. It seems, if I may put it gently, that Mr Bryant will be asked to ensure that Mr MacLennan's will on the editorial floor is respected.
I now see that I may have been rather narrow-minded in questioning Mr MacLennan's role as it has been unfolding. Why should he not run the Telegraph Group as he pleases? I am far too hidebound by stale conventions. Murdoch MacLennan has had a hand in a number of imaginative appointments: Simon Heffer as associate editor, Guy Black as chief spin-doctor, Roy Campbell-Greenslade as media pundit, Will Lewis as City editor, and now John Bryant as editor-in-chief. He is providing Martin Newland with much useful support. For example, he and Guy Black have been taking an interest in the Conservative leadership race, and have their anxieties about David Cameron. The Daily Telegraph may well end up supporting neither candidate.
How fortunate are both Mr Newland and Ms Sands (whose relaunched Sunday Telegraph I suppose I will have to discuss next week) to have such a knowledgeable and hands-on chief executive to guide them.Reuse content