How one newspaper went from Tunbridge Wells to Telegraph TV

The paper and its readers once epitomised hostility to change. Not now. Joy Lo Dico reports on a day at the multimedia factory

Sunday 27 January 2008 01:00

It is 5 o'clock at the offices of the Telegraph. With Thursday evening deadlines approaching and journalists firing off copy to the subs, assistant editor Andrew Pierce strolls coolly across the newsroom into a glass booth to face a wall of cameras. On cue, he delivers a 30-second commentary on the significance of Peter Hain's resignation from the Cabinet over undeclared donations, to the backdrop of the Telegraph's new hi-tech offices in Victoria. Minutes later it's all done. Pierce returns to his desk and his piece is wrapped up in a neighbouring VT suite and sent over to Telegraph TV's content partner, ITN, to be incorporated into a short clip. Within the hour it appears on the paper's website.

This is the Telegraph's new integrated multimedia operation. While good old newsprint certainly hasn't been written off, the real energy is being poured into Telegraph TV, a rolling-news channel and a new face for an old company.

When the Barclay brothers bought the Telegraph Group from Lord Black's Hollinger three years ago, it did not seem that a paper with an ageing and conservative readership would ever be in the vanguard of the multimedia revolution.

The group may have started the first newspaper website back in 1994, but then, over the next decade, The Guardian outpaced all its competitors with heavy investment in blogging and podcasting. It had a seemingly unassailable position in the market.

However, Will Lewis's rise to the editorship of The Daily Telegraph two years ago, and the appointment of former Bloomberg global managing editor Ed Roussel as the group's digital director, has seen a transformation of its online presence to ensure it survives in the digital era.

Telegraph TV was only launched three months ago and claims unaudited figures of 794,000 unique users and 3.4 million downloads in December. "The future of news on the internet is going to be a combination of text, video and user-generated content," says Roussel. "This is our philosophy and forms the pillars of our editorial strategy for 2008."

Grand words but will it work? Two weeks ago Telegraph TV also launched a raft of new high- profile programmes. The doughty Ann Widdecombe is hosting a post-PMQ political show Right On, and Loyd Grossman does cookery. In the ultimate Orwellian concept, there is now a daily Culture Minute from arts editor Sarah Crompton, which on Friday featured novelist Andrew O'Hagan reading a Robbie Burns poem.

Online text, already a strength for the Telegraph, is going strong with 10.5 million people reading news reports, features and specialist blogs on the website, according to December's figures, making it the second-strongest online broadsheet after The Guardian.

Roussel is also promising a new user-generated package in the next few months.

For now, however, the growth area is the standalone TV site. Its central element is News Now, a seven-minute rolling broadcast featuring short stories with footage provided by ITN and commentary by the Telegraph's specialist journalists.

That the Telegraph has bran-ded its television output as separate from its newspaper output, brought in an established video partner in the form of ITN and posted user figures demonstrates its ambition to become a fully-fledged channel. "We would like to syndicate it in other places and push it out - a gym or an airline, for example," says Roussel. "We've had an interest from a large retail outlet. We think the demand is there and that is something we aspire to do."

Decisions about video content are taken during the newspaper's conferences and refined throughout the day. Guy Ruddle, Telegraph TV's editor, and his team orchestrate the necessary elements to keep the site ticking over and News Now fresh throughout its 7am to 7pm running time.

But can Telegraph TV make money? That's the question. There are already some banner ads and programme-specific sponsorship to generate revenue, and Roussel is determined to generate revenue. "It is important for us to cover our costs," he says. "Unlike the BBC and The Guardian, we are a business that needs to make a profit at the end of the year."

Absent from Roussel's strategy list are some of the group's earlier digital projects. Telegraph PM, its afternoon edition, has just been gently dropped from the digital output roster and will only be revived for special events such as the Budget and the Olympics. Meanwhile, some of the weaker blogs have been "purged"', in Roussel's words, to maintain quality.

But the most significant move has been the killing off of the Telegraph's podcasts – a strange decision given that its main online rival, The Guardian, has thrown so much weight behind the medium after its early successes with Ricky Gervais, the star of The Office and Extras. The Guardian continues to produce 23 different podcasts from news to science to sport, and recorded 1.5 million downloads over December, with more than 80,000 users pulling down their football programme each week.

"We had a hard core of listeners but not enough to justify a daily programme," says Roussel, defending the decision. "It's a lot to ask someone to go to iTunes to download a programme, then load it up to your iPod and take it with you. The systems of delivery are getting better but it still isn't as immediate as reading a story, then clicking a video next to it that is part of that story.

"When you have instances like the plane crash at Heathrow, that is obviously something where you want to see the images. You want to go round the plane and see it from every angle. Video feels like an absolutely natural extension of that story."

It is not just the Telegraph that is marrying video and text. The Financial Times, which has recently turned itself into an integrated web and newspaper operation, is expanding its online audio and video availability with two-minute news round-ups, in-house expert commentary and interviews with captains of industry. The Times has been running its own low-key TV operation since 2006 and The Guar- dian too is now regularly incorporating video into its online reports. However, all are playing a game of catch-up with the existing TV organisations, in particular the BBC and Sky, which have a well-developed crossover platform on their websites.

At the end of the working day, Roussel tells me he has just had a call from Will Lewis, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum. Lewis is terribly excited about a meeting he is having with Google, which bought YouTube for £1bn just over a year ago.

Telegraph TV is way down the curve compared to YouTube but, should it work, the Barclay brothers may be pleased they bought a paper that moved with the times after all.

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