MEDIA: Profile - Overseeing the Times’ net growth/Andy Bull, on-line assistant editor, the Times

Five years ago, British newspapers discovered the internet. They wrote a bucket-load of features, caused a stink about porn and paid lip service to internet guru Nick Negroponte’s prediction that all information would end up on-line.

Five years ago, British newspapers discovered the internet. They

wrote a bucket-load of features, caused a stink about porn and paid lip

service to internet guru Nick Negroponte’s prediction that all

information would end up on-line.



Most broadsheets made a desultory attempt to put up an internet version

of their products, but they basically left the area well alone.



This year, however, on-line editions seem to have exploded. Most

recently, FT.com prepared for a global relaunch of its site. Now the

Times, the cornerstone of the British press, has decided to effectively

relaunch its on-line paper which, to date, has been little more than a

digest of the daily, print edition. The man overseeing this relaunch is

Andy Bull.



’We came in to the market late,’ admits Bull, ’which means we have to be

the best. Until the beginning of this year, News International didn’t

really take the internet seriously.’



Bull’s career is classic: he served his indentures with Westminster

Press at the Hastings Observer, then worked his way up through regional

dailies, including the Reading Evening Post, where he was deputy

features editor, to Fleet Street. After helping found the Independent as

deputy features editor, he ended up at the Times in 1997 as special

projects editor, launching magazines and supplements until he was

summoned by editor Peter Stothard to head the internet version of the

paper.



Bull thinks big. ’Newspapers have had an inferiority complex since the

launch of television and radio,’ he says. ’Now we have the potential to

break a story the moment it happens. It means we’re going to have to

re-evaluate our understanding of embargoes and our urgency in getting

hold of senior people for comment.’



Bull is anxious to stress that the final decision on whether to break

stories on-line has yet to be made. It is significant, however, that the

Times On-line will operate from a desk at the heart of the newsroom once

the office has been reconfigured in October. Other on-line papers are

usually in different buildings to the actual print operation.



The Times On-line desk is staffed half with news editors and half with

features people, who will have a complicated role. Bull explains: ’They

will work with the relevant features departments on extending what we

can offer on-line. If we have a book serialisation, On-line would run

the serialisation but maybe we’d get the author into a forum for a

debate too. The opportunities are infinite, and these are the

conversations we’re going to have to start having with PR people when we

do serialisation deals.’



Former colleagues are full of praise for the man charged with making

Times On-line shine, and are sure that his sunny disposition will make

the venture a success. ’He’s great fun,’ says Rod Gilchrist, deputy

editor of the Mail on Sunday. ’He’s also the best non-professional mimic

I’ve ever heard. He can do the famous people, but what’s even better is

how well he does people around the office. I’d love to hear him do Peter

Stothard.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1986: Deputy features editor, the Independent

1993: Assistant editor, features, Mail on Sunday

1998: Assistant editor, the Times On-line



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