MEDIA ANALYSIS: Deciphering the Telegraph signals

The Telegraph brand is at a crossroads, with the editorial distinction between its daily, Sunday and online formats blurring and progress towards a seven-day news operation. Robert Gray asks what it means for PROs.

Patrick Barrow: managing director corporate affairs, Ketchum
Patrick Barrow: managing director corporate affairs, Ketchum

Flamboyant, disgraced tycoon Conrad Black may no longer be lording it over his minions but that does not mean all is quiet at Telegraph Media Group. A flurry of changes at the top of the ­editorial tree has led to closer integration between the national daily and Sunday newspapers and sparked feverish speculation that moves are afoot to introduce a seven-day news operation.

The departure several weeks ago of Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft was widely ascribed to differences of opinion about the strategic direction of the title with Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis, who was promptly promoted to the role of editor-in-chief of both titles. Shortly afterwards, Daily Telegraph City editor Damian Reece was elevated to the post of head of business across the daily, Sunday and online manifestations of the Telegraph brand.

With former Sunday Telegraph deputy editor Iain Martin also stepping into a group executive editor role, part of which entails penning columns for the daily and its weekend sibling, the lines between the editorial teams are beginning to blur. Indeed, for some areas of coverage they appear to have collapsed altogether.

‘When we have been talking to Asia business editor Mark Kleinman about a story, it has been unclear whether it is going into the Sunday or daily,’ says Richard Buchanan, CEO of financial PR agency Buchanan Communications.

Struggling for identity
Buchanan thinks that the owners, the Barclay brothers, are exerting pressure to drive down costs by sharing more ­resources. Buchanan believes this will require some readjustment from the PR industry, especially with regard to time-sensitive stories – an issue of particular importance to financial PROs.

A senior PR figure, who declined to be named, says closer integration has been ‘inevitable’ for years because the Sunday title has failed to match its daily stablemate for reach and modernity.

It has also failed to establish itself as a breaker of important news stories – Colin Gibson’s exclusive, almost ten years ago, on BSkyB’s bid for Manchester United FC being a rare exception – in the same way that, say, The Sunday Times has. 

‘Closer integration makes sense bec­ause the Sunday title, unlike its major rivals, has always struggled for a clear identity, which is not the case for its daily counterpart,’ says Ketchum managing director corporate affairs Patrick Barrow, a former head of corporate aff­airs at the Telegraph. ‘What this means for the PR world depends on what the group makes of the Sunday [title] and where it aims it.’

Barrow argues that if the title evolves into a publication with the same pace and agenda as the daily, it will give PROs the opportunity to feed the momentum of a story. If it remains more considered in nature, the opportunities are likely to be focused on analytical content and reaching out to a core readership in the non-metropolitan heartland of Britain.

Journalists at the group are understandably jittery .There is concern as to what implications any restructuring will have for job security. The Telegraph’s National Union of Journalists father of the chapel (union branch head) John Carey has criticised the change so far as ‘creeping integration’, while another Telegraph journalist says ‘my friends on the business desk are genuinely concerned about their jobs.’

But it would be wrong to paint the resistance to change as whole-hearted and uniform. Some of the younger journalists who have cut their teeth working across the daily and digital outlets see little wrong with a seven-day operation – assuming, that is, that they do not have to work even more punishing hours.

Cross-platform cohesion
‘The Telegraph has been very successful at integrating its digital output with its newspaper output,’ says Fishburn Hedges director and former journalist at The Independent on Sunday Jason Nisse, who recently carried out consultancy work for the group. ‘So if they go down the route to further integration, there is no reason to believe that they do not understand the process.’

The official line from the Telegraph group is that it is not moving towards full seven-day integration, but it is ­certainly on a route march to greater cross-platform cohesion. A year ago, Neil Midgley and Graham Boynton ­ascended to group editor status for broadcast and travel coverage ­respectively. As Reece hammers out strategy for business coverage, now may be a propitious moment for corporate and financial PROs to suggest how companies, markets and issues could be addressed in future.

Away from the lofty strategic heights, there are ramifications for ­professional communicators. ‘As PR practitioners, we need to know what the rules of engagement are,’ says ­Gareth David, partner at corporate and financial agency College Hill. ‘If we are talking to them on the basis of something appearing in the Sunday, will it then appear on Saturday?’

At the moment, there are as many questions as answers. The bush telegraph crackles with rumours while hacks at the Telegraph group continue with the serious business of writing ­stories. Meanwhile, their roles and work patterns are similarly under ­scrutiny from management and ­interested external audiences. Lewis and Reece are at present exceedingly busy men.

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