'2009 will be as exciting for online publishing as the first dotcom boom'

‘I’m not a techie,’laughs Greg Hadfield, who joined the Telegraph team this week as head of digital development after 14 years out of a newspaper office. The Yorkshireman instead identifies himself as ‘a start-up entrepreneur and a print journalist.’

With a Fleet Street career that saw him as news editor and assistant editor at The Sunday Times, and latterly as chief reporter at the Sunday Express and senior reporter at The Daily Mail, Hadfield is relishing the challenge of being back on a national title, albeit in a very different role.

‘For me 2009 is as exciting as 1999, and 1995,’he says referring to the first dotcom boom, and the fledgling days of the internet when he launched his digital career.

1995 was an eventful year for Hadfield. He started Soccernet, originally created by his son Tom, then 12, at their home in Brighton. The success of Soccernet has become the stuff of legend – the football website which began with Tom sending a few friends in Australia the football scores, sold to Disney/ESPN for $40m in 1999.

By then, Hadfield had moved on to his next project, Schoolsnet, an education website, originally set up to rate schools, as a guide for parents, ‘a bit like Amazon,’he says.

Education is after all, Hadfield’s area of expertise – he started his career as an education correspondent at the Today newspaper. The site proved a success and it was sold to educational course guide website, Hotcourses, in 2003.

Passion

Hadfield attributes his successes in the digital world to passion, and a recognition of a niche market. Unsurprisingly he’s a football fan – a Manchester United supporter to Tom’s Manchester City. They identified, and filled, a need for immediate sports results.

Schoolsnet too was borne from his own experiences. When he moved to London in 1986 to join the Today team, Hadfield relocated with his wife and son from Plymouth to Brighton as ‘a friend of a friend of a friend’recommended a school there.

‘When you’re a parent with a seven-year-old moving somewhere new, you want to get in touch with parents who have a knowledge of schools in the area,’he says.

It was this idea of an online community and the discovery of social networking that lured Hadfield back into the digital game. He visited Tom when in his first year at Harvard in 2004 – who happened to be in the year below the Facebook creator Mark Zuckerburg.

Hadfield set up a company to do some white label social software, aiming to establish his communities for parents, students and teachers. The venture never quite took off.

‘No one in England had heard of Facebook, then everyone had heard of Facebook. It was a narrow window that I missed,’he admits.

After the sale in 2003, Hadfield remained a consultant for Hotcourses, however, he briefly enjoyed a less pressured lifestyle, taking up half marathon running – he’s signed up for the London Marathon in April.

Sporting chance

The dabbling in web 2.0 had whetted his appetite. Now, at the Telegraph, he will first look at developing its sports content.

He says there’s much to be done with live sport on the internet. ‘Football is one of the UK’s great invisible exports,’he says. ‘There’s a global passion for the Premiership, and now we’ve got the possibility of personalisation and localised devices to feed that passion.”

Hadfield says that it is this type of recognition that sets the Telegraph apart, ‘Here they see the importance of premium content delivered on different platforms, to feed the passions of niche audiences around the world.”

He clearly realises the new role is a far cry from his newsroom days. ‘As a print journalist, I worried about where my byline was, which page it was on and how many of them there were,’he laughs.

‘Now you have to build a robust business model, the commercial side does matter and there are very exciting things to be done.”

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