The new billionaire owner of the London Evening Standard has said he has ‘no doubt’ he will be a worse publisher than the title’s previous owner, Lord Rothermere.
Alexander Lebedev told Sky News he might still “rely” on the experience and advice of Rothermere, who sold a 75.1 per cent stake in the London evening paper to him for a £1 last month.
In an interview with Jeff Randall last night, Lebedev said he felt “privileged to be allowed to interfere” with such a well-known title as the Standard.
Randall asked him: “They [the Rothermere family] know a lot about newspapers. They’re good at it. They couldn’t make the Standard work. What do you know that the Rothermeres didn’t know?
“Haven’t you really bought into an industry that’s at the very fag end of its existence? It’s about to go pop.”
Lebedev replied: “I’m sure I’m worse than Lord Rothermere as a publisher – no doubt about that.”
But he added: “I very much hope that the team of journalists can make the newspaper more attractive and more interesting.
“I think it’s good to share with Lord Rothermere part of his public duty and social responsibility.
“He’s still a minority shareholder, so we may rely on his good services.”
Lebedev stressed that his role at the Evening Standard would be to provide “financial insurance” – and editorial matters would be left to Geordie Greig, the former Tatler editor who is about to join the paper as editor-in-chief.
“I do not treat it as a sort of a regular commercial transaction,” he said.
“I treat myself more as a sponsor, as a friend. Everybody knows that probably 10 out of 12 newspapers in the world are making losses these days.
“It’s a huge responsibility for the journalists and as far as I’m concerned I will keep a hands-off policy and not interfere and just wish the journalists good luck.
“But it’s also up to the Londoners to check whether we will be doing a good job or not.”
Lebedev said he hoped the title would appeal to both Londoners and commuters living outside the capital.
“I hope that we will try to serve both, be an interesting, an entertaining and impartial paper – probably focusing a little bit more on culture, for example,” he said.
He said “main, core journalists” on the title might be offered stock options in the company “to motivate them better, to provide us a better newspaper”.
And he rejected suggestions that the title was “going to end up being a version of Kremlin News”.
One of his rivals, the Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, told Sky News: “He will try to spread information which help Russian authorities to survive without understanding that it’s not possible in this country.”
But Lebedev replied: “I doubt the Russian government needs any help as far as I’m concerned or [the] Evening Standard.
“I also doubt that the Londoners will be very much interested to read on a daily basis anything which has anything to do with the Russian authorities’ survival.”
Lebedev said he met Gordon Brown and David Cameron yesterday, adding: “I think it would be appropriate to shake a few hands in a country which has been giving birth to the free press.”