Times editor Robert Thomson this week said the cull of senior staff at the paper was over and declared that the paper was now beating The Daily Telegraph on full-price weekday sales.
Speaking to Press Gazette as The Times enjoyed its best ABC figures since launching a tabloid version, he dismissed Guardian plans to switch to the in-between Berliner format as “neither fish nor fowl” and an example of “incoherence at smug central”.
The June ABC figures were the first since the tabloid Times has been available throughout the country and the best by far since it was launched in November. Combined sales were up 4.7 per cent to 661,330 and Thomson claims The Times is now beating the Telegraph on ABC “full-price sales” Monday to Friday.
The official figures show The Times still behind the Telegraph on full price (excluding multiple copies and prepaid non-postal subscriptions) on 479,102 versus 506,151. But Thomson says if you exclude Saturdays, when the Telegraph has a strong sale, his title is now ahead on full-rate sales. The Telegraph is still ahead on the headline ABC figure, 906,098 versus 661,330.
Telegraph Group marketing director Mark Dixon said: “Despite selling at a 10p premium on Monday to Saturday, The Daily Telegraph leads The Times on full-price sales by more than 80,000. It is worth noting that ABC does not report full-price sales for Monday to Friday.”
Thomson said that the series of “agreed departures”, which according to one insider have led to 25 journalists leaving the company, are over.
The cost-cutting process started at the beginning of June when foreign correspondent of 32 years’ standing Christopher Walker was invited in to see managing editor George Brock to negotiate a departure. Others affected include media editor Ray Snoddy and leader writer Vanora Bennett.
Asked if these cuts were made to pay for the cost of producing the tabloid, he said: “That’s not right. The truth is that the editorial budget has risen handsomely over the couple of years that I’ve been here and is up 20 to 25 per cent net as we speak.
“The investment goes on. We are planning a new appointment section for the autumn, we are thinking about extra Saturday sections. So the number of opportunities for journalists has increased significantly.”
Editorial numbers are understood to have increased from 410 to 460 since Thomson took over in March 2002.
Thomson said: “The number of people and the nature of their departure varies greatly and I can’t talk about individuals.
What we tried to do is make sure that each person was looked after and had the maximum number of choices. That’s why it was a process which took a little bit of time and involved a large amount of consultation.”
Speaking about The Guardian’s planned £50m switch to Berliner format in 2006, he said: “If they want to make a continental fashion statement, it would be cheaper for The Guardian to buy the editor a Louis Vuitton clutch bag.”
By Dominic Ponsford