Exactly a year after Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis crossed the digital Rubicon and announced the integration of print and online, he has a simple message to get across. ‘This integration lark works – it really does,’he says.
His evidence? He points to unique website visitors for July up 62 per cent year on year to 8.9 million, UK web readers up 78 per cent to 3.5 million and video/audio downloads of 900,000 a month.
Perhaps most surprisingly, considering that the Telegraph cut 90 editorial staff in 2005 and a further 54 as part of the move from Canary Wharf to Victoria a year ago, Lewis is convinced that the diversion of resources from print to online has actually helped print circulation.
In July, the Daily Telegraph’s headline print ABC was 889,289 (down 0.9 per cent year on year), compared with The Guardian on 362,309 (down 2.2 per cent), The Independent on 240,116 (down 4.3 per cent) and The Times on 635,653 (down 4.8 per cent).
Lewis says: ‘The newspaper market remains a tough environment, but we have out-performed that and done well in terms of our market share which is now 37 per cent, up three per cent. This is fantastic considering the way you allocate who’s doing what in terms of newspaper and website.
‘There’s real evidence – after a year of this – that this is as a result of a greater emphasis on our online activities. Particularly in sport, young men and women who wouldn’t necessarily count the Telegraph newspaper as their natural home are coming to us through the website and then are much more prepared to taste the newspaper as something that they’ll read on a regular basis than they would have been otherwise.
‘What that adds up to really in my mind is a simply statement – which is to say that this integration lark works, it really does. A year ago we embarked on a really bold experiment and I think we can now confidently say there is concrete evidence an integrated way of working works.
‘If you are relevant on your website and you produce wonderful stuff in video and you produce wonderful chat rooms and discussions then people will be attracted to get more Telegraph stuff and therefore are more likely to buy and/or read the paper.”
The success of Telegraph.co.uk has undoubtedly helped the paper engage with younger readers – whereas the average age of a print reader is reckoned to be 55, the average age online is believed to be 42. The Telegraph’s own research suggests that 20 to 25 per cent of the audience for both print and online, also views the Telegraph in the alternate medium.
Lewis is at pains to emphasise that he is just ‘the front man’of the operation and pays tribute to his inner team of deputy editor Ian MacGregor, digital editor Edward Roussel and head of news Tony Gallagher.
He also praises ‘them out there’gesturing out towards the open-plan newsroom.
He says: ‘I really want to say well done to them because they have really out-performed beyond anything I thought we would achieve.”
It is a team that has changed dramatically over the past year – and which continues to evolve. In recent months regional offices have been cut back and two newsdesk manager jobs have gone – but Lewis refutes the suggestion that there have been continuing cutbacks.
He says: ‘No, the owners have been tremendously supportive and have invested lots of money in this business.
‘I’m always monitoring whether we have got our resources allocated in the right places. Our people are our most important asset followed by our good name.
‘Some parts of our organisation are now growing very, very fast and are demanding lots of resource. What may seem like cuts actually couldn’t be more wrong.
‘We are recruiting heavily in other parts of our business like video and the website generally. We are operating a net increase in overall editorial resource.”
Lewis adds: ‘Our major problem is an industrial one – we can’t produce this stuff fast enough to meet customer demand.”
The Telegraph uses data from media metrics company Hitwise to claim that it is already the top UK quality newspaper website.
But going on the headline data from ABCe, as of July it was still in fifth place in terms of global unique users for UK newspaper websites, compared with Sun Online on 9.44 million, Times Online on 10.54 million and Mail Online on 11.87 million. Way out ahead remains Guardian Unlimited on 16.06 million.
When asked whether overtaking Guardian Unlimited is a major concern for him, Lewis says: ‘In the UK we already have [according to Hitwise]. The size of the overall cake is growing so fast, broadband penetration isn’t yet at saturation point. The overall size of the thing that we are shooting for is growing every day.
‘Will there come a time when we brutally engage in hand-to-hand combat to ensure that people stop reading The Guardian and come to us instead? Absolutely, but right now we have enough of a challenge on our hands serving up Telegraph-type stuff for the people who want to come and have it now. It’s growing madly and it’s wonderful.”
On The Guardian’s criticism of the Telegraph’s claim to be the number one UK website, he says: ‘The problem with The Guardian is it’s had it on its own for too long. It’s getting quite competitive now.
‘If I was in its shoes I’d spend less time slagging us off and attracting attention to us – for which we thank it very much – and spend more time concentrating on its own competitive inadequacies.”
The Guardian has still to make its ‘big bang’move to King’s Cross with a switch to 24/7 working and The Times is also expected to move offices next year with a possible change to working practices.
Lewis says: ‘While one or two of our competitors have still got to move offices and get through some of the re-engineering that we’ve done over the past year and a half, we think we’re now in a fantastically strong position to press home our advantage with this integrated way of working.
‘We really want to fast forward with our attack on the multimedia platforms – be it video, where we will later this week be launching a news-on-demand service on our website – or whether it’s our comment area where I think we are now the most commented on English language newspaper anywhere in the world.”
He adds: ‘We’ve concentrated in the past year on how we work, and process and procedure – what this next 12 to 15 months is about is the quality of our journalism. If we can’t do it in the next 12 to 15 months we shouldn’t be in business.
‘The UK political environment is fantastically interesting, whether there’s an election or not. Finally we’ve got proper stuff to talk about. We’ve got the Beijing Olympics next year – which I suspect will be about China showing off its place in the world – and I think it will be incredible. Then there’s the US election, which will be in the shadow of the Olympics.”
Although the Telegraph newsroom, with its wall-size multimedia display and central news hub, looks incredibly high-tech, Lewis admits that a year on from the office move the paper does not yet have an integrated content management system.
This means reporters still file stories to production in the traditional way, via a print production system. Words and pictures are then effectively cut and pasted into a parallel system which feeds the website.
A new Norwegian system called E-scenic is being implemented over the next few months with the ‘aspiration’that it will provide a single conduit between print, web and mobile phone platforms.
Lewis says: ‘We are 40 per cent of the way there. We have done this almost with one hand tied behind our back. So think what we can do when we are fighting with both hands.
‘We are not setting numeric targets, but there’s a real adventure here and a real sense of journey that I’m just glad to be a part of.”
Despite the new demands placed on staff by the integrated approach, and the undoubted economic challenges prompted by the internet, Lewis insists there has never been a better time to be a journalist.
He says: ‘This is a golden age for media particularly in the UK. We are genuinely leading the way around the world in online and digital media and that’s got to be tremendously exciting.
‘The industry here has finally recognised that it can stop being so grumpy and is recognising that it has a really confident future by pressing ahead with not just producing newspapers, but realising that people should be getting their words, pictures, video, audio and interactivity in different ways.
‘It doesn’t have to be in a newspaper to be wonderful content.
‘We get it more than anyone else and we are further ahead than anyone else – but it’s great that the industry is a vibrant one where young people can enter this industry knowing that it has a tremendously optimistic future.
‘Two years ago would I have recommended my nephew to go into journalism? You couldn’t have a more interesting industry now – it is a fantastic time.
‘I think we will look back at this in 10 years’ time and think ‘wow’, because we are writing the rules of a new industry here.”