In a globalized economy, why shouldn’t Alexander Lebedev buy the Evening Standard?
He could end up being a 21st century equivalent of Robert O. Anderson, the chief executive of US oil company Atlantic Richfield, whose poured a daft amount of his shareholders’ money into rescuing the Observer in the 1970s.
Presumably, if negotiations have got this far, government has deemed Mr Lebedev a “fit and proper” person (in the Competition Commission sense of the word). On the other hand, perhaps Mr Lebedev didn’t need to pass this test. The Evening Standard is a local newspaper, after all.
In any event, there’s nothing particularly British about the urge to lose money by printing a newspaper.
Theoretically, anyone can do it. And you’ve got to admit that Mr Lebedev talks well about the job of losing money in the service of democracy. (”I’d like to explain to the public that newspapers are something they should love and cherish.”)
Like a prospective homeowner in search of a credit rating, Lebedev has spent several months introducing himself to London’s aristo-celebocracy.
He has diligently raised money for charity by throwing expensive parties. Happily, Mr Lebedev Jr. goes out with Joely Richardson.
As planned, the credit ratings analysts who toil ceaselessly on behalf of the aristo-celebocracy have noticed this activity.
Indeed, Mr Lebedev is said to be friends with one of them — Geordie Greig, editor of Tatler, whose family, Wikipedia informs us, ‘have been royal courtiers for three generations”. (So that’s all right, then.)
Accordingly, when hacks raced to file background pieces on Mr Lebedev last night, the memes flowed happily: ‘charity”, ‘democracy”, ‘high society”. . . ‘Joely Richardson”.
In addition, they were able to fall back upon Lebedev’s ownership of Novaya Gazeta – former employer of assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Big money, social frippery and the tiniest hint of serious intent. Actually, Mr Lebedev is starting to sound like a model proprietor for the Standard.
So far, at least, the PR side of Lebedev’s bid has gone fairly well. Presumably, he also sanguine about anything News International might dig up during the next week or so.
If DMGT does decide to sell, the price will be intriguing. As for the suggestion that DMGT will only sell Lebedev a 76% stake, this, too, will require some explanation. I suspect that the answer has less to do with sentiment, and more to do with liabilities and/or commitments.