Jason Seiken's departure marks latest stage in Barclay brothers' permanent revolution at the Telegraph - Press Gazette

Jason Seiken's departure marks latest stage in Barclay brothers' permanent revolution at the Telegraph

When Telegraph journalists said goodbye to owner Conrad Black in 2004 many cheered the departure of a bumptious lord (who turned out to be something of a crook).

He threw lavish parties on the Pacific island of Bora Bora at the company’s expense while freezing journalists’ pay and closing their canteen.

But I wonder how the few journalists of that vintage who have survived to the current era view him now?

Following the Barclay brothers' purchase of the titles, for £665m in 2004, there has been a period of seemingly constant revolution and upheaval which must have been dizzying for staff.

When Charles Moore stepped down as Daily Telegraph editor in 2003 he was the fifth editor in the space of 50 years.

Since the Barclays took over it has had six changes of editor in the space of a decade which has also seen several hundred journalists fired (and nearly has many hired).

Martin Newland took over from Moore in October 2003 and lasted just a few months into the Barclays regime – heading for the exit in November 2005.

He was replaced by the first Telegraph group editor-in-chief, John Bryant, in November 2007.

Rising star Will Lewis became Daily Telegraph editor in October 2006 and then editor-in-chief in August 2007.

Lewis presided over the first great digital revolution at the Telegraph titles. Hundreds of staff were made redundant as the group moved from Canary Wharf to Victoria and to merged seven-day publishing.

Lewis helped bag one of the biggest Fleet Street scoops of all time with MPs’ expenses in 2008. In November 2009 he decided to take the more entrepreneurial role of managing director (digital) – while retaining the title of Telegraph group editor-in-chief. He abruptly left the business six months later after falling out of favour with chief executive Murdoch MacLennan.

Tony Gallagher was made Daily Telegraph editor in November 2009 and lasted until a few months after the appointment of US digital media guru Jason Seiken as editor-in-chief above his head in October 2013.

Under Seiken we would see the role of Daily Telegraph editor done away with in January 2014 as Chris Evans became Monday to Friday editor and Ian MacGregor was made weekend editor.

Seiken himself would only really last until September last year, when he moved upstairs to a more strategic role before bowing out altogether last week.

Since then Chris Evans has been “director of content” and effectively editor-in-chief across print and online.

Few journalists can combine the jobs of strategic digital visionary and day-to-day editor. Lewis managed it, Gallagher was never given that remit, Seiken managed the former while the newspaper itself appeared to rather lose its way.

In the time that the Telegraph has had seven editors its main rival, The Times, has had three.

Since January 2005 The Times’ paid-for print circulation has declined from 653,057 to 368,462 and the Telegraph has dropped form 855,994 to 479,937.

Or to put it another way the gap between the two has narrowed from just over 200,000 to around 111,000.

While the Telegraph has grown its free readership online to the current total of just over 4m a day, The Times has grown its paid-for readership to exceed that of the Telegraph – with 148,000 digital subscribers.

To outsiders the Barclays' stewardship appears to have been unnecessarily disruptive.

As does the successive redundancy purges which have seen hundreds of experienced journalists lose their jobs to be replaced by younger, cheaper and more tech-savvy replacements.

And the questions raised by Peter Oborne in February about editorial content being corrupted by commercial pressure continue to cast a shadow over the integrity of the Barclay twins (promised new guidelines on how editorial should work with commercial have yet to materialise).

But the ultimate guarantee of journalistic survival in the commercial world is profit. And when it comes to turning a profit the Barclays have been model managers.

The Telegraph is the only mainstream national 'quality' newspaper in the UK to turn a profit – and at £61m on turnover of £325m it is a handsome one.

But you have to wonder whether the huge upheaval in editorial has been necessary in order to return those numbers? The narrowing gap between The Times and Telegraph suggests that readers are noticing the departure of many famous names from the pages (with lead football writer Henry Winter set to be the latest to go).

My instinct is that Evans now needs to be given the resources and time to steady the Telegraph ship and focus on strengthening a brand which has always stood for conservatism and stability (rather than revolution and change).



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette