Will Lewis: First interview with new Telegraph editor

The top job at any national newspaper is a pretty precarious perch these days, but it has come to something when a newly installed editor isn't looking further than the coming weekend.

In Will Lewis's case, perhaps we can forgive this apparent short-termism, given that the weekend in question sees the crunch move of the majority of his staff from Canary Wharf to the new integrated "hub" newsroom at Victoria.

With 235 Daily Telegraph staff on the march not just to new desks but to an entire new way of working, Lewis — appointed to the job on Monday — is anxious that things go smoothly.

On Monday, the new conference structure at the heart of his revolutionary new way of working begins, with first gathering at 7am.

"Any move is stressful stuff — but we're also trying to do a lot more, trying to change the way they work and give them new roles and responsibilities," says Lewis. "So far it's gone remarkably smoothly. But this weekend with news coming in, news production — the really big one is arriving. I think I'll start sleeping again on Sunday night.

"There are a lot of targets. But really the honest thing, how I'd like to be judged in this short-term basis — two months' time, say — is if people are saying that not a lot has changed. If it seems to be working all right, then that's success for me — is the paper coming out to the same quality, the same standard, the same professionalism, is the website getting better?

"We're absolutely determined for there to be no big bang. We're going to integrate an element of change each day and each week that nudges us methodically but reasonably fast towards an integrated newsroom.

"After that I'll be happy to sit down and talk to you about long-term targets."

Despite antipathy towards the move from some quarters, and the pain of losing some big names and a significant part of the headcount in a new redundancy programme, Lewis insists that the mood of the staff that he inherits is generally upbeat.

He says: "We've been around for more than 150 years, but it's almost like being at a start-up. That's the spirit we have now. It's a real entrepreneurial atmosphere. The mood change is fantastic."

But how about the mood among the top team? With John Bryant having been acting editor of the daily as well as editor-in-chief of both titles, it has widely been speculated that he wanted to continue in that vein.

Lewis says: "I don't get involved in that sort of tittle-tattle. Stuff just gets made up, frankly. We have a great working relationship, actually, all of us. We have given up caring about what our competitors make up about us, because we're strong and confident and a very close working team. We're trying and pushing ahead very fast — it's going to be very exciting."

Bryant, he says, has done a "fantastic job over the last few months, in very tough circumstances. We're going through a lot of change, and he's overseen brilliant papers day after day. You couldn't imagine a tougher situation".

He adds that it was "only right" that a permanent appointment was made and that it was always the intention to do it now. "As far as we're concerned, it's a very orderly and straightforward process."

And what of the Telegraph's political line? Will it be any more enthusiastic towards David Cameron, for example — who columnist Jeff Randall said he wouldn't trust with his daughter's lunch money?

He says: "A lot of papers have not recognised that there is a new political environment coming, which is exciting.

"The question of what's my view of David Cameron is slightly bogged down with how things have been in the past. It's not so much of what I think of Cameron, but what we think of Cameron vs Brown. And then the answer becomes slightly different from the one that people have been obsessing about in the Telegraph for the last few months."

Does that mean that the Telegraph's support for Cameron is not a matter of course? "Our main obligation only is to our readers. They believe in paying less tax, not more tax; in a smaller role for government, not larger; in the institutions of British society being strong and of the highest quality. It's those sort of things that we'll be campaigning on and judging any political party on those criteria.

"You may not agree with what we stand for — although millions do — but you can't be in any doubt what they are. And we'll be persistent in badgering those involved in decision-making around those key elements to ensure that we get as near to that for our readers as we can. We'll use the influence and authority of the Telegraph — whether in the paper or in any guise — to bang away at that."

As to his editing style, Lewis says he'll be "a bit of a magpie". He's picked up vital lessons from Richard Lambert, his editor at the Financial Times and "the most honourable person imaginable. He has the brightest, formidable brain."

Lewis was also impressed by John Witherow, his editor at The Sunday Times. "He's the most formidable person I've worked with. He demands so much of his people. He lives for the job. His rigour and obsession with detail is something I was genuinely shocked by when I first got there. His energy levels are staggering — nothing is ever good enough, which is great, for an editor."

He also praises Robert Thomson, now at The Times, but with whom Lewis spent three years in New York for the FT. "I'm a huge fan. I learned a lot from him about the beauty of pages. There's no one better than him in that."

And how does he feel to now be taking him on? "I'd rather have our team than his team," says Lewis.

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