Media wars

I spent some time on the phone this morning with Ed Roussel, head of online for the Telegraph, as he was quite properly crowing about the paper-site’s scoop last night on the hiring of BBC Chairman Michael Grade by struggling ITV. It’s big and surprising news in the U.K. and Telegraph editor-at-large Jeff Randall, a former BBC business editor, got the story way ahead of the competition — which, as Roussel enumerated, includes the BBC, which lost its boss; Murdoch’s Sky, which just invested in ITV; and the Guardian, the Telegraph’s fiercest competitor, which emphasizes its media coverage. The Telegraph has been taking its lumps from that fierce competitor for its shakeups and layoffs but I’m sympathetic on that score; revolution is not painless.

But I was curious about how the Telegraph’s integration of online and print in its much-vaunted Star Wars was going. Roussel said the Grade story was a model for how it should work on a new platform that can cut across all media and tools: The story went online at 9:50 p.m. and in no time, they put up audio and video and more content, forcing those competitors listed above to attribute the news to the Telegraph. Roussel said there is no more debate about putting stories online first. He said they are gaining advantage by hiring people like Randall, who have TV experience, and also by sending all staff through a week’s multimedia training. And he argued that the Telegraph newsroom — which puts him next to his print counterparts and tries to break down the barriers among departments and media — “made a huge difference, and I’m not bullshitting you” in getting last night’s scoop out. I asked what the endpoint is and how far along they are toward it. Roussel said it is when journalists respond like Randall, telling the story in all appropriate media: “Here’s your tool kid; how are you going to use it?” He thinks they are two-thirds of the way there.

Interestingly, Roussel argues that not only the newsroom is changing but so is the public. He says that people are more likely now to join in collaborative. They are getting soldiers to video their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq (some of it too gruesome to show, Roussel says). And when they asked their readers to show the impact of warming on their gardens (there will always be an England), more than 600 sent in photos. Networked journalism, that is.

Roussel emphasizes that that they are not getting it all right and that they have contractual issues with print and online staff, workflow issues primarily involving production, and technical issues (what newspaper doesn’t?). But he says that the full story of the Telegraph’s successes is not being told.

Because I’m a media wonk, I’m fond of the coverage of the industry in British papers — it may be a bit much for some but I wish we had more such coverage here. And I also wish we had more competition here, for that would improve this coverage. By this afternoon, the Guardian responded late, by necessity, but compensated with volume; I count 27 links to coverage, including even a special-edition podcast. The Independent had up just a few links, but the BBC had more than a dozen. Sadly, the Press Gazette folded this week, so it was silent. Overdose? Not for media porn junkies. And that is the real moral to this story: competition is good for it is spawning innovation.

(Disclosures: I write and have consulted for the Telegraph’s fierce competitor and I was also introducing Roussel to Daylife).

  • I see Daylife is hiring. I hope you weren’t introducing Edward Roussel with a view to enticing him away from the Telegraph.

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  • Within 40 minutes of the story breaking MediaGuardian had as many stories on its website as the Daily Telegraph.
    I think I would have to differ with Roussel’s analysis: I think this was a triumph for good, old fashioned journalism – Jeff Randall’s top quality contacts book and a story that was essentially manipulated to the benefit of the print version of the Telegraph output (I’m pretty certain that the Telegraph website doesn’t get that many visitors at 9.50pm).
    Interestingly, on the blog we wrote about Roussel’s claims (, one of our readers pointed out that Randall’s agent just happens to be Michael Grade’s sister.

  • A very interesting and informative post, but for the life of me I cannot see how audio, video and more content “forced” the BBC, ITV, Sky and the Guardian to attribute the story to the Telegraph. The two terrestrial TV news services have a good record of acknowleding the source of stories as does the Guardian (on an inside page in this case). The national newspapers, in general, followed their usual rather churlish refusal to admit that they had been scooped. I also wonder at what time the Telegraph had a substantiated story that could have been put on the website.

  • The issue of timing on’s Michael Grade scoop seems to have become a minor polemic on this blog and on the Guardian’s Organ Grinder, so allow me to elaborate on a couple of points:

    1. We worked flat out to create a package of stories in time for the 10 pm deadline that we set ourselves. So, it’s plain wrong to infer that we sat on the story. Randall’s scoop, was published along with a comment piece and audio at 9:50 pm (with a video interview with Randall about 40 mins later); all four pieces of content were prepared in tandem.

    2. It’s also important to understand the wider impact of having a scoop picked up by all the major national TV and radio stations, all citing the correct source: the Telegraph. Hence the fact that we were keen to ensure the news was out before the widely watched 10pm TV news broadcasts. About 12 million people heard the Telegraph being cited as the source for this story on national TV and radio. The benefit in PR terms is obvious. We had record UK audience figures on the website last month. Coincidence? Who knows.

    One additional thought: Yes, this was a victory for old-fashioned journalism – up to a point. But the reality is that there aren’t many people around like Jeff Randall around who are equally talented on video and audio as well as with the written word. So Jeff’s talents combined with the the breadth of coverage that the Telegraph received meant that it was, in effect, impossible for the competition to get the same resonance with their versions of our scoop.


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