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Interview with Murdoch MacLennan

Murdoch MacLennan is the Chief Executive Officer of the U.K.'s Telegraph Media Group.

As CEO of the U.K.’s Telegraph Media Group, Murdoch MacLennan has led the organisation through an incredible period of change and reorganisation, including the Telegraph’s recent move from Canary Wharf to new headquarters in central London.

In this exclusive interview, MacLennan discusses the changes the group has made as well as what he expects to see for the industry in the future.

newspaper techniques: Can we start with a very broad question? Many of Ifra’s members are facing enormous changes in the media landscape. Can the newspaper industry survive and what will it look like in 10 years’ time?

Murdoch MacLennan: I hope you will forgive a long answer to a very big question! Of course, you’re quite right. We are in the eye of a storm of change – arguably greater than at any time since the birth of the printing press. But first things first. Let me underline that, however tough it is, we’re in a very strong position in the U.K. to weather it, and turn it to our advantage.

In our country, 25 million people still pick up a newspaper each day. Many others look at newspaper websites. That makes us an incredibly powerful medium – with a strong and healthy advertising base – and puts us in an excellent position to face the challenges of the future.

So there is no doubt in my mind that provided we adapt, we can – and will – survive the changes that are now arising from the digital revolution, and harness them to our advantage.

Indeed, in many ways, the future of the newspaper industry is an incredibly bright one because our market places are now global, not just domestic. That gives us unlimited editorial and commercial potential, a range of new platforms from which to operate and a wonderful opportunity to attract a whole new generation of readers into the habit of looking to us for quality news.

The possibilities are immense and really exciting. It’s to meet that challenge that the Telegraph Media Group has been re-engineering its news and commercial operations at our new offices in Victoria since last autumn.

We believe the way to flourish – and I suspect our competitors will be scrambling to catch up – is to give our readers the news when and how they want it.

Global coverage and reach is not all unalloyed good news, though. The downside is that global media companies – not just domestic rivals – are the new competition. And we have to adapt to that.

But change can be good for us. It forces us to rejuvenate ourselves, to find new revenue streams and to win fresh audiences.

Where will we be in 10 years’ time? It’d be foolish for anyone to try to predict. We’ll still be here – and we’ll still be providing news, comment and entertainment.

The one thing I’d wager is that the media companies which will be in the strongest position will be ones with brands like the Telegraph to which people will look for authoritative reporting at a time when the number of news outlets will have grown exponentially. I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I, but that doesn’t make it any the less true!

nt: You mentioned the competition just now. Outside newspapers, who do you see as your principal competitors?

M. MacLennan: Competition used to be easy to identify! It was your domestic rivals. But today all those equations are changing.

At home, I think we are facing new rivalry from the state-funded BBC, whose website – funded by the licence payer – is a direct competitor to us. That’s even more of a problem for regional newspapers.

And then we have the competition from Google, from international broadcasters with their websites, from anyone with access to the web who can become a news provider. I guess that for the foreseeable future, we’ll continue to be measured – in things like circulation figures – against other U.K. newspapers. But that’s fundamentally to miss what’s going on. The competition is changing, it’s digital, it's global – and it’s getting fiercer by the day.

nt: Are you confident that the new editorial system in Victoria is the way forward?

M. MacLennan: First of all I would like to correct one commonly held misconception. The new system was not constructed by the management, it was designed by editorial people for editorial purposes.

After carefully researching and looking at what was happening in the rest of the world, it was created by the editor of The Daily Telegraph, William Lewis, and his team.

It is a state-of the-art integrated editorial production hub, which offers our audiences print, video, audio and online content.

It has been operating since October last year and it is working extremely successfully. Of course, it may well need to adapt. But it is an extremely flexible system.

nt: What future printing plans do you have?

M. MacLennan: We have already made significant investments in our current operations with improved colour facilities and more pagination. Going forward we will, of course, continue to provide the best quality products we can to our readers.

In particular, we need to add more colour opportunities for our customers and advertisers. We expect to announce detailed plans for new presses and more capacity soon and this will involve another major investment in the future of the Telegraph Media Group by our owners.

Page first published: 09.01.2007

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