Telegraph new-media position lures old hand back to the fold - Online strategy is the latest challenge for Kim Fletcher, Gordon MacMillan writes

By by Gordon MacMillan, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 31 March 2000 12:00AM

It's always the same with journalists. One moment you're writing about it and the next moment you’re doing it yourself. With the rise of the internet this phenomenon is more apparent than ever.

It's always the same with journalists. One moment you're writing about it and the next moment you're doing it yourself. With the rise of the internet this phenomenon is more apparent than ever.

Kim Fletcher, who last week was named editorial director of Hollinger Telegraph New Media, is a case in point. Last summer he found himself unexpectedly returning to life as a freelance journalist after the editor's chair at The Independent on Sunday was handed to the noted rambler and 'yoof' television creator Janet Street Porter.

Following his exit from The Independent on Sunday, Fletcher took an office in Fulham and got back to the business of writing.

He says: "I had a fantastic sense of release. You are there on your own with a desk and an opportunity to write. It was cheering to know you can still make a living."

In between working for titles such as The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Spectator, Fletcher acted as an internet consultant to The Telegraph.

Fletcher and The Telegraph Group were a good fit. He had a strong interest in the internet and had worked with both Charles Moore, the editor of the daily paper, and Dominic Lawson, the editor of the Sunday edition.

Although there are no signs of dotcom millions at The Telegraph just yet, surely there is a business plan filed away on his PC?

"I have no business plan. Everyone says it is a great free-for-all and to some extent it is. It has proved fantastic for some journalists,"Fletcher says.

The Telegraph Group was one of the first newspaper groups to launch an internet site - The Electronic Telegraph - but things have hit a bit of a buffer lately.

However, with a multi-million pound investment on the way, The Telegraph is about to strike out in a new online direction.

Fletcher explains: 'The ET brings a lot of kudos to the paper but it doesn't make a lot of money. That's something we are looking to change.'

Fletcher seems fired up by this prospect and he talks with some enthusiasm about advertising and other commercial revenue opportunities that will come with a raft of new e-commerce-focused websites.

He says: 'Journalists pretend that they don't understand commerce, but every day they are writing to an audience. It's just called journalism instead of selling.'

This is one of the changes that the internet has wrought: journalists who are happy to talk e-commerce and advertising in the same breath as they talk about good writing.

Fletcher argues that there is still some way to go in terms of the quality of content on the internet. He believes we are still in a period obsessed with newness and technical achievements.

'The technical aspects almost outweigh what it is that you are looking at. In the next couple of years we will move to a stage where we get clever and funny writing on pages that are good to look at,' he says.

Although Fletcher was enjoying freelance work - and he had been linked to an effort to bring Microsoft's successful online magazine, Slate, to the UK - the opportunity to help shape the next generation of online development at The Telegraph was difficult to ignore.

He says: 'I spoke to the people behind Slate and to Microsoft. The difficulty from my point of view was that I knew The Telegraph and it was too attractive to pass over.'

Even when he was away from The Telegraph his relationship with the organisation was friendly - not least because he is married to Sarah Sands, a journalist at The Daily Telegraph.

This warmth was highlighted after his ousting from The Independent on Sunday when The Daily Telegraph ran a leader article titled: 'Send in the clowns.'

Fletcher says: 'I was touched by that. I think some of the things we did at The Independent on Sunday struck a chord, but we had limited resources and sales were falling.'

Fletcher is sanguine about the possibilities of doing exciting things online. He says: 'Think of all those start-ups without an audience or original content. We have all of that and we have advertisers using the paper. They already like Telegraph readers. If you add those things together with a sound commercial model, then that's what makes it so interesting.'

The Fletcher file

1978
The Sheffield Star, reporter

1981
The Sunday Times, home affairs correspondent

1986
The Daily Telegraph, features writer

1988
The Sunday Telegraph, reporter

1991
The Sunday Telegraph, news editor

1994
The Sunday Telegraph, deputy editor (news)

1995
The Sunday Telegraph, deputy editor

1998
The Independent on Sunday, editor

1999
Freelance writer

2000
Hollinger Telegraph New Media, editorial director

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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