Media: All About ... Changes at Telegraph Group

Will all the revamps and reshuffles deliver new readers?

These are confused and confusing times for the Telegraph family. Staff turnover has, to say the least, been vigorous since the Sunday and daily titles were acquired by the Barclay brothers - there were 300 redundancies alone during one cull in February 2005. And senior hirings and firings have occurred on a regular basis since the Barclays arrived almost two years ago.

The most recent exit was announced last week - after only eight months in the job, Sarah Sands is to stand down from her role as the editor of the Sunday Telegraph. She is to be replaced by Patience Wheatcroft, the business editor of The Times.

But it's the readers who deserve our greatest sympathies. Some will have been confused to witness their paper's former proprietor, Conrad Black, being dragged ignominiously through the courts - and their sense of insecurity must have been compounded many times over by the relentless product evolution they've been presented with on both titles.

Although Telegraph readers are doubtless well aware that in the hurly burly of the modern world, one must occasionally be prepared to "think the unthinkable", this remains a profoundly "small c" conservative tribe. Albeit one that is dying out and must be replaced by younger readers.

Some commentators have argued that although both Telegraph titles have experienced circulation gains as well as losses across recent months, recent editorial developments are unlikely over the long term to deliver a net benefit.

1Having acquired the Telegraph titles in June 2004, the Barclay brothers made their most significant appointment in October of that year when they brought in Murdoch MacLennan, the managing director of Associated Newspapers, as group chief executive. He began a cull of senior management appointed under the Black regime and by the year's end Hugo Drayton (managing director), Niamh O'Donnell-Keenan (finance director), Mark Payne (commercial director), Chris White-Smith (sales director) and Mark Dixon (marketing director) had all been purged. The editorial director, Kim Fletcher, managed to hang on into 2005 but eventually departed too.

2MacLennan's most significant appointment was his former Associated Newspapers colleague John Bryant (formerly Paul Dacre's right-hand man at the Daily Mail) to be editor-in-chief across both titles. Within days of his arrival in November 2005, The Daily Telegraph editor, Martin Newland, resigned and Bryant took on the role of acting editor.

3In addition to Bryant, a steady stream of former Mail journalists has begun arriving at the Telegraph, including Lawrence Sear, the paper's former managing editor, and its star columnist and political analyst Simon Heffer.

4Changes have been as frequent on the sales side. Dave King, the executive director, has brought in an almost entirely new team since his arrival in early 2005. Following White-Smith out of the door were senior figures such as the sales director, Jonathan Wilson, who was eventually replaced by News International's Mathew Watkins.

5As regards a possible move to tabloid format, the group has remained staunchly conservative; but there has been radical revisionism where content, style and tone are concerned. The Daily Telegraph was revamped in October 2005 into a main news section and two additional pull-outs - a tabloid sports section and broadsheet business pages.

6The attempt to attract a broader audience was even more pronounced on the Sunday Telegraph under Sands, when she revamped the title in November 2005 with less oppressive typography, more lifestyle and fashion editorial and a female-oriented supplement called Stella.

7There was a circulation windfall, with the Sunday Telegraph sale pushing above 700,000 for the first time in two years. February's Audit Bureau of Circulations figure was 683,741, up 0.15 per cent on the January figure and down 0.44 per cent year on year. The Daily Telegraph, which fell to a historical circulation low of 897,385 in December, sold an average of 901,123 copies across February - and senior management hopes that sales turbulence due to rivals changing to new formats is almost at an end.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

TELEGRAPH GROUP

- The arrival of Wheatcroft signals a return to the Sunday Telegraph's more sober values. As the business editor at The Times, she had a disproportionate impact on the paper's performance - and business readership surveys show that she has helped cement the paper's circulation performance against that demographic.

- A similar sort of uplift can be expected at the Sunday Telegraph too - though it will be an almost impossible task to dislodge The Sunday Times' business section as the weekend's top business read.

- Speculation has been mounting that her arrival may signal more profound structural changes on the editorial side. Given that The Daily Telegraph still has no full-time editor, there are those who believe that the two staffs may be merged to create a seven-day operation under the editor-in-chief Bryant. However, sources indicate that this is unlikely.

AGENCIES AND ADVERTISERS

- There are those who, above all else, would like to see the editorial product settle down. However, they give a mixed report card where the new regime's sales operations are concerned.

- The previous sales boss White-Smith, who departed in December 2004, was succeeded by King, who had more experience in broadcast as opposed to print trading at both Carat and Emap. His attempt to introduce broadcast-style share deals has not been universally popular but his general enthusiasm and willingness to talk directly to clients when the occasion demands is almost universally welcomed.