MEDIA HEADLINER: Former hack and net pioneer looks for solo online success. Martin Dunn aims to crack the web with a new-media start-up, Emma Hall writes

Although he won’t boast about it, Martin Dunn is ahead of the hack pack when it comes to new media. It is four years since he left the New York Daily News as its editor-in-chief to establish a new-media arm for Associated Newspapers.

Although he won’t boast about it, Martin Dunn is ahead of the hack

pack when it comes to new media. It is four years since he left the New

York Daily News as its editor-in-chief to establish a new-media arm for

Associated Newspapers.



Last week Dunn announced that he is embarking on a new e-venture which

he has named Front of Mind. Whatever you think of the name, Dunn has cut

himself a good deal with the Daily Mail & General Trust.



DMGT is funding him, his office and his research costs in return for

first refusal on involvement in any of the new-media service projects

that Dunn decides to bring to market. Although he won’t give details,

Dunn admits that he is fairly advanced on three web projects: one

mobile-phone related, one business-to-business idea and the other a

community-based scheme.



Dunn has secured for himself the thrill of the entrepreneurial challenge

but avoided almost all the contingent risks. Not that he’s a

scaredy-cat.



He was ready to go it alone, coyly admitting that ’there is a lot of

financing available out there’, but DMGT came up with an offer he would

have been mad to turn down.



’I’m in a privileged position,’ he admits. ’I’m in a guaranteed

underpinned start-up. In the longer term, it is my belief that media

companies ought to start looking at business models like this. It’s a

great way of giving autonomy.



’It would be good to do a completely independent start-up but I’m

pragmatic and it’s a big world. DMGT opens doors and gives security at a

time when the internet is inevitably moving towards a shake-up. A lot of

’me-too’ projects will fall by the wayside and people won’t achieve the

dream of reaching the IPO stage.’



The DMGT backing also bestows on Dunn a commodity as precious as money -

time. ’The whole business moves so quickly that the problem is finding

time to think,’ Dunn says.



So what makes DMGT so confident in this man’s ability? Since he came

back from New York, he has been involved in a number of projects, not

all of which have been a success. There was Channel One, Associated’s

ill-fated television news venture.



More recently, Dunn was behind the launch of CharlotteStreet.com, one of

the many women-oriented websites that so far has failed to hit the mark.

He acknowledges there is room for improvement at CharlotteStreet.com and

reveals that there are some changes in the pipeline. ’The site will be

more simple,’ he says, ’and will capitalise on the community aspects of

sharing advice and experiences.’



So while not everything he touches turns to gold, Dunn has still notched

up a few remarkable achievements in his career. He is ’ever so proud’ of

turning Today around: ’It was shot when I got there and it was newspaper

of the year within 18 months, despite having half as many journalists as

the Daily Mail.’



Dunn turned around the New York Daily News in a similarly dramatic

fashion. When he took over, the newspaper had just come out of

bankruptcy. By the time he left, it was thriving again.



Dunn started in newspapers at the age of 17 and was still in the

business at 42. He served his time on the Dudley Herald, set up a

successful news agency in New York and did the glamour thing as editor

of Bizarre at The Sun (he went on to become deputy editor of the paper

in 1990).



So in 1996 Dunn was game for a new-media role at Associated Newspapers.

He says: ’Having worked in the US, where the net was more advanced, I

knew that I was being offered a great opportunity to get into it with an

early stage advantage. And it was a chance to stretch myself

intellectually.’



Front of Mind will offer Dunn plenty of opportunity to do just that.



He is in the midst of recruiting a core staff of less than ten to start

working with him when the Front of Mind office opens in a few weeks’

time.



Although he’s used to being the boss, Dunn expects to be taking orders

as well as giving them in the new set-up. ’If there’s one thing I’ve

learned about the internet,’ he says, ’it’s that no-one has all the

answers to any problem. You have to work as an interrelated team.’



Associated Newspapers’ press release about his new role is carefully

worded, saying DMGT is funding Front of Mind only ’initially’. If Dunn

gets the right team around him, the dream of an IPO can’t be too far

down the line. And as one of the internet’s early adopters and a man

brave enough to take risks, it would be churlish to begrudge him

membership of the internet millionaires’ club.





THE DUNN FILE



1974: Dudley Herald, trainee



1979: New York, freelance



1981: Daily Mail, reporter



1983: The Sun, freelance and New York correspondent



1990: The Sun, deputy editor



1991: Today, editor



1994: New York Daily News, editor-in-chief



1996: Associated New Media, editor-in-chief



2000: Front of Mind, managing director.



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