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
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
Dunn has secured for himself the thrill of the entrepreneurial challenge
but avoided almost all the contingent risks. Not that he’s a
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
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
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’
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.