Feature

Natural conservative trying to move Telegraph front of mind

Charles Moore has to aim younger without upsetting old readers, writes Ian Darby

That most British of performers Stephen Fry has much in common with The Daily Telegraph. Fry has complained that no matter what he does in an interview he always comes across the same. He might swear like a docker or namecheck his favourite rock bands but the articles would always highlight his innate cosy Britishness.

The owners of The Daily Telegraph say the same about their product. Feeling that the newspaper is more dynamic and less old-fashioned than potential readers give it credit for, they are embarking on an £8m awareness exercise, using three TV ads by Clemmow Hornby Inge. The main aim is to bring in more readers from the 30- to 45-year-old age range.

The ads support editorial changes introduced last Saturday that include a modified front-page, a modernised masthead, a revamped magazine and expanded arts and books coverage. More radical perhaps is the introduction of Irvine Welsh as a columnist.

Along with other broadsheet titles, The Daily Telegraph is not having it easy. Circulation is on the decline (in January it fell 4% to 930,023) and it has been languishing under the magic 1m mark since a decision to strip out a large number of bulk copies last autumn. And the National Readership Survey figures show The Daily Telegraph is desperately in need of attracting readers at the younger end. In the year to September 2002 its 25- to 34-year-old readership fell 13% to 188,000. However, it did manage to grow its 35 to 44 readership by 12% to 371,000.

The cynics who suggest that the newspaper has lost touch with reality lay the blame at its editor's door. They seem suspicious of Charles Moore's high Tory Roman Catholicism and suggest that his support for Iain Duncan Smith and supposed obsession with countryside and Tory parish issues is a turn-off for most readers.

However, speaking to Moore you get the sense of an editor keenly aware that his newspaper needs to move on. But while some of the changes made, such as the renaming of the famous Peterborough column and the modernisation of the masthead, may upset the traditionalists, they represent a progression rather than a wholesale redesign.

Moore, 46, says that the editorial changes and ad campaign are designed to build on strengths already inherent in the title. "People have misconceptions that fall away when they read it. They think it's fusty, long-winded and boring but then it's a real revelation how good the writers are and how funny the paper is."

The advertising, in particular, is intended to build on the Telegraph's image as the market-leading broadsheet title (it sells around 300,000 more copies than The Times). Moore believes the title can take readers from The Times, Daily Mail and Daily Express. "We're much more like The Guardian than The Times. We have a strong character that readers can debate and argue with. The Times has more of a bland personality."

So how important is it to snatch back the magic million circulation? Moore says it will take years not months: "It's very important but long term. If we wanted to put the circulation up artificially we would use price cuts and other inducements but this is a long-term assertion of our identity. Circulation is not going to be dramatically better in a few months' time."

Moore wants to evolve rather than revolutionise the Telegraph's standing. "We musn't forget the traditional values of concise, accurate and full news coverage. We've strengthened in foreign coverage and we are the only title to have a separate sports section every day and we've also improved our business coverage. But we need to combine our long-standing attributes with more style, imagination and surprising argument than we used to."

He also promises a greater focus on gardening, leisure, cookery, arts and books -- areas that will help drive the younger, female side of its readership.

But what does the industry think of the changes and Moore's part in them? Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "This is a process of osmosis for the Telegraph. It could lose a lot of loyal readers if it goes too far. I only hope that, with Irvine Welsh, it's not going to get to the stage of being like watching your dad dancing at the wedding."

Despite the changes, recent reports have suggested that Moore might be leaving his editor's chair to focus on writing his authorised biography of Baroness Thatcher. And rumour has it that the Telegraph's owner, Conrad Black, wants Moore out and will replace him with the mop-headed Tory MP Boris Johnson. Moore bats this suggestion away and predicts that he will be in the role for some time to come: "Of course, what happens as an editor is never solely in one's own gift but I'm very committed to this. It's a big undertaking and I want to be around to make it work."

The Moore file

1981 The Daily Telegraph, leader writer

1984 The Spectator, editor

1990 The Daily Telegraph, deputy editor

1992 The Sunday Telegraph, editor

1995 The Daily Telegraph, editor

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