Media: All about ... Rebekah Wade's rise at NI

Once a secretary, now the 'first lady of Fleet Street', Alasdair Reid writes.

Where better to turn for pithy analysis of Rebekah Wade's recent elevation to the chief executive of News International than the gimlet-eyed correspondents of the non-Murdoch press, who, given this prime opportunity to become paragons of disinterested objectivity, viewed her good fortune with a mixture of incredulity and reluctant envy.

While the Financial Times reached for an unprecedented raciness with its: "Sun editor to take charge of Murdoch's UK newspapers," it fell to The Independent to sex it up with "The red-top redhead who became the first lady of Fleet Street" - believed to be a nostalgic reference to an area of London where newspapers were published way back in the 20th century.

The London Evening Standard, desperate to underline that, though under new foreign ownership, it can do witty, yet down-and-dirty allusions drawing on British popular culture, pointed out that: "It's Rebekah wot won it." Yet there was widespread disappointment when the Daily Express failed to publish a speculative story on Wade's possible role in the establishment's cover-up of the assassination of Princess Di.

Decent marks must go to a satirical website that cut to the chase and dubbed her the "ginga ninja"; but the laurel must go to The Guardian and its distinctive: "How could you, Rebekah?" take on the matter.

It pointed out that when she takes up her new role, Wade will complete her reinvention by using her new married name of Brooks, which she acquired when she wed the racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks in June.

In taking this treacherous decision to subsume her true and inalienable identity, she therefore does untold damage to the historical struggle of women to unenslave themselves from the tyranny of, er, Brookishness.

Brooks, though, it is.

1. Brooks, who will take up her new role from 1 September, will be in overall command of NI's five newspaper titles: The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, News of the World and thelondonpaper. She will report to James Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corp Europe and Asia. Brooks, who is 41, began her career 20 years ago as a secretary on the News of the World. She has been the editor of The Sun for the past six years and, before that, was the News of the World editor for three years.

2. Her appointment will allow James Murdoch, who will still be based at Wapping, to concentrate on the bigger picture (the company's television interests in Asia and continental Europe, for instance), though he will add the title of NI executive chairman to his News Corp title. Previously the chief executive of BSkyB, he was parachuted into his current role in a reshuffle that also saw NI's then-executive chairman, Les Hinton, moving to New York to become the chief executive of Dow Jones.

3. Brooks will take charge of a UK publishing operation whose management structure has been streamlined. Previously, it had been split into a News Group Newspapers unit (The Sun and News of the World) headed by the managing director, Mike Anderson, and the quality titles in Times Media, run by the managing director, Paul Hayes. Both reported to the NI managing director, Clive Milner. In the restructure, Milner became the chief operating officer; Hayes became the managing director, commercial, heading a merged ad sales operation selling across all of the company's properties; while Anderson became the managing director, digital and new business. Anderson is now working on special projects around Europe, with the NI marketing director, Katie Vannek, taking on the digital role.

4. Further major appointments have included the promotion of Dominic Carter, the trading director at Times Media, to the new position of NI trading director; as well as the hirings of Jeremy Schwartz, previously a senior marketer at L'Oreal and Sainsbury's, as the chief marketing officer and Neil Jones, formerly Carat's managing director, as the director of commercial strategy.

5. The restructuring also saw 100 of its 450 sales staff made redundant. This might help NI improve its profitability - Times Newspapers lost £51.3 million in the year to 29 June 2008, a loss only marginally compensated for by profits of £55.1 million at The Sun and News of the World during the same period.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

NEWS INTERNATIONAL

- It is widely reckoned that one of Wade's (or Brooks as she will now be known) greatest strengths is the fact that she is well-connected. The guest list at her wedding, for instance, included both Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Insiders say she has the sort of charm and charisma not commonly found in your average newspaper editor.

- Her networking skills will clearly be important in an era when we're likely to see more, rather than less, government interference in the media marketplace.

- And she gets on famously well with the whole Murdoch clan, so NI's long-term management stability seems assured.

ADVERTISERS

- Some agencies worry that the appointment of someone with an editorial background to the top job may make it slightly more difficult for advertisers to pursue the sophisticated forms of partnership (advertorials, promotions, innovative advertising formats) that they've been developing in recent years. Ex-editors can be suspicious of advertiser initiatives that, they suspect, might compromise the purity of the editorial brand.

- But Claudine Collins, a managing partner at MediaCom, has no reservations whatsoever. "Rebekah is clever and charismatic and approachable - and that's always important for our clients. They like to know they can talk through their concerns with people at the very top. I think it's a tremendous appointment - it's been clear she's been groomed for this for a long time and it's always good to see a good woman in charge as far as I'm concerned," she says.

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