As the Barclay brothers closed in on Hollinger Inc last week and made a bid to take control of the Telegraph titles, few observers could resist picking over the implications - from the legal wranglings to the management issues and the impact on advertising.
But the mysterious Barclay brothers' manouverings did not quite represent a shot of excitement in an otherwise uneventful marketplace. These are interesting times for the newspaper industry as a whole; the medium is experiencing a new dynamism and with this has come a new breed of manager.
Newspapers are fast-moving places - circulation falling or rising by the day, ad revenues fluctuating, constant promotions and spoiler campaigns against rival publishers. In recent months, the changes at senior management level within the national titles have been equally bewildering - at least four new managing directors have been appointed at newspaper groups in the past two years, a reflection of a new generation of management coming through to replace older warhorses and also, perhaps, a sign that the industry needs managers familiar with life outside newspapers.
The backdrop to this is falling newspaper circulations pretty much across the board and a similar struggle to maintain advertising revenue in the face of stiffer competition from rival media. The past year has seen more innovation than those previously, notably with The Sunday Times' experiment with new media formats in the shape of its CD-Rom The Month and The Independent and The Times launching tabloid versions.
Associated Newspapers is one of the publishers that has acted to change the way its titles are run. It recently appointed Mike Anderson as the managing director of the Evening Standard and Stephen Miron as the managing director of The Mail on Sunday. Both replaced long-term, well-respected incumbents and although he is credited with doing a special job with the Daily Mail, you could forgive its managing director, Guy Zitter, the odd wary glance over his shoulder in the direction of the young Associated owner, Lord Rothermere.
Change was in the air, too, at Telegraph Group, where the retirement of Jeremy Deedes led to a battle for the managing director job, the appointment of Hugo Drayton and a genuine break from the past with the departure of the sales head, Len Sanderson. The changes at Mirror Group Newspapers were less generational, more a response to its declining fortunes. The new chief executive, Sly Bailey, cut a swathe through Trinity Mirror's national titles' management and then appointed the colourful Ellis Watson as the general manager.
But how much impact have the new faces made? "With this new generation, a lot of them come from a digital background, which is, by its very nature, about new revenues and a good grounding in running a business," Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says. "They are also bringing something else, in that they appear to be more commercial."
Drayton says newspaper groups are in the process of change: "These are extremely challenging times. We've understood we need to be more flexible to attract that large, broadcast audience. And we are committed to making the best we can of the situation - we are now expected to be measurable. We've been out looking at other media to understand how to make this measurement more precise."
There is also an argument that newspapers are forging closer links directly with advertisers. Miron says: "For a long time media companies have had people who service clients but the change is in the extent to which clients now want to be involved as media expenditure becomes a greater part of their costs."
Newspapers, although keen to build close relationships directly with advertisers, also have concerns about media agencies. Miron says: "We are concerned about the people we trade with and how sustainable their businesses are. I'm not sure the focus should be as much on our problems - some agencies are just not making a profit. The way we trade will change because of consolidation and you ignore at your peril the increasing media savviness of clients and increased investment in procurement."
But what kind of future do the new bosses face? Don't they worry that whatever they do, they are managing a very steady process of decline for a dying medium? Not a bit of it. Anderson says: "I do think newspapers have a fabulous future. But do I recognise that we face significant challenges to re-engage people? Of course I do."
Anderson plays down the arrival of new faces at the top: "It's just our time. There are many very clever people who make the Standard run successfully but we each have to do our own thing."
MIKE ANDERSON - Managing director, Evening Standard
Anderson seems to typify the new generation of newspaper bosses because of the breadth of his experience. He joined the Evening Standard in 2002 after spearheading the successful launch of Associated's freesheet Metro in London.
His expertise in the newspaper market stems from sales jobs in his early career at The Observer, The Mail on Sunday and as the head of client sales at the Evening Standard.
After several years in newspaper sales, though, he moved to the agency side to run new business and marketing at CIA and then PHD. "I've been a buyer and a seller. I know what you have to do for agencies," Anderson says. "I believe in a fixed price so that we can spend more time on creative things for clients. This is beginning to happen at the Standard."
Anderson's time at the Standard has had moments of controversy. He replaced the Standard's long-term managing director, Sally de la Bedoyere, as Associated wanted to tap into the ideas and research-driven approach to sales that Anderson had tested at Metro. He quickly brought in his own people, with the former CIA managing director, Alan Brydon, replacing Mike Orlov as ad director.
His decision to hike sales prices and refusal to negotiate on rates upset some agencies but Anderson argued that the previous sales policy undervalued its readership of "cash rich, time poor" commuters. This may have contributed to a decline in display advertising at the title for the 11 months up to the end of August 2003, though sources suggest this is now on its way up.
"Yes, there was a year when people were resistant to that, we never expected people to say straight away that they liked it. But now every agency is signed up," he says.
A minority of agencies claim that Anderson will run into difficulties with this policy if competition comes into the London market but Anderson is adamant that it is the right one.
STEPHEN MIRON - Managing director, The Mail on Sunday
Like Mike Anderson, to whom he is close, Miron replaced a respected member of the Associated team in taking his dream job last October.
Many in the industry were shocked at the abruptness of Mike Ironside's departure but could see the logic in the appointment of Miron. Previously running Associated's free ad title Loot and its new-media ventures unit, Miron had also spent time at The Independent as its commercial director, after starting out in sales and spending ten years at The Mail on Sunday up to 1998.
Supporters of Miron, 38, argue that his entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to innovate while working on new ventures at Associated will be a valuable asset at The Mail on Sunday. Signs of change were in the air before Miron's arrival with Simon Davies replacing Sue Dear as its ad director last summer but Miron is expected to continue its modernisation.
"I probably haven't changed the structure of things noticeably. For me, it's mainly been about making sure our business approach is consistent," Miron says.
A key part of Miron's initial task, he says, was to be more proactive in explaining the title's strengths, rather than resting on its laurels.
However, he sees his arrival at the paper as a continuation of a heritage of innovation rather than a total break from the past: "The newspaper industry has always been innovative. For instance, The Mail on Sunday was the first paper to realise the power of distributing music CDs as part of the package."
So how important was his experience of new media and other less traditional media? "It makes you challenge things. Working on Loot was a different challenge from what I was doing at The Independent and it tests your ability to make decisions. But the core ingredients are the same - managing people and the product," he says.
ELLIS WATSON - General manager, Mirror Group Newspapers
The former enfant terrible of News International returned to the newspaper industry last year at Mirror Group Newspapers. Appointed by the chief executive, Sly Bailey, he was charged with improving the fortunes of its national titles.
His ebullience and energy has already been felt since he took the job last May. In August, he and his team turned to making changes at the Daily Mirror, axing M magazine and launching the Saturday supplements We Love Telly! and Mirror FC.
Watson's work is not solely focused on the ad sales side, although for a while following the departure of the ad director, Neil Hurman, he took on this responsibility. The arrival of Clare Dove from IPC Media as the director of advertising has allowed him to throw his energies into wider issues.
For instance, Mirror Group's position in Scotland, where it publishes the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, is taking up some of his time, as are attempts to increase the circulation of both the Daily Mirror and The People.
Evidence of his famous skill at developing promotions, honed on The Sun and News of the World, has already come to the fore with the Daily Mirror's recent movie DVD giveaway.
There are signs that the Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, is turning the paper around and, according to insiders, his relationship with Watson and Bailey is good. But Watson still has far to go if he is to pull off his stated aim of "making the Daily Mirror kill The Sun".
HUGO DRAYTON - Managing director, Telegraph Group
Drayton, 43, was promoted to the managing director role last October when Jeremy Deedes retired, marking an end of an era. The former ad sales chief, Len Sanderson, also left in an overhaul of the management team.
A background as an experienced marketer is Drayton's key asset. He joined The Daily Telegraph in a marketing role in 1994 from Reed Elsevier and was swiftly promoted to the marketing and promotions director.
New-media experience also figures on his CV, with three years spent as the managing director of Hollinger Telegraph New Media.
Drayton has inherited the seat at The Telegraph at a tough time - it faces the tricky decision of whether to launch a tabloid edition to counter The Times and the ongoing problems at its parent group Hollinger makes for an unsettling background. It is, of course, too early to say what impact the paper's new owners will have on its commercial operations.
The Telegraph has already made changes to its advertising sales approach to put creative media thinking close to its sales negotiations by expanding its strategic sales team and moving members of its commercial development team into its agency sales teams for the first time.
"We have changed the way teams are organised and are trying to get away from the silo mentality. We have been very good at some things but haven't really looked at how things could be managed across the group," Drayton says.
"I think we have done well over past years and have a culture of innovating and responding to what the market wants. It's been a while since you'd describe us as simple space sellers, what we do now encompasses data and response as well as digital," he says.
Drayton's most immediate task is to decide whether to launch a compact version. His time spent on innovating digital products for the group showed that he's not entirely risk averse. So don't bet against this happening.