As subscribers grow, The Telegraph embraces a new digital mindset 

Future News 99

The internet has gradually eroded one of Fleet Street’s oldest assumptions – that readers only want to read long, thoughtful and insightful stories on the weekend when they have more downtime.

That premise meant a separate editorial product was created, the Sunday paper. These outlets would also need their own editorial teams, who would sit separately from their sister titles, the dailies.

The Telegraph, which has been knocking around since June 1855, made its own move into the Sunday paper market with the launch of The Sunday Telegraph in February 1961. It made sense at the time, but more than half a century later the broadsheet has moved to a seven-day operation. 

As part of this transition, Christopher Williams, who became business editor of The Sunday Telegraph in September 2019, has now been promoted to editor for the whole business operation of The Telegraph and its growing subscriber base (335,000 at last count, just behind Rupert Murdoch’s The Times and Sunday Times).

“There is a gradual change in priorities [at The Telegraph] between digital and print,” Williams told FN. “Our print products are still very important, and those readers are still very valuable to us, but as the business editor I need to have a view of all seven days and have a service mentality rather than a product mentality. 

“We are providing a digital service to our digital subscribers. The type of journalism that you have traditionally seen in Sunday newspapers should be spread across the week. “It doesn’t mean weakening the Sunday edition, it means expanding it in a way where off-diary and in-depth stories are part of the daily serving we give to our readers.” 

Williams, who has a background in technology, media and telecom reporting (checkout his history of Sky here) and also oversees The Telegraph’s technology team, wants his reporters to adopt a “primarily digital mindset” going forward. 

“Our reporters shouldn’t be thinking ‘will this get on the front of the newspaper?’ – that is a question for the desk and we will decide that,” he said.

“Reporters should be thinking about their readers and their engagement via our digital publishing. That is a mindset which we have made huge steps towards, but it’s my job over the next year to implement that decisively.” 

As for the type of editorial content championed under his watch, Williams is very much interested in the UK’s energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Just this past week the Office for National Statistics put the cost of electric vehicles (EVs) in its inflation basket for the first time, while Boris Johnson’s government cut its grant on electric cars from £3,000 to £2,500.

“It’s absolutely an issue and probably one for Telegraph readers who are higher up the income scale,” Williams said. 

“A lot of them are now thinking that their next car will be an EV, so this is what is driving a huge amount of interest for our motoring department, which is reviewing the vehicles, and the business desk, where we are thinking about and looking into how the infrastructure around EVs does or doesn’t work. It’s a theme that has got endless possibilities for journalism.” 

But the business editor definitely does not want to get bogged down by categorising different companies, organisations and sectors.

“It kind of doesn’t matter which type of company Uber is, for example, what matters is that Uber is changing the world to a large extent and is involved in multiple controversies,” Williams said.

“It’s horses for courses – one day I might commission one of our commentators, I might commission a technology writer or I might commission a colour writer who can talk to Uber drivers about what is going on.

That is more of a news mentality, as opposed to saying ‘we are the business desk and we are only concerned with the markets and there is only one person who can write about that’. It shouldn’t be like that because you won’t produce the best journalism.” 

As to what form we will see this journalism in beyond the deep dives and analytical work Williams wants to spread across the week, The Telegraph’s business live blogs, including a daily market and technology offering, will continue as will the numerous newsletters.

And will this new digital mindset impact reporters’ remuneration? Only in a good way, according to Telegraph Editor Chris Evans, who clarified his paper’s position after The Guardian effectively suggested The Telegraph was mooting a pay-for-clicks model. The outlet actually has an audience metric tool called STARS.

“The Guardian story was misleading,” Evans said on Twitter. “It suggested we are chasing clickbait whereas we are chasing the opposite.”

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For high-praise, tips or gripes, please contact the editor at iansilvera@gmail.com or via @ianjsilvera. Follow on LinkedIn here. 

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