William Lewis, the youngest editor of the Daily Telegraph to date, was welcomed on Monday, February 23, at the University of Lincoln’s LPAC theatre by a varied audience. “We went looking for angry workers within the institution who knew exactly what needed to be done,” Mr. Lewis explained in his talk about the overhaul of the Telegraph. But there is still space for improvement, as he points out: “We don’t employ enough senior women, and that’s an annoyance.”
Q: Would you say there was a higher percentage of stories taken from the wires or actually going out and getting them yourself?
A: Stories come from everywhere. Stories can come from a press release — you just have to work it. Stories aren’t particularly black and white. I don’t think you can get a story with just one conversation or one press release and so on. So I don’t know, but I would presume of the many hundreds of stories that we do each day for our newspaper are soft generative.
Q: Are the stories you publish in the newspaper different from the ones you publish online?
A: Well yes. If it was online you would expect a story to have the multimedia package. One of my morning anger moments this morning was that I could not easily find the Kate Winslet acceptance speech embedded in the Kate Winslet story. I checked blogs (with Oscar coverage) to see what I should watch, who was wearing something interesting, I wanted the key stuff thrown at me on different types of media.
Q: With the recession still happening how have the public responded to your articles?
A: Our readers have a love-hate relationship with a recession story. They know they need to know about it, but on the other hand, don’t want to read stories like “It’s even worse than it was yesterday!” and not sure they want to turn over the page. The challenge is that the media have to get the balance right — telling the truth and making sure you get the right the balance of stuff either on your website or newspaper, so that it won’t make people want to jump out of a window — it’s still worth living. You’ll know if you’re getting it right or wrong if your readership goes up or down.
Q: Tell us about the gender and race diversity of staff on the Telegraph.
A: We don’t employ enough senior women, and that’s an annoyance, but it’s something we are working on. I don’t know about the diversity of the staff, but one of the key things we have been focusing on is the meritocratic change. For example, if ‘Johnny’ had been to Eton and Cambridge, and didn’t pass the foreign office exams, he knew that he may work on a column, but I can’t guarantee it. Now if ‘John’, who didn’t go to university but he’s a better candidate, then ‘John’ is going to win. Now ‘John’ may not be white, he may have English as his second language, but if John is better, then John will get the job. It’s a meritocratic right — I will not ask where people went to school, I don’t care. The Telegraph is employing the best of the best right now.
Q: Will there be any jobs available for graduates this year?
A: I don’t think so, no. At the moment it’s like 1991 again. I think it is a really bad time. I think it won’t take long to bounce back, though. It isn’t as bad as in ’91 where there were no jobs. Though [in the meantime] you could be an entrepreneur. You can self-publish in a way that was unimaginable for those 20 years ago. You can freelance. Try and do something else while there are no jobs around.
Q: How are Telegraph reporters preparing for multi-platform journalism?
A: We tried to get all our colleagues to work on different platforms and use different skills and so on, and go through a week long training program. We put a lot into that, and off the back of that we kept that going. This year everyone has to do at least nine hours training. We think self-improvement and news skills are so important right now, particularly when the industry’s in such a state, you can’t just be about learning shorthand.
Q: Why did you want to be a journalist?
A: I loved, and still do, reading the newspapers and watching the 10 o’clock news. That was the main love of my life, and therefore I’d like to do that. I loved the Sunday Times especially when I was growing up.
Born in 1969, Will Lewis graduated from City University with a postgraduate diploma in Magazine Journalism. He began work at the Mail on Sunday as a business reporter. Soon after, he joined the Financial Times, where he worked for 8 years, even becoming their news editor. After he left the Financial Times, he worked on the Sunday Times as the business editor, before starting work in 2005 at the Telegraph, where he remains as editor.
The Telegraph had problems. Internally, it didn’t know how many people they employed, personnel didn’t agree with the payroll and editorial, and they were paying people twice, and even paying dead people. “It was a disgrace, and the institution was getting betrayed by people that ran it. Unless we engaged in action, there was a possibility for the institution not to be around in the years ahead.”
Lewis and some of his colleagues knew something had to be done: “We went looking for angry workers within the institution who knew exactly what needed to be done, who’s voices hadn’t been listened to for many years.”
“We have given an institution that was on its knees and preparing for death, a chance of life. We know now that it will be around for many generations to come due to the action we have taken for the last 3 or 4 years. It is still early days, but for everyone involved in the Telegraph, from the reporters to the readers, it’s only going to get better.”Tweet