China / World

Publisher weighs up bid for UK's struggling Telegraph newspapers

By Julian Shea in London (China Daily) Updated: 2019-10-31 07:06

One of Britain's most politically significant stable of national newspapers could soon have a new owner after veteran editor and publisher David Montgomery reportedly expressed an interest in buying The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph.

Since 2004, the Telegraph titles have been owned by twins David and Frederick Barclay, whose business portfolio also includes The Ritz Hotel, and influential right-wing magazine The Spectator.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is a former editor of The Spectator, as well as being a longtime columnist for the Telegraph group, and the papers have been very public in their high-profile backing of him and his approach to Brexit, with one Telegraph writer earlier this month comparing Johnson to the country's World War II leader Winston Churchill.

But while the Telegraph mastheads have always been sympathetic to the Conservative Party, this enthusiasm for Johnson has coincided with a slump in print sales and falling profits.

In 2018, Telegraph Media Group posted a pretax profit of just 900,000 pounds ($1.15 million), which was 94 percent less than the year before, with revenue falling by 3 percent.

The group said this was down to "structural decline" across print advertising, and has renewed its efforts to increase income from its digital offerings.

David Barclay's sons, Aidan, 63, and Howard, 59, have increasingly taken over the running of the business from the 84-year-old proprietor, and The Times, which broke the story of the papers being put up for sale, quoted an unnamed source as saying the proposed sale was down to a "generational shift" and an expanded family having a wider variety of ideas about where the business should be going.

Montgomery is a man with a major track record of involvement with British newspapers at the highest level.

He has worked closely with global media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and was previously editor of the hugely successful but now-defunct Sunday tabloid The News of the World, and a former chief executive of the Mirror Group.

In 2012, Montgomery set up Local World, a media group producing dozens of local newspapers across the United Kingdom, which was sold three years later for 220 million pounds. Now he has established a new company called National World, and the opportunity for the Telegraph titles seems to have come along at exactly the right time.

"Of course we are interested," he told the Financial Times, before adding that it is "far too early to make an estimate on what the offer might be".

The Times reported that other interested parties could be The Daily Mail and General Trust, publishers of The Daily Mail, another fiercely pro-Brexit paper, and Alexander Lebedev, owner of the London Evening Standard and The Independent. Telegraph Media has yet to comment on the matter.

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