Times Picks Senior Team For Paywall Push

By Stephen Brook: The Times has hired a senior executive from Star TV in Asia to head up its digital division and promoted its chief leader writer, Daniel Finkelstein, as it gears up to implement its online paywall, which I hear could launch in May.

News International won’t be drawn on a start date for its long-awaited paywall and new Sunday Times website, but an internal source has told me that May Day is the preferred date at this stage.

Now, before Sunday Times editor John Witherow points it out, I have been wrong before about the paywall start date, and will probably be wrong again. It is clear that the process has been fraught ever since the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch shocked his employees by announcing it was definitely going to happen, via an analysts’ call. Genius from Rupert, who managed to silence internal opposition in one swoop.

But it is clear that today’s announcement means NI is bringing in some heavy artillery. Gurtej Sandhu, whom the paper announced today had been appointed director of Times Digital, sounds like a heavy hitter. He will be “responsible for the delivery of all our digital products [ie, our paywall] and all teams currently working on TimesOnline will report into him”.

Thus Tom Whitwell, editor of Times Online and Hector Arthur, director of digital development, get a new boss.

Since 2008 Sandhu has been chief information officer and general manager/senior vice president, digital, for Star TV in both India and Hong Kong. He established the digital division for Star, which like News International is owned by News Corp. (NYSE: NWS) in India in 2007. He is no stranger to Wapping, having worked for News International’s new media IT division.

Today the Times appointed Finkelstein, chief leader writer, to the post of executive editor. He will focus on digital content, while current executive editor Alex O’Connell concentrates on print.

Finkelstein keeps his day job writing columns and being involved in the paper’s political coverage.

The new chief leader writer is Camilla Cavendish, who has been rewarded for her fantastic campaign to open up the family law courts to public and media scrutiny.

(Things you learn from the bottom of a press release, part two: Cavendish was once a speechwriter for Dame Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of Pearson)

Finkelstein is a great favourite at the paper and is in chief executive Rebekah Brooks’s good books. Consensus that he has done a good job with the Times Comment Central blogging site. It looks like he, along with Sandhu, has just been handed the trickiest brief on Fleet Street: making the paywall pay.

This article originally appeared in © Guardian News & Media Ltd..