By Roy Greenslade: Behind the usual bland, and apparently friendly, exchanges in today’s official confirmation of Will Lewis’s departure from the Telegraph Media Group is an uncomfortable truth.
Though Media Guardian, in breaking the story last night, couched Lewis’s leaving in terms of him being “pushed out” after a disagreement with chief executive Murdoch MacLennan, that appears to a somewhat one-sided spinning of the reality.
MacLennan certainly made the decision that Lewis should go. But he acted for reasons that have been hinted at widely in rival media outlets (including Private Eye) in the past two months. Namely, that nothing concrete was happening at Lewis’s digital venture in Euston.
The much-vaunted project, announced in November last year, was projected to have a staff of 50 and “a budget north of £10m.”
It was seen in terms of a business venture, with Lewis becoming its managing director, while retaining his newspaper editor-in-chief title.
But, as the months have passed, I understand that MacLennan and other senior executives – including chairman Aidan Barclay – have become frustrated by the lack of clarity about Lewis’s operation. They did not believe things were moving forward as expected.
Despite several pleas to Lewis, no business plan was drawn up. The failure to provide one brought matters to a head and MacLennan, an initial enthusiast for the strategy, decided to take action.
He is said to remain convinced in the credibility of the project, and the unit is not being dismantled in spite of Lewis’s departure.
It is, said one TMG manager I spoke to, “an exceptionally sound vision… the whole idea of a digital research and development division separate from the production of a daily newspaper was excellent.”
Needless to say, Lewis sees matters very differently. He believes he did not get the support he deserved, and blames MacLennan – one of his greatest supporters over the past five years – for this.
He is especially miffed after having so recently enjoyed the spotlight by receiving the newspaper of the year prize at the British Press Awards for the Telegraph’s exposure of MPs’ expenses.
But it is a conspiracy theory too far to suggest that his replacement as Telegraph editor by Tony Gallagher, a former Daily Mail (LSE: DMGT) executive, is part of some MacLennan “power grab” to staff TMG entirely with former Mail employees. After all, Maclennan has the power already, he hardly needs to grab it.
Nor, it should be said, is there any split between him and the owners, the Barclay brothers, Sirs David and Frederick, or David’s son, Aidan. I cannot imagine that Lewis departed without all three being in agreement in MacLennan.
Finally, it should be noted that journalists often fail to make a go of businesses. Lewis, who went on an advanced management course at Harvard business school last summer, is not the first editor to take that route and end up wishing they had stuck to journalism.
I recall that Nick Lloyd hated being thrust into a management position at News International after Harvard and David Yelland didn’t show any benefits from his Harvard experiences either.
Lewis is young, at 41. He is a non-stop bundle of energy. He will come again in Fleet Street somewhere. I rather imagine one of his first calls will be from Rupert Murdoch. He will not be short of income for long.
This article originally appeared in Â© Guardian News & Media Ltd..