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Telegraph Media Group has announced major changes at the top, moving its long standing chief executive Murdoch MacLennan to the role of deputy chairman and replacing him with the company’s chief operating officer and former Yahoo executive Nick Hugh.
The replacement of Mr MacLennan, a veteran Fleet Street executive who has run the Daily Telegraph’s parent company for 13 years, signals a significant shift in direction for the group’s owners, twin brothers David and Frederick Barclay, and comes as the UK newspaper industry is under increasing strain.
Print advertising revenues are falling sharply as advertisers shift spending to online platforms. While newspapers such as the Telegraph have managed to grow huge online audiences — its website has more than 20m unique monthly users — the vast majority of digital ad spending is going to Facebook and Google.
In the face of such difficult market conditions, newspaper publishers are taking increasingly radical steps to save costs and shake up their businesses. On Tuesday, The Guardian announced it was to ditch its distinctive Berliner newspaper format to go tabloid, after signing a print deal with the Trinity Mirror newspaper group.
Since buying the Telegraph for £665m in 2004, the Barclay brothers have overseen a period of enormous upheaval in the newsroom. Six editors have been fired in their time in charge and the number of journalists has fallen from more than 500 to nearer 380.
The newspaper has also come under fire for what critics say is a slide in editorial standards under the Barclays and Mr MacLennan. In 2015, the political commentator Peter Oborne quit the paper, accusing it of refusing to run negative stories about the banking group HSBC, a major advertiser with the newspaper group.
But for all the upheaval and criticism, the Telegraph has always maintained healthy profits, making a £48m pre-tax profit on a turnover of £320m in 2015 — the last set of accounts to be published.
People at the company say profits have deteriorated sharply since then, triggering Wednesday’s reshuffle at the top. Others added that the promotion of Mr Hugh was designed to signal the owners’ aim to transform the Telegraph into a digital business.
In a statement, Aidan Barclay, son of Sir David and chairman of TMG, said he was “extremely grateful” to Mr MacLennan for his work over the past 13 years.
“He has led The Telegraph’s transformation during a period of profound change within the media and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him,” added Mr Barclay.
In an interview with the Financial Times in April, Mr Hugh warned that there could be further upheaval to come at the group as it tries to reduce its reliance on print revenues and grow new businesses in commerce and events.
“In a world where digital disruption is always there, you are never done with the transition,” Mr Hugh told the FT at the time.
In a statement on Wednesday, the company said Mr Hugh, 43, would now be “charged with continuing and accelerating the transformation to be a media owner with fully diversified revenues to ensure a healthy future for quality journalism”.