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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November 2003, 11:23 GMT
Want to be a press baron? Read this first
Still from Citizen Kane
It could all fall in around you
The UK's biggest-selling broadsheet could be up for sale. The chance to buy the Daily Telegraph would be a rare opportunity to obtain a seat at the Establishment's top table. But before you reach for your chequebook, there are a few things you need to know.

Newspapers can be lousy in business terms - people have rarely owned them to make money. A more common result, as has been observed down the ages, is that owning a paper is a good way of turning a huge fortune into a small one.

The odds are stacked against you - the price of the paper you need to print on is forever going up, advertising revenue always going down, circulation almost continuously falls unless you spend millions on advertising or giveaways.

No wonder Lord Beaverbrook, one of history's great press barons, insisted on people re-using envelopes to save money. In the end, Robert Maxwell's pockets weren't deep enough, which is why he dipped his hand into those of his pensioners.

Falling national daily newspaper sales
1940s - 16m
1970s - 14m
Oct 2003 - 12.5m

When William Randolph Hearst (the model for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane) asked his father if he would give him the San Francisco Examiner, Hearst Snr said he had been saving it to give to an enemy. "It's a sure loser," he said.

The most successful owners will not only have a huge fortune, but will be willing to bet the lot on their latest wheeze (eg Rupert Murdoch took one gamble after another, first buying the Sun, then the Times and the Sunday Times, then moving to Wapping, starting Sky, and then inviting Tony Blair to be on the Simpsons, any one of which could have put him out of business.)

PS No-one ever lost money by underestimating the taste of the British public.

Being a newspaper proprietor without having a sackful of opinions would be like being an Atkins dieter visiting World of Doughnuts. This is your opportunity to have a say in shaping the world in your image.

Lord Black
Lord Black of the Daily Telegraph
OK, studies show only a tiny proportion of readers digest the opinion columns, but the politicians don't know that.

Naturally you should not hesitate to push your agenda through your papers. Lord Thomson, owner of the Sunday Times in the 70s "did not expect any great weight to be attached to his political views", according to the legendary editor Harold Evans. But then Thomson was the man who, when he bought the Times, said money was no object and was prepared to "pour away millions to save an ideal". He lost 8m and sold out to Rupert Murdoch.

A world view is one thing - but you don't want politicians taking you for granted. It may or may not have been "the Sun wot won" the 1992 election for the Tories, but it's useful for proprietors if politicians believe they do have that much power, and believe that the owners are "woo-able".

Being a press baron may bring you notoriety, but you should not confuse this with celebrity. Best not do as Maxwell did, and treat your formerly grand newspaper as a vehicle in which to print photographs of what you had been up to the day before.

In this, perhaps the ever-shy Hearst had it right. If celebrities are fleas, your role is more like the dog on which they thrive. Of course, as host, you can scratch off any particularly irritating parasites.

One consolation of being a proprietor is that there is a code of honour among papers not to dredge up the private lives of rival owners through the headlines.

Rupert Murdoch
Risk taker: Rupert Murdoch has turned a profit from his papers
Girlfriends, mistresses, lovechildren, all will - on the whole - go unreported. But that aside, your success may be measured by your ruthlessness in other ways.

Circulation will be your main goal, because that signifies your standing. You must be merciless in selling as many papers as possible. (Conrad Black, the current owner of the Telegraph, displayed early promise at this in a particularly literal way, being expelled from school for stealing exam papers and selling them to his fellow pupils.)

You must be ruthless on a wider stage too. When Mr Murdoch bought the News of the World in 1969, he told the paper's family owners that they could stay on in roles at the paper. One said: "Rupert is a gentleman." They were all out within six months.

And when Robert Maxwell started a new London paper in 1987 to take on the Evening Standard, the Standard's owner Lord Rothermere launched a third paper, just to confuse the readers. It worked.

Walk slowly - I want to enjoy this
Northern businessman Eddie Shah, having launched a new paper in 1986, walking into his first Downing St party
The true reason for being a press baron is not, as we have discovered, to make money. It is to satisfy a hunger for power and influence.

As a proprietor, you will be courted by politicians and opinion formers.

Proximity to power can be beguiling, even for the most well-spoken proprietor - Conrad Black once said: "The deferences and preferments that this culture bestows upon the owners of great newspapers are satisfying."

Plenty will pretend to be your friends. In fact barely anyone (except those paid by you) will have a good word to say about you. No-one will like you. But you won't care. You'll have your own newspaper.


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