It seems our newspaper business is on the brink of a Russian bail-out. It was announced las t week that Russian ex-KGB spy Alexander Lebedev is in talks with the Daily Mail and General Trust to become the major shareholder of regional paper Evening Standard. It would be the first British newspaper to be taken into Russian hands.
In a further shock report in the FT today, an insider at Independent News Media (INM) has confirmed “discussions are active” between The Independent newspaper and the billionaire.

Alexander Lebedev

Alexander Lebedev

Undoubtedly, a takeover would be good news in the short-term for INM considering the lack of long-term viability for The Independent.
Jason Craig of the Press Gazette has even said today that the deal will bring much-needed investment back into journalism: “We need money from somewhere, so if a very rich man is willing to put in money – and if he will do that without interfering in the editorial line, without cutting all the staff and trying to put the newspaper out on the cheap, then it is a good thing…”. As concurred by Independent columnist Richard Ingrams: “These are hard times for journalists and we all should just be grateful that there are still a few rich men around who want to own newspapers.”
Well, it’s all good news then, except you cannot help thinking: what’s in it for him? With an estimated loss of £10-£20 million a year at the Indie and somewhere in the region of £15 million at the Evening Standard the buy-out does not immediately appear to make for a good investment model. He is buying into a business with incremental losses year-on-year, a business which has no secure plans to balance the books again.
There is also the inherent danger that if he is not in it for money we can expect to see heavy editorial interference from the oligarch. Though to be honest, he wouldn’t exactly be the first antipodean to set the editorial agenda for a UK national. Perhaps media moguls are just happy for it to be someone else’s problem during the economic downturn.

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