As he prepares to be knighted next month by King Charles III, former Murdoch lieutenant and one-time Prime Ministerial adviser William Lewis is once again at the heart of media intrigue — just how he seems to like it.
(Bloomberg) — As he prepares to be knighted next month by King Charles III, former Murdoch lieutenant and one-time Prime Ministerial adviser William Lewis is once again at the heart of media intrigue — just how he seems to like it.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Lewis said he’s lined up funding for a takeover of his former employer Telegraph Media Group Ltd., in an auction he expects will kick off in the next couple of weeks. The 168-year-old title is on the block after Lloyds Banking Group Plc dramatically terminated directors from the Barclay family and put the business up for sale in June to address long-running unpaid debts.
Describing himself as a “recovering journalist,” 54-year-old Lewis started his career at the Mail on Sunday and the Financial Times, breaking news of Exxon’s merger with Mobil, before rising to editor-in-chief at the Daily Telegraph. He went on to manage Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers just as the phone-hacking scandal engulfed News Corp. Lewis then joined the ranks of the CEOs he used to interview by running Murdoch’s financial news service Dow Jones from 2014 to 2020.
Read More: Murdoch and Conservative Rivals Circle Spectator, Telegraph
“I love the Telegraph,” Lewis said. “It’s a fantastic journalistic organization. I would be really interested in trying to find a way to buy it. We have the support to do it.”
But he won’t say from whom, or how much, beyond a vague description of “significant expressions of interest from a wide range of potential backers,” adding “patient capital is critical.”
A rumor of Saudi Arabian business partners isn’t true, he said. However, he added quickly, he wouldn’t reject Middle Eastern support out of hand if it was offered — only that there are sensitivities around the Telegraph’s ownership.
“If the stars align and the price is right, then obviously we would be expected — and rightly so — to provide transparency as to who’s behind it. We think all bidders are going to be grappling with that. This is not a sausage factory, where you can sell it to whoever you want; this needs to be very considered,” he said. Middle Eastern investors have held talks with Daily Mail and General Trust Plc about supporting potential offers from the rival news publisher, a spokesperson for DMGT confirmed in an email.
Lewis now privately advises leaders including CEOs across technology, green businesses and sport from London, New York and Washington, through his family office WJL Partners LLP. Such high-ranking connections, who again he won’t name, may now help to boost his media influence.
Asked what he’d do with the Telegraph if he prevails, he only says the company “needs a digital product and services refresh.” He says he’s been told the Telegraph will be sold separately to the Spectator magazine, which was also owned by the Barclays.
“Anything that we end up owning, we would infuse with our social expertise.”
The News Movement
Lewis feels he’s built that expertise with his startup, The News Movement, which he founded in 2021 to bring reliable news to Generation Z across social media such as TikTok Inc. and Snap Inc. Its young reporters post video-first news and explainers with a “friend-telling-friends storytelling approach.”
“Social media in particular is still dominated by either well-meaning amateurs who don’t really know what they’re doing, or bad actors who are looking to deliberately manipulate how people think and fundamentally undermine democracy,” Lewis said.
“You have an obligation to meet them where they are, which is on TikTok, and that’s the whole premise behind the business. It’s made it fiddly, it’s made it awkward. I always get asked, wouldn’t you much rather if they registered as a subscriber on your website, use their credit card? Hundred percent! It’s never gonna happen.”
TNM has just agreed a promissory note for an additional $10 million in funding, which sets the stage for further acquisitions after it bought the Recount — a video news startup — in January. When picked up by algorithms, its videos frequently hit hundreds of thousands of views, though its accounts have less followers than many influencers: 172,000 followers on TikTok, 31,000 on Instagram, and 47,000 on the Recount’s “WTF America” Snapchat show.
TNM’s new funding comes from its existing shareholders, wealthy individuals and family offices, whose identities Lewis also won’t share. He was a seed investor in the venture, and last year attracted a minority investment from UK local news publisher National World Plc. TNM also signed a strategic partnership with the global Associated Press newswire, whose Camden offices TNM shares, and where Lewis is vice chair.
The revenue model currently hinges on Gen Z-friendly content for brands under an internal agency called the Collective. TNM now employs about 60 people and Lewis hopes it could be profitable by the end of next year, which promises to be crucial and busy, with elections expected in the US, UK, the EU and Mexico.
He said it shouldn’t need to raise any more money, but “if opportunities arise, if there’s acquisitions that are larger than anticipated, then we now have quite a wide network of people who want to support non-partisan news.”
One top beneficiary of Lewis’s advice is well-known: former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Lewis was awarded a knighthood in June for “political and public service” as an adviser to Johnson.
Asked about whether he’s supporting a political agenda, Lewis said his relationship with Johnson is a longstanding friendship, and denied that the former Conservative leader is somehow involved in his consortium.
“I’ve known Boris obviously a long time. He worked for me,” Lewis said, referring to Brexit-backing Johnson’s stint as a columnist at the Telegraph, where he eventually earned £275,000 ($341,000) a year. “I do like helping good people win. I find that really inspiring, and over the years, whether it’s Boris or others, I’ve had the opportunity to do that. And if I’ve been helpful, that’s great.”
Johnson is a polarizing figure in Britain, and his premiership ended with a mass resignation of his own ministers, many pushed over the edge by a scandal dubbed “Partygate” — a lack of transparency following revelations of parties in and around Number 10 Downing Street while millions were under Covid-19 lockdowns imposed by the government.
“Boris is an incredibly trusting, loyal, clever, witty, important person in Britain,” Lewis said. “I’m not a fair-weather friend. So if I’m your friend, and even if you make mistakes, even if you end up doing things that I fundamentally disagree with, I don’t walk away. And that’s a big thing for me, for good or for bad.”
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.