Rule one of the recently launched Sorted and the City column: run a different lead to the other newspapers. Rule two: except when we have to break rule one.
Today is a rule two day. Michael Greenwood’s completed an exclusive investigation into a bent financier but it can hold. Meanwhile the Charity Commission has laid into some conmen previously exposed by Sorted for ripping off businesses, and we have our own front-up pictures, but that’s not the lead either.
There’s no avoiding the outstanding City story of the day – the Financial Services Authority fining Scottish Amicable £750,000 for its part in one of the biggest financial scandals in history, the mis-selling of endowments.
But how to make our coverage different? Easy really. Turn it from a story about an institution into one about a human being.
This means focusing on the chief executive who was running Scottish Amicable at the time and finding out where he’s working now.
He lives in Dunblane but is not at home, on the golf course, or anywhere else. Nor is he at any of the companies he joined since leaving Scottish Amicable.
Right on deadline we get him on the telephone for a “no comment”, thank you very much. Add that to the picture we’ve unearthed and the package is complete.
Reading the page proof I see that our intro has been rewritten so that it focuses on the company and not the individual who was in charge.
I change it back again.
Good start to the day – no one else used a picture of the former Scottish Amicable boss or listed his current directorships. Since we have no City column tomorrow, Saturday, it’s a day for working on exclusive investigations, lunching a contact (away from Canary Wharf, thankfully, the building is infested with tiny flies) and running the names of irritants through Google. Did you know that Patsy Kensit, in her capacity as a company director, describes herself to Companies House as actress and musician? Can anyone even remember the name of her thankfully short-lived mid-Eighties band?
Something’s odd about the office. Something’s missing. Then the penny drops: the flies have gone. Over the weekend, the Wharf’s been fumigated. A rule one day. No overwhelming City story of the day, so we go off-diary with an exclusive investigation into an investment company director who’s made a fortune while his customers have lost bucketloads. Guy Dennis and photographer Michael “Let’s ruin someone’s day” Fresco front him after he left his £2m house in his Maserati. No harm in bringing the whiff of tabloid charm and sensitivity to a City page.
The story’s made even better when his solicitors do all the wrong things, accusing us of an invasion of privacy for pictures we took in a public place and not acting in the public interest. Our guess is that the thousands of investors who’ve lost out will take a very keen interest in the story. Perhaps the solicitors would have been more cautious if they knew my wife sits on the PCC.*
To one of my favourite places, the High Court. Decent cafÅ½, clean toilets and more villains than you can shake a stick at. But enough about lawyers, I’m here for one of life’s more enjoyable experiences, seeing a company I’ve previously exposed put into compulsory liquidation.
Thousands of businesses will be glad to see the back of Berger & Co, which tricked them into paying for unwanted trashy management reports. The judge describes the evidence against Berger as overwhelming and orders it to be wound-up. I am overjoyed, in a neutral unbiased way, of course. This moment has been a long time coming – I first wrote about Berger in August last year. No other reporters in court. Another rule one day.
One aspect of our new City column that’s taken off is “A Swift One With Sorted”. Our interviews last a maximum of one pint (or glass of claret, mineral water, coffee, whatever), so that we don’t bore our readers, our interviewee or ourselves. A chief executive from a highly reputable FTSE100 is on the phone demanding to know when he’s getting a “Sorted Swifty”. It’s good to be getting noticed.
“Like the new City column, I accidentally saw it when I was looking for the racing page.” Thanks to a senior colleague for that. The £4.2bn battle for pubs and hotels group, Six Continents, reaches its climax at an emergency meeting. The chance to turn it from a story about a company into a story about people presents itself in the form of a 71-year-old small shareholder who electrified the meeting by denouncing predator Hugh Osmond in front of astonished shareholders. When the meeting ends we rapidly steer him away from other City hacks for an exclusive Sorted Swifty (pint of London Pride). London Stock Exchange down 165.7 points.
What a time to be writing City news. Certainly none of this turmoil was predicted by the experts at the start of the year. Dull, lacklustre and peaceful were three of the words used by analysts to describe how the markets were expected to perform in 2003. Which gives me an idea for tomorrow’s lead.
*Sadly, that’s the local Parochial Church Council.