The best part of my job as weekend editor is the wide range of stories, features, ideas and people I get to deal with on a daily basis. It also allows me to engage with readers in a more rounded way, and offers an escape from the macro-economic gloom. But my guilty pleasure is that after 11 years of daily news deadlines I now have just a few rolling deadlines over a week.
I think a weekend paper has to be a sophisticated smorgasbord; it has to surprise, inform, entertain and analyse the important issues of the week with a distinctive voice, yet it also needs to be consistent and perhaps sometimes even conservative. Weekend readers are creatures of habit – they have favourite sections and columnists they love to read (or love to dislike) over their morning lattes and often they do not like change.
Women remain under represented in newsrooms generally and in particular on the comment and op-ed pages. When I ran the FT’s opinion pages there was a surprising meekness, or even self-censorship among women: few were willing to put their heads above the parapet to advocate an idea. Every day we received up to 50 unsolicited op-ed articles. Only 5-10 per cent came from women. I once asked a senior female business leader to write. Despite decades of experience, she told me she wasn’t “ready to write anything”. But this reluctance is not just a British problem.
The challenge for FT Weekend is how to showcase the fact that we are not just about economics, business and politics, but also write with wit and intelligence about arts and culture. Last summer – after lengthy negotiation – we managed to secure an interview between Stephen Fry and Lady Gaga. He showed up wearing a checked shirt and jacket; she a horned Viking helmet and lace gloves – not exactly your usual attire for the Lanesborough. James Walcott of Vanity Fair called it: “unquestionably the greatest meeting of minds since Edith Sitwell shared a couch with Marilyn Monroe”. The interview was a huge hit and reached a totally different audience, with more than half of online readers coming from Facebook and Twitter. I am not sure how many Gaga fans have come back for our Greek economic coverage (but they should!)
My biggest regret was when I was based in Chicago for the Financial Times from 2002. Fairly soon after I arrived a friend of mine, who worked at the University of Chicago law school, told me about a fascinating professor I should meet.
He invited me along for a drink to get to know him. Alas, I was too busy earnestly working on a story and did not pursue it. I wish I had. That professor’s name? Barack Obama.
The biggest issue facing the journalism industry today is the same one it has always faced: how to be distinctive in a crowded market and how to persuade readers to pay for content. The internet has obviously made this harder – with so many outlets competing for talent – yet the internet and all the sprawl of words it has enabled has also reinforced the value of a trusted brand.