Sarah Gordon, Business Editor at the Financial Times began breakfast by reflecting on her earliest days at the Financial Times, sixteen years ago, when the media world was print-led. Since then, journalism has been transformed as newspapers have moved from broadsheet to browser.
If this seems to have happened quickly, then the global developments of the past year have come at lightspeed. In an engaging conversation, Sarah reflected on both – speaking about how her profession has been turned on its head and how the world it reports on has changed, and is changing, even more dramatically.
1. Digital first, print second – Sarah recalled a turn-of-the-century FT that looked very different to today’s operation. At that time, ft.com had only just been launched and had an entirely different team to the print version, with online journalists covering the same beat as their print counterparts. While the website once played second fiddle, it now takes precedence. Content is written for online and then syndicated to the paper. Schedules have also changed, with writers now working to morning, midday and evening deadlines, which are when the website has the highest traffic.
2. Print retains loyalists – despite a digital crusade, print is still holding up some resistance. European readers still prefer the print version of the FT, while Asian readers overwhelmingly opt for digital. Americans and Brits have also gone digital, although there remains a core of professionally senior, older readers who opt for print. The FT’s audience is also largely male, although efforts are being made – not least by Sarah – to attract more female readers.
3. Scoops melt in seconds – there was a time when the scoop was the ultimate prize in journalism, a mark of prestige for the reporter and a means for the editor to sell more copies. Competitors had to wait until the next day to print your story, by which time you could reveal more salacious details and sell even more papers. Now, rival digital outlets steal a scoop within 24 seconds, rather than 24 hours. Journalists are still pursuing exclusives, however the value of finding one has diminished.
4. Business behaving badly – Sarah believed that most businesses try to behave well, citing BHP Billiton’s recent commitment to a 50% female workforce by 2025. That said, businesses and their senior teams are becoming as polarised as society – while many try do good, some act exceptionally badly (enter stage Philip Green). Sarah said that self-regulation can rein in bad behaviour up to a point, but legislation is needed to fight the worst offenders.
5. “You don’t know what you don’t know” – like most papers and commentators, the FT did not predict Brexit or Trump and this has caused the paper to question how it sees the world. As one of her closing points, Sarah forewarned about a Trump-led rolling back of globalisation. High tariffs and the undermining of the WTO would lead to more expensive supply chains and higher prices. This could cause dramatic inflation and, in response, interest rates scaling heights not seen in decades. That said, Sarah viewed this as unlikely and thought that high tariffs would only be introduced to certain industries, meaning that globalisation is stymied rather than KO’d.