OLD Media Moves

How Barber succeeded at the FT: Investing in rigor and quality

November 5, 2020

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Lionel Barber

Lionel Barber talks about his 14-year career at the Financial Times helm in his private diary, “The Powerful and the Damned.” It gives an account of what was happening in the world that the FT was covering at that time and who “whispered or yelled” what into the editor’s ear.

During that time, the world was both fascinating and turbulent, from the 2008 financial crisis to Japan’s tsunami of 2011, to Europe’s debt and migration crises. History was being made at that time, with technological disruption swirling all around.

Also, at that time, newspapers and the internet had started their own battles, and the FT had to pick itself up after a sticky patch in the early 2000s.

Barber achieved this by investing in rigor and quality, and by grasping the opportunity that digitalization provided to move from a print-first to a digital-first service, enabling his commercial colleagues to re-engineer the business away from one relying on advertising to one driven by subscriptions.

This cycle from a stringent mess to “investigative success confirms an important principle behind the journalistic vocation of holding power to account.”

“As Barber clearly understood, to do so effectively a publication needs first to build and maintain a reputation for quality, reliability and independence, along with a sound business model, for that earns it the chance to take risks with its journalists’ time and the paper’s reputation.”


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