OLD Media Moves

How The Economist picked its new editor

January 23, 2015

Posted by Chris Roush

EconomistGideon Litchfield, a former Economist staffer who now works at Quartz, writes about how the British magazine selected its new editor, Zanny Minton-Beddoes.

Litchfield was one of 13 people who applied for the position.

He writes, “We sent in memos; then there were interviews, held in the company boardroom on the 14th floor, a large and airy space compared with the warren of offices below it. After plugging in my laptop and giving a short presentation, I sat down at the long conference table to face a gentlemanly grilling from Pennant-Rea and two other members of the board. Behind me, large windows looked east, towards Parliament. Facing me, a set of shelves held a few dark, gold-lettered archival volumes of the paper’s very first years, a subtle reminder of the legacy I was proposing to take on. On the table were thick books containing all our memos, printed out and spiral-bound together—a trove of ideas, ambitions, and pretensions that will make fascinating reading for some future historian of The Economist.

“My questioners were polite, attentive, and inscrutable. Pennant-Rea, a man of famously fierce intellect who as editor was known to rise at four in the morning to write his leaders, fixed me throughout with an inquisitive gaze that betrayed no sign of whether he thought I was unexpectedly impressive or an upstart fool. An hour passed quickly.

“Mine was the last interview but one. Soon we would learn who had been shortlisted for an interview by the full board. To celebrate our last moment as equals in rivalry, 12 of the candidates (the 13th wasn’t around) went for lunch in Chinatown, where we squeezed around a single table at a dim sum joint like a low-rent version of Dorothy Parker’s clique at the Algonquin and reminisced about foreign assignments, office scandals, and recalcitrant dictators we had known or pontificated about.

“The winnowing-down was brisk and efficient. That afternoon, as I hung around the office chatting to former colleagues, the emails started arriving from Pennant-Rea. ‘As you know, we have had a large number of excellent applicants,’ he wrote, ‘and a few of them have proved stronger candidates than you. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I hope you understand.'”

Read more here.

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