The strategy behind the FT’s coverage of U.S. biz news
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson became U.S. news editor of the Financial Times in October 2013. He coordinates the FT’s daily Americas news coverage globally.
Edgecliffe-Johnson previously served as the FT’s global media editor, moving the position from London to New York in July 2008. He led and coordinated the FT’s global coverage of sectors ranging from the music and movie businesses to digital media and marketing, writing about technology and media for the FT’s Inside Business column and managing a team of media, telecommunications and consumer industries reporters in the U.S. and Europe.
In his 16 years at the FT, Edgecliffe-Johnson has also been the FT’s deputy news editor, edited its management features section (now called Business Life), covered M&A and consumer industries in New York from 1999 to 2002, and written for the influential Lex column.
Edgecliffe-Johnson was the winner of the Newsbios “30 under 30” award for young financial journalists in 2000 and 2001. He has served as a judge for The Shorty Awards and has co-chaired FT Live’s annual Digital Media Conference and Future of Marketing Summit.
Edgecliffe-Johnson graduated from Cambridge University with an MA in Italian and French.
As part of Talking Biz News’ 10th anniversary, Edgecliffe-Johnson spoke about how the FT covers business in the U.S. What follows is an edited transcript.
What’s the basic philosophy of the FT’s coverage of business in the States?
We start with the premise that we have some of the smartest readers on the planet, and we need to provide food for thought every day. Our mission in the U.S. and everywhere is to do something unique and valuable on every story. The mix of stories is a little different here. We have a sense of our core strengths, which obviously are financial, the U.S. economy and the global economy, corporate economy and its place in the world, and Wall Street. But it’s also a uniquely global perspective. The reporters and editors here have worked in many different areas, so they bring a unique perspective to their coverage.
How does the FT decide what to cover in the States?
There are some subjects which we have to be world beating on. That is central banks, such as where the Fed is moving, and the U.S. economy and major multinationals and their strategies. We start from the core, but it’s very important that we radiate out and provide a mix of coverage that gives our readers a sense of context.
How big is the staff, and where do you have bureaus?
The biggest bureau is New York, followed by DC and followed San Francisco, and followed by Chicago. We have a superb team in Latin America, which goes from Mexico all the way down to Argentina. We have a staff of about 600 worldwide.
Is it fair to say that the FT looks at U.S. news with a global perspective?
We look at everything with a global perspective. The U.S. is inherently one of the world’s compelling stories. U.S. stories tend to stand on their own two feet. The U.S. is one of our largest markets digitally and in print, so we take the job of educating our U.S. readers very seriously. But you see a lot of joint bylines in the FT. We work across borders between different markets and to join the dots between what’s happening in economies and what’s happening in politics. That is a pretty core trait.
Because of the time difference, do FT reporters here have to get their copy in earlier to make it into the European version of the paper?
Clearly the paper is still very important to us, but the FT is a very unusual beast in that is has twice as many digital subscribers as print subscribers. We moved several years ago from being print first to being digital first. We take the best possible cut and put it in the paper every day.
There is more pressure on us in the mornings to get the best possible selection of the day’s news to all of our readers in all time zones. The print version is much more a selection of our thoughtful pieces. So that’s not as much of an issue as you might think.
Who do you see as FT’s biggest competitors for business news?
I really can’t pick one. What’s fascinating to me is just how much investment we’re seeing now in this space. From BuzzFeed to the Washington Post, it’s an innovative time in our industry. And it’s important that we stay ahead in this competitive landscape. We start with a very clear sense of where we stand in the market.
Where would you like to improve coverage?
Broadly we think the U.S. is a huge opportunity for the FT. We just boosted out Washington team quite seriously, and we’re building our team in San Francisco. You’ll see more technology finance coverage. We have expanded in Chicago with the addition of another correspondent there. And we have gone through a big expansion in New York with the Fast FT team and the video team and now with an audience engagement team.
The FT has been pushing its content out more on new delivery formats. Does that change how news is covered?
I was first a news editor a decade ago, and in those days I would wonder every morning what my story selection would be.
Now, I am thinking about how to get it to the digital audience first and what would be the best way to deliver a story, whether it would be better as a podcast conversation or as a charticle, or best as some piece of FT prose. It feels as if we have a variety of ways to deliver information that we have never had before.
How much involvement do you have with FastFT?
We sit side by side. They are part of the main news desk in New York. We throw ideas at each other all day long. FastFT is absolutely central to what we do in the newsroom, not only for its immediacy but because having that facility to handle breaking news it allows a correspondent to take a breath and really think about what they’re story is going to say.
What do you like about working at the FT?
We’ve got some good reporters here. The video team is getting better and better. It’s a liberating place to work because of the conversations going on among the people.