In years to come, people in my line of business will be able to recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that the Financial Times was being sold.
The news last week that Pearson was to sell its flagship – reckoned by many (including me) to be the best newspaper in the world – to Nikkei of Japan was like a thunderclap.
FT people I talked to were at first shocked and awed, but quickly decided it was a “good result”; infinitely better than the other rumoured buyers, Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters; and positively beneficial for the long term in that here was a deep-pocketed purchaser who would put some money into the title again, after several years of “fat cutting” by Pearson.
My own reaction was end-of-an-era sadness, tinged by a little regret. Right up until the last minute when Nikkei was announced as the buyer, I’d retained a sliver of hope that an Arabian Gulf media group might emerge as the shock buyer.
It would have been nice for the FT to end up in the same part of the world as me, but it wasn’t to be.
I was sad to see the FT slip metaphorically away from London, mainly because it was the newspaper that gave me my first break in journalism, and encouraged me to specialise in financial and business news. Taught me all I know, you might say.
I joined the FT as a temporary research assistant in 1978, although that job title was too grand for the reality. I was a “gopher”, lugging very thick and heavy cuttings files up and down stairs for journalists at Bracken House, the FT’s imposing home beside St Paul’s Cathedral, symbolically midway between the City and Fleet Street in London.
Bracken House was a wonderful place. It was where the FT got printed, as well as written, and now it seems incongruous that a huge industrial plant could exist in the heart of central London alongside all that cerebral brain power.
My job was not glamorous, but it gave me enough insight into the working lives of FT journalists to see the glittering possibilities of a career in business news. FT hacks in those days were absolute kings of the street, and when I eventually worked my way into the editorial ranks – even though just a humble company news sub-editor – I really felt I’d made it.
In a sense, it’s been downhill ever since. For although bigger and better paid jobs came along, for some of the best titles in the world, the sheer thrill of being an FT journalist back then has never been equalled.
I also savour the memory of bossing about a young tyro writer on the desk, one Lionel Barber, who joined the FT from The Sunday Times in the early 1980s. Adjusting to daily news deadlines after a weekly title was a challenge for him, as I recall. “Where’s your flipping copy, Barber?” I used to shout.
My early professional influence on him was obviously formative. The paper went from strength to strength under his editorship, one of the reasons Pearson was able to ask such an eye-watering price from Nikkei.
I left the FT in 1986 to be part of the launch team at The Independent, and a couple of years later the FT moved out of Bracken House, after Pearson sold the building for another huge sum to another Japanese company.
So I guess the saga came full circle with the disposal to Nikkei. Sayonara to all that.
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