Media: Look out for the invisible man

Richard Lambert may be a low-profile editor, but the profile of his newspaper, the FT, is high, and rising.

Crikey," Richard Lambert thought to himself, when he turned up at the Financial Times for an interview 32 years ago, and a staffer came rushing into the room with the news that gas had been found beneath the North Sea: "That sounds interesting!"

He was fresh from Balliol, and with no plans to be a journalist, so it was this defining moment that persuaded Lambert to accept work on the Lex column of the sober pink paper. "I thought it was the sort of thing I could do until a proper job turned up," he says.

Lambert's "proper job" never did turn up, and now, having steadily risen through the FT ranks, he is in his eighth year editing the title.

The lack of blinkered career determination when he was a young graduate is not the only thing that distinguishes Lambert from other national newspaper editors. He has the pleasure of presiding over the only daily broadsheet to boast consistent circulation rises, with last September's figures showing the FT yet again bucking the national trend. Average daily world- wide sales for the month were 351,960 - a year-on-year rise of 7 per cent.

And there's more. Already the lowest-profile editor in town ("I don't play bridge in the Reform Club every night"), Lambert took the opportunity, a year and a half ago, to disappear from the scene altogether, becoming the UK's first virtual newspaper editor. He vacated his London chair and moved to the US, to spearhead a five-year, pounds 100m FT expansion plan.

The idea of any other national newspaper editor hop-skipping it to the US for 15 months, as he did, is nigh-on inconceivable. The cut and thrust of most newspaper offices - a turned back is a stabbed back - would be enough to deter most.

But the FT is far too gentlemanly a place for that kind of behaviour. So when Pearson, the FT's owner, wanted a senior executive to go to the States to oversee a mammoth circulation push for the US edition, Lambert says that he thought: "That's what I really, really, really want to do."

"It's a big deal for us, the US," he explains. "It's the biggest thing that the FT has done since we launched the international edition 20 years ago." He kept in touch with the FT's Southwark Bridge HQ via a video link, a dedicated ISDN line which allowed him to see page proofs before they went to press, and six-weekly visits to the UK, "just to remind them that I was alive".

Part PR, part hands-on editor in the FT's New York bureau, Lambert says he had a great time. A week after his return to the UK, he admits: "Being the FT editor in London is all right, but you're not the editor of The Sun, so nobody takes much notice of you."

In the States, he took every opportunity publicly to wave his "little pink flag" - on TV, in newspapers, and speech-making to the movers and shakers in business and finance. It was "most enjoyable", he says. And, by all accounts, this somewhat diffident Brit was a huge personal success Stateside.

Professionally, too, the tactic seems to have paid off for the FT. Sales in the Americas as a whole have increased by more than 50 per cent since his arrival, taking them to nearly 60,000. The target is 68,000 by the end of this year, 100,000 by the millennium.

Yet, his arrival in America was described as "audacious" by the International Herald Tribune, and many commentators were surprised by the FT's strategy, believing the beefing up of its teeny-circulation American edition heralded a head-on attack on the mighty Wall Street Journal, described by Lambert as "an 800lb gorilla". Lambert, though, has only ever been interested in the richest, most powerful of the Journal's 1.8 million readers, those with wider concerns than the US domestic economy. He claims to have made significant inroads.

This unashamedly elitist attitude is FT strategy for its British and Continental Europe editions too, one reinforced by its three-pronged approach to journalism: finely tuned editing, a glut of specialist correspondents (two for the automotive industry alone), and a truly global perspective that is well suited to the new, global economy we live in. It adds up to a package few can hope to emulate. There are more than 400 FT journalists, including more foreign correspondents than in all the other UK nationals put together.

He thinks the FT's coverage of the Asian meltdown has been better than anybody else's in the world, and he revels in the coming of the euro: "Unlike most British newspapers, we don't have a prejudice against the euro; we're just reporting it. We're not, like The Times or the Telegraph, wishing it would go away. It's a great story for us."

He adds: "I want the FT to be different. I want our news priorities to be different. I don't want us to be, frankly, covering a lot of things that broadsheets cover these days."

It's not a strategy that comes without its dilemmas. For example, the question of sport, the coverage of which is now limited to daily results and a special page a week, is discussed the whole time, he admits.

But his journalists are as tough as any on Fleet Street, he insists; it's just that their beat differs:

"I want our journalists to be doorstepping, and they do doorstep - but they don't doorstep the Duchess of Thingummybob. I don't give a hoot about all that. It's indescribably boring."

The only tabloid he reads is the Daily Mail, though he did hear about The Sun's comment on his decision to put the FT behind Labour in the 1992 elections. (The Sun said that Pearson would sack him. In fact, it rewarded him with a painting for his office.)

The increased competition from financial news services, specialist newsletters, the Internet, and cable ventures, presents an opportunity, not a threat, he believes.

So long as the paper adheres to its strategy of more and more news, and keeps its international perspective, he is sure that his niche will widen - especially as other media become more insular, and blur the line between news and entertainment.

According to Lambert, there is "a heck of a lot left to be done" in the US. American sales must go well into six figures to persuade advertisers they can reach a US audience via the FT and, last week, a major advertising campaign was launched there.

In the meantime, he is happy to have made enough of a mark to have frightened the Wall Street Journal into adding more international news pages, and launching an FT-style weekend section. But the UK market remains, he declares, "at the front of our hearts".

He wants to build steadily on past successes, and the paper will continue to develop incrementally, as it has in the past, with no big-bang relaunches. He claims to be undecided about his exact role in the future.

So is it back to the quiet life for Richard Lambert? "What I want to do, and am going to do, is more travelling, including travelling to the States," he says. "I think it would be pretty boring if I came back and did the same as I did before."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice