Obituary: Gerald Long

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The Independent Culture
GERALD LONG spent almost all of his working life with Reuters, the old-established news and information agency. He became known first as a capable journalist, and later as a creative if temperamental manager.

He was appointed general manager of Reuters at the age of only 39 in 1963; he left in 1981. During those 18 years the agency was transformed from a business in slow decline into one of great success and profitability. How much (or little) credit for this revolution should be given to Long personally remains a matter of dispute, especially among those who worked under him at Reuters.

Long was born at York in 1922, the son of a postman. He was educated at St Peter's School, York, and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he read Modern Languages, taking a First in Part I of the Tripos. While serving as an officer in the Intelligence Corps in post-war Germany, he became involved in setting up newspapers under British military control. In 1948 he joined Reuters as one of its first graduate trainees. Long spoke both French and German like a native; and he possessed a rare, because equal, admiration for French and German literature, music, art and - not least - food and drink.

After spells as a Reuter correspondent in Paris and Ankara, in 1956 he was appointed chief representative in Germany. In 1959 his journalistic skills led to his being temporarily transferred back to Paris to reinforce the coverage by Reuters of one of the most dramatic post-war news stories, the stately return to power of General de Gaulle. In 1960 Long became assistant general manager for Europe, based in London.

Gerry Long's personality was intriguing. His mind was subtle, but not his manner. He had a Yorkshire forthrightness, which many took for brusqueness, sometimes correctly. Yet he could be engaging. His face provided a striking canvas for either humour. His hair was short-cropped, his eye steady, his gesture firm, his voice slow but decisive.

All found themselves at odds with him sooner or later, even his proteges. The answer was not to let him slip into bullying. He enjoyed free-wheeling discussion (time-wasting, said his critics), and he might accept contradiction if it was well-informed and obviously for the good of Reuters. His concern for the old agency was undoubted, and his knowledge of its history considerable. From 1963 he set out to make Reuters into an aggressive and profitable organisation, such as it had been in Julius Reuter's prime a century earlier. "I felt I had much in common with him."

To introduce the necessary novel products and services Reuters needed fresh capital. Long persuaded a reluctant board to borrow heavily. In 1967 the long-standing but inappropriate dependence of Reuters upon two US news suppliers - AP and Dow Jones - for much American general news and economic information was at last ended. This was a financially risky but essential initiative if Reuters was to become a truly independent and global news provider. Long forced the proposal through the Reuter board.

In the next year the handling of general news by Reuters in its London newsroom was modernised by the introduction of a computerised message switching system. Even more revolutionary was the introduction during the 1960s and 1970s by Reuters Economic Services of a succession of computerised electronic products for world financial markets.

For this breakthrough, however, Long must share the credit with others. These innovative products were found or devised by various young managers within RES, especially Michael Nelson and Glen Renfrew. Long's contribution was, first, to recognise the great openings for profit which were being offered; and secondly, to calm a timid board in the face of the unavoidable start-up costs. With regard to technical problems and marketing arrangements, he was content to delegate, even to the point of laziness.

The Reuter Monitor Money Rates service, launched in 1973, proved to be particularly profitable, changing in a few years the very face and fortunes of Reuters. As late as 1968 the company was still reporting an overall loss: by 1981, the year of Long's departure, it was heading towards annual profits of hundreds of millions. Glen Renfrew, Long's successor as managing director, ensured that this success quickly caused himself and Nelson to become multi- millionaires through share options. In contrast, Long, who had been their chief, received no such great extra financial reward for his work. He always claimed that he did not care about this, which may have been true. None the less, in 1965 one fellow journalist (not from Reuters) described Long in print as a "tragic hero". Perhaps the financial deprivation was not exactly tragic, and maybe Long was never quite a hero. But the remark was significant.

By the late 1970s Long was obviously bored by his job at Reuters, and in 1981 he eagerly accepted an invitation from Rupert Murdoch to become managing director of Times Newspapers, and subsequently deputy chairman of News International. Unfortunately, this career move did not work out. Long had no experience of newspaper management, and he lacked the patience (even if he possessed the deviousness) necessary to deal with the print unions. He also became something of a laughing-stock in journalistic circles over an intense correspondence published in The Times about the provenance of cheese provided at Albert Roux's restaurant.

Long left News International in 1984, and lived thereafter in France. In retirement, he gave an impression of disappointment about himself, unnecessarily so ("I'm a shit"). Even his sharpest critics could not deny that he had overseen the revival of a great communications company, often called a national institution, even if never so by the cosmopolitan Long himself. Without the introduction of much capital and more innovation, recognised by Long as urgently necessary, Reuters would slowly but surely have faded away.

Gerald Long, journalist: born York 22 August 1923; staff, Reuters 1948- 81, assistant general manager 1960, general manager 1963-73, managing director 1973-81; managing director, Times Newspapers 1981-82; deputy chairman, News International 1982-84; married 1951 Anne Hamilton Walker (two sons, three daughters); died Paris 8 November 1998.