Lucy Kellaway: My Life In Media
"Twenty-three years in the media leaves you unfit for proper work"
Monday 24 July 2006
Lucy Kellaway is the Financial Times' management columnist. For the past 10 years her weekly column has poked fun at fads and jargon. In her 20 years at the FT, she has been energy correspondent, Brussels correspondent and interviewer. She has won various prizes including the British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2006. Kellaway was born in London in 1959 and is married to David Goodhart, founder and editor of Prospect magazine. They have four children.
So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
I was an unhappy refugee from a merchant bank with a vague idea that I might prefer writing to currency dealing. So I swapped an enormous salary for a pittance in the grotty hellhole that was the Investors Chronicle. It turned out to be a very sound deal.
When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
We used to alternate between The Times and The Guardian, and I tried to read them but I found them boring and puzzling and preferred books instead. I still much prefer books, which is why I'll never be a proper journalist.
What were you favourite TV programmes?
No contest: I loved Crossroads. By 15 I was old enough to know it was rubbish and watch it ironically.
Describe your job
I occupy the extreme low-brow end of the FT, writing three columns: one about office life, management fads and other workplace ephemera; a satirical fictional column about a menopausal male manager called Martin Lukes and more recently I have reinvented myself as an office agony aunt.
What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?
I turn first to the FT, partly through necessity, habit and preference but also because after 21 years it is has become a sort of flesh-coloured appendage. We get a lot of newspapers at home, and familiarity breeds if not contempt then boredom. I always hanker after the ones we don't get. Which means the Telegraph is my favourite at the moment.
Do you consult any media sources during the working day?
As I make up most of the things I write about I exist in a bubble of ignorance. I do check Google, Factiva and ft.com occasionally.
What is the best thing about your job?
Chatting. And the fact that I can write about whatever I like.
And the worst?
Chatting. (I'm always behind with my work) And the fact that I can write about whatever I like - which is terrible when the cupboard is bare of ideas.
How do you feel you influence the media?
My influence is entirely negative. I have campaigned against business jargon for a decade, and far from getting better it has got worse. Martin Lukes has done a lot of harm too: he is a satirical character whose dreadful antics are always being blamed for copycat outrages in the real world.
What's the proudest achievement in your working life?
A feature I wrote many years ago examining the sartorial taste of various business leaders was plagiarised almost word for word in the Daily Star. To stretch from the FT all the way down to the bottom seemed quite something.
And what's your most embarrassing moment?
Writing a mean and sarky email about a previous editor of the FT and sending it to him by mistake.
At home, what do you tune in to?
Radio 4 - Today, The World Tonight and Desert Island Discs. Endless pop channels, if my daughters have their hands on the dial.
What is your Sunday paper, and do you have a favourite magazine?
I think we get The Sunday Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Observer, but I don't even glance at them. My husband is the founder and editor of Prospect, the current affairs magazine. Whenever I summon the effort to read it I am always reminded of how brilliant it is, and make a promise to read it more often.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire
It is the same ambition I have every week. To write with freshness. This, I find, is easier said than done.
If you didn't work in the media what would you do?
Twenty-three years in the media leaves you unfit for proper work.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Chris Tarrant. He hosts that tedious formulaic show with such merry conviction that one is inclined to believe that it's for real.
'Martin Lukes: Who Moved My BlackBerry?' by Lucy Kellaway, price £7.99
1983 Joins Investors Chronicle
1985 Moves to the Financial Times as companies reporter
1986 Appointed the FT's oil correspondent
1988 Made a Lex columnist
1989 Moves to Brussels as the FT's correspondent
1992 Returns to London as a feature writer
1994 Becomes a columnist and interviewer
1999 Invents the Martin Lukes column, which is turned into a book in 2005, and publishes Sense and Nonsense in the Office
2006 Wins Columnist of the Year at the British Press Awards
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