Meet the new boss. He's much like the old boss

The new 'FT' editor comes from the same stock as his predecessor. Is that really what the paper needs?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The first inkling at the paper that something was afoot was when the editor of four years failed to turn up on Wednesday, a heavy news day with the resignation of David Blunkett and the collapse of the creditors' case against BCCI. "Tuesday night was when he was told that he was going," says a Gowers friend. "And Wednesday was spent discussing how."

Gowers, a pugnacious, opinionated Henry VIII lookalike credited with introducing a "shouting culture" to the FT's previously genteel newsroom, had stepped down, Pearson said in a cursory statement, because of "strategic differences". Yet he is to be replaced by Lionel Barber, a diehard FT man two years his senior, who hails from the same professional background and journalistic school.

Where Gowers earned his spurs as Middle East editor, foreign editor and founding editor of Financial Times Deutschland, Barber has been similarly overseas and politically focused. His stints as Washington correspondent, US editor, Brussels bureau chief, editor of the FT's European edition and, most recently, US managing editor have kept him away from the FT's bread and butter coverage for the better part of two decades. "Barber hasn't been a corporate reporter since he covered the Westland saga in the mid 80s," says one close FT-watcher.

"There's no material difference between the two men. Both are steeped in countries and politics rather than what the FT should provide, which is companies and markets. "They both see UK company coverage as something of an irritation. So what does this change?"

The rumblings of dissent about Gowers within Pearson had seemed to stem largely from his failure to halt the decline in UK circulation, which had fallen 40 per cent on his watch. While the FT has invested much of its time, money and energy in building itself into a global superbrand with editions all over the world, it may have forgotten that most of its revenues still come from its home ground. It was a double irony, then, that the tide in UK sales had finally seemed to be turning after Gowers stepped up its home coverage.

But that, in its turn, had led to internal rows. Some Pearson people thought he was going too far and dumbing down the FT with too much UK and general stuff, "with large pictures, making it look more like a normal white broadsheet," says one senior executive. They thought he was losing the FT's place as a specialist publication - fears exacerbated by negative feedback from top figures in the City who thought it was becoming narrow and sensationalist.

Accuracy - normally the sine qua non of the FT - had also become an issue under Gowers. Several embarrassing mistakes were made, leading to an incendiary attack in June this year from Andrew Neil, the former Sunday Times editor, who said: "I don't see how the FT can be called the City's bible any more."

Gowers, who beat Barber to the editor's chair last time, was not the most natural FT ambassador to the City. Where Barber loves schmoozing with world leaders and opinionating on TV, Gowers is a more "rough round the edges" performer. "He is not as polished or authoritative as previous editors, Richard Lambert and Geoff Owen," says a senior colleague. "They were both patrician figures, one of whom took a knighthood and the other is supposed to have turned one down. That would never have happened with Gowers."

Barber will now have to use his top-people skills to rebuild bridges with the City elite, while providing the coverage of smaller, almost parochial UK news required by much of the rest of the financial community. His inclination is towards offering the macro rather than the micro view, but it is debatable whether that will produce the required circulation figures.

He also lacks the technical skills acquired by Gowers, who now likes to describe himself as having converted from a Luddite to a "naturalised net-head". The FT can pride itself on being ahead of the pack on providing e-products - albeit at a horrendous cost - with its popular subscription website and email services.

Gowers, who told The Independent on Sunday last week that he thought it possible he would abandon newspapers in favour of working in the internet, has become a champion of new technology. "Fleet Street is still in denial of the power of the internet to subsume newspapers," he said. "I woke up yesterday after leaving the paper with the blinding flash, 'Internet! Internet!' "

Barber, famous for his lugubrious writing style and "puff pieces on favourite big cheeses", takes over the reins straight away but is not packing up his Manhattan home and returning to London full-time until January.

While his appointment leaves many questions about the FT's future unanswered, it does suggest that Pearson may be having one last shot at turning it round before selling it.


Bets on new Randall

A queue is forming at the BBC to replace its business editor, Jeff Randall. Senior figures are toying with the idea of offering the job to a heavyweight, with Robert Peston of The Sunday Telegraph and Patience Wheatcroft of The Times both under consideration. Declan Curry, the business presenter on Breakfast TV, and Michael Wilson of Sky Business News have also been mentioned. But why, one can't help wondering, are they thinking of splashing out a hefty salary on a print journalist when the corporation already has two admirably qualified staffers in Hugh Pym and Rory Cellan-Jones? Latest odds from Cantor Index put Pym at 2/1. Peston at 7/2, Curry at 9/2 and Wheatcroft at 4/1.

Make me an offer

There was a great fanfare when the Evening Standard lured The Daily Telegraph's city editor, Neil Collins, over as a columnist. But Collins may not be as busy as they would like. He has been touting around for extra-curricular work. "I am trying to go plural," he admits. "I have a contract to write two articles a week for the Standard. It is not a full-time job," he says, while continually stressing how much he loves his new bosses. "When I left the Telegraph I sent out a letter explaining I was looking to get new things to do. There are various possibilities. Everyone says you should always turn down your first offer. Well actually, I haven't had a firm offer to refuse yet."

Better red than Heffer

In the wake of the Rebekah Wade/Ross Kemp fiasco, there was a suggestion in Friday's editorial conference at the Daily Mail that the paper should carry a feature on fiery redheads. Editor Paul Dacre, quick as a flash, responded: "That's no way to refer to Simon Heffer!"

Matching bag and wife

While The Spectator is gleefully rubbing its hands over the demise of David Blunkett for not declaring his interests fully, what's this on page 56 of this week's edition? It's a piece by John Laughland, written months ago, singing the praises of sports bags. "Made by the talented London fashion designer Emily Matthews, Bibikov bags are both elegant and practical," he gushes. Omitted is the fact that he is married to Matthews.

Laughland holds his hands up. "Yes, it is the same Emily Matthews who is now Mrs Laughland," he tells me. "I liked the fencing bags so much I married the designer."

Ombudsman omertà

Noam Chomsky and The Guardian are still at loggerheads over an interview with him the newspaper published on Monday. The American academic and activist was incensed at what he calls "fabrications" in the Guardian piece, and had a letter published on Wednesday in which he accused Emma Brockes of inventing "contexts". Chomsky denies saying that the massacre at Srebrenica has been overstated, as Brockes had claimed. But, to Chomsky's fury, the letter was printed next to one by a survivor of the massacre, both under the headline, "Falling Out over Srebrenica".

Cue further letters to The Guardian's ombudsman, Ian Mayes, protesting that such a juxtaposition was further misrepresentation and stimulating a false debate. "As I presume you are aware, the 'debate' was constructed by the editors on the basis of inventions in the article you published," Chomsky wrote.

Mayes, who is also president of the international Organisation of News Ombudsmen, is no longer replying to Chomsky's emails. He was unavailable for comment.