My Life in Media: Robert Peston

'You hope that people look at what you broadcast, take it seriously, and that it conditions their thinking in some shape or form'
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The Independent Online

Robert Peston, 47, is business editor of the BBC, a post he has held since 2006 after 20 years writing about business and finance for the broadsheets. He got the idea for his latest book, Who Runs Britain?, from the incredible profits he saw in hedge funds and investment banks, which he rightly predicted as being unsustainable. He lives in north London with the writer Sian Busby and their 10-year-old son Max. His stepson, Simon, is at university.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

When I left university I hadn't the faintest idea what I wanted to do. I did some postgraduate work in Brussels before a brief stint in the City, which was very boring. A friend of mine called Lucy Kellaway, who now writes for the FT, was on something called the Investors Chronicle, a business weekly paper, and she said journalism seemed to be fun and that I should come in and meet the editor. I've never contemplated doing anything else since.

When you were 15 years old which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

My dad used to get The Times. He was an academic and also a special adviser to the Labour government at the time, but he mostly got it because he's done The Times crossword all his life. I don't have any strong memory of really starting to read newspapers until I got to university.

And what were your favourite TV programmes?

The things I loved most were Top of the Pops and then The Old Grey Whistle Test and Monty Python. I also had slightly precocious tastes and liked something called Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, which is an anarchic US comedy.

Describe your job?

All-consuming! Being the business editor of the BBC means that you get unlimited demands from TV and radio round the clock for reports or news, and about a year ago I launched a blog which I really enjoy doing and has something like one million readers now. What's really interesting is the range of comments people leave. Some are really insightful and get me thinking along different lines about a story.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

I get up early and collect my thoughts and write my blog. I'll look at Bloomberg to see what's gone on over night around the world; I'll look at the US edition of the Wall Street Journal online and I'll look at the UK edition of the FT online.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

All the newspapers. I also look at Breaking Views.

What is the best thing about your job?

The BBC is one of the last news organisations which has a big share of the nation's ears and eyeballs, so just to be able to communicate what I think is important to all those people is incredibly exciting. The audience of the Today programme is five million, the Ten O'Clock News has six million and the website has millions of readers. I still get an incredibly childish pleasure of getting a scoop and watching everyone else following it up.

And the worst?

The BBC is a pretty big and sprawling organisation and it took quite a long time to work out how it worked. Perhaps decision-making at the BBC could be slightly simpler.

How do you feel you influence the media?

You hope that people look at what you broadcast, take it seriously, and that it conditions their thinking in some shape or form.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

The Northern Rock story does tell you some big things about the global economy at the moment, so I was very pleased to get the scoop it was going to the Bank of England for emergency help. I broke it at 8.30pm on 13 September on News 24, and then we did broadcasts back to back for hours.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

When I was City editor of The Sunday Telegraph there was a piece we were doing in which the journalist had written "the late Lord Weidenfeld..." I hadn't seen him around for a bit and left it in, and of course he wasn't dead. We then went out for lunch and he was fantastically nice about it, even though I felt like a complete idiot.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The problem with being a professional journalist is you read papers for information, you don't really read them for pleasure, but because what is going on in the financial markets does genuinely affect all of us at the moment, I do get a kick out of reading the back pages of the FT, which are technical but which can be a mine of information. The Economist tackles very difficult subjects in an ambitious way.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

I used to say to myself: "Shall I grow up and get a proper job?" But the truth of it is I love my job, it's in my DNA and it's difficult to think of something else.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

The late James Cameron. He was about the only journalist who entered my consciousness when growing up. He was what I thought a journalist should be: a taker of calculated risks, who shone a light where it ought to be shone.

The CV

1983 Joins Investors Chronicleafter a short stint in theCity.

1986 Joins The Independent.

1989 Moves to the shortlived SundayCorrespondent as deputy City editor, returningto The Independenton Sunday in 1990.

1991 Joins the FT, whereroles include political,banking and financial editor,head of an investigationsteam and assistanteditor.

2002 Joins the SundayTelegraph as City editor.2005 Appointed business editorof the BBC and publishesBrown’s Britain, a biographyof Gordon Brown.

2008 Publishes Who RunsBritain? which looks at therise of the super-rich.

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