At the heart of things by Charlie Cooper

Monday 20 September 2010

The Financial Times is a class act. This much is made abundantly clear by the quality and clarity of a newspaper that is essential reading for businesspeople from New York to Hong Kong. Indeed, not just businesspeople. The FT matters to anyone who likes their news straight up and without the spin, bias and verbal effluence that abound in other sections of the media.

To be at the heart of an operation that is truly global in scope is exhilarating, and you feel the atmosphere the moment you walk into the newsroom. Sitting in at the morning editor’s conference, on my first day, was a real privilege. New banking regulations straight from Basel, the TUC Conference kicking off in Manchester, Obama making a speech in Washington this afternoon – data and information spanning the planet, all coming together in one small room overlooking the Thames.

The FT is unique in that it produces not one, but four, separate editions a day; one each for the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA. The four editions carry most of the same content, but each has to be subtly different in terms of which stories are given prominence. For an editor laying out a page, it all adds up to a daily jigsaw puzzle of devious complexity.

I was based on the UK News Desk and quickly realised how calm, professional and clever a news editor needs to be at a paper of the FT’s quality. The editors act as the fulcrum of the whole operation and have the difficult job of transforming a constantly shifting, constantly developing news landscape into a clear, concise and coherent three pages that covers everything that really counts. They do it very well indeed, and it was a pleasure just to observe them at work.

But an intern at the FT is, of course, not only an observer or a coffee-getter (though I did get a lot of coffee – fetched and delivered with aplomb, I might add). After an introductory first day I was getting my teeth into some fascinating research tasks for a senior journalist, making calls to offices up and down the country as preliminary work for an upcoming feature and contemplating the prospect of doing my first ‘vox-pop’.

The things I’ve learned on this internship fall into two categories: things learned by doing, and things learned by watching. The staff have been very welcoming, letting me take part in meetings and have an input. I’ve been able to ask about what it is they’re up to at any given moment, and gained a far more thorough understanding of the editorial process – vital experience for an aspiring journalist.

Best of all, I’ve been made to feel like a colleague, not a subordinate. Even though the people I’ve worked with are light-years ahead of me in terms of experience, intelligence and more or less everything else, there’s absolutely no snobbery, and my ideas and efforts were always treated with genuine respect. The FT staff want to give interns the best possible start in this challenging, exhilarating but ultimately very fulfilling industry. I’m extremely grateful for that.


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