Storms batter Britain by Alexander Williams

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

“Storms Batter Britain”, ran the headline on the METRO. It was not far wrong, as I was nearly blown into the Thames, crossing from Bank to the London office of the Financial Times. Sitting in the morning Conference half an hour later, I was significantly more comfortable.

A problem with the video-link to Hong Kong was forcing someone to call “Demetri?” with increasingly frustrated vehemence into the audio system. “They can’t hear us,” it was eventually concluded, although it might have been the other way round. It was the only meeting I suspect I’ll go to where whoever wasn’t talking looked to be reading the Financial Times.

From the outset at the FT, I was surprised by the open atmosphere. The morning Conference contained each of the leading Editors, including Lionel Barber. Outside of the Conference Boardroom, a host of familiar faces were either promptly introduced, or were to be seen sitting nearby. Andrew Hill and the entire UK Companies team were within listening distance and the banter between them was lively: is Rolls-Royce like BP, has the President of the World Bank gone bonkers, does Guy Hands think he belongs to the mafia? That at least was the tone in the morning; in the afternoon, a more subdued concentration set-in, as pieces were scrambled in on time.

The Lex team meanwhile could be seen pondering the day’s news, their brain’s bulging. “They’re Geniuses,” one reporter told me. Among them, John Authers could be seen agonising over bond price charts on Bloomberg that no-one else outside PIMCO could otherwise understand.

Short of shirts for my internship, I’d ordered one at the last minute from John Lewis, only to be horrified when it arrived to see that it bore a breast-pocket, nerdy enough to be brimming with leaking bic pens and perhaps a calculator. I had heard stories of City interns having such things torn off, by traders anxious to assert that their index finger was no longer than that which they swore would never carry a wedding ring. But at the FT I need not have worried. Frumpy jumpers and ill-fitting overcoats clearly distinguish the City journalist from the less thoughtful beast, whose movements it is his duty to examine and follow.

Artemis fund-managers have long run a memorable advertising campaign, portraying themselves as colonial-era khaki-sporting hunters and explorers, eyeing-up profits in exotic, jungle-bound corners of the globe. But my time at the FT has taught me that the financial services industry is more like a squat-faced baboon, grouped into violent tribes, swinging perilously from trees, whilst maintaining the strangest eating habits. The City journalist meanwhile looks on from a distance precisely removed, with bemused but scientific perplexity. The older journalists peer over their glasses at stock charts like David Attenborough examining a butterfly, whilst younger reporters bound around with the enthusiasm of Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, aged 26.

This aside, the FT is the most absorbing organisation I have ever been allowed inside. The balance between the high-brow content and the succinct reportage on the one hand and the good humour of the journalists on the other, is no less intriguing than the way in which a story is first commissioned, then filed, before being edited and sub-edited, finally being turned-out with an immaculate FT veneer.

One ought to expect nothing less from what Jim Rogers calls, “the world’s best newspaper.” The shirt pocket remained intact.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home