FT vs WSJ? That’s SO 20th century

January 9, 2008

I spent an hour on Tuesday with Financial Times Chief Executive John Ridding, asking him a range of questions about the future of the international business newspaper, Rupert Murdoch, the Internet, quality journalism — and why the FT is pink.

Q: What about the threat of a Murdoch-led Wall Street Journal?

A: This idea of kind of a zero-sum game showdown between two kinds of publications, I think, frankly, that that’s a bit anachronistic these days, given the way the media has evolved. There’s a lot more different kinds of competition than five years ago or 10 years ago. In the last five to 10 years, The Wall Street Journal has been following a slightly different path from us. We have been very focused on our global mission. Over recent years, I think the Journal has been more focused on the US. They’re kind of circling the wagons a bit around the US.

Q: Who is your ideal reader?

A: In a time of fragmenting media and lots more competition and different kinds of competition, I think it’s very, very important to be ruthlessly focused on what makes you different and special. And we are very focused on that senior, international decision-making-level CEO, the C-suite.

Q: How much does the journalism matter when so many newspapers are cutting newsroom budgets to make the numbers?

A: Newspaper groups and publishers should have confidence in the value of quality journalism. I think it’s a slightly bizarre notion sometimes, this idea that news should be free. I mean, it’s quality stuff that’s done right, and it requires investment, and people are prepared to pay in the information age where particularly in the business media where people are making big decisions on the basis of the information they receive.

Q: So is Pearson devoting more money to the FT?

A: We have been increasing our investment. Absolutely. Yup. (Ridding declined to give specific numbers.)

Q: Will the number of editorial staffers rise?

A: If you include online, yeah.

Q: Are you worried that circulation will fall now that you’ve raised the newsstand price in the UK?

A: We increased the prices of the FT in Britain last year from a pound to GBP 1.30, and we’ve just gone up from 1.30 to 1.50. Circulation wasn’t affected [the first time]. It increased.

Q: How do you fight the proliferation of competitors out there, if indeed your rivals are legion rather than just the WSJ?

A: There’s a sea of information and you can drown in it. People really need a trusted guide. They need brands and journalists that they can turn to and know that they’re accurate, that they have integrity and trust.

Q: How is the U.S. edition working out?

A: The U.S. quite frequently is our biggest edition. We launched in the U.S. 10 years ago, and now it’s vying with the U.K edition to be the biggest.

Q: Why make 30 articles free on the Web? Why not lock it all up or go all the way free? (The FT lets you read five articles, then you must register. After you hit 30, you must subscribe to read more.)

A: I think the idea of the one-size-fits-all model is, again, pretty anachronistic. There’s no need to be either-or, free or subscription. There are different kinds of users, we have difference kinds of audiences. And we want to be flexible enough to meet all their needs.

Q: What color is your paper? Salmon? Pink?

A: Pink.

Q: Why?

A: Because it’s very powerful branding. If you go to China nowadays, you’ll see a lot of business newspapers that are pink. Financial sections of some of the papers in Britain are pink. [As is the Economic Times in India, I discovered last month]. So I think we’ve established pink as the color of business journalism.

Q: Are you going to keep it pink?

A: Oh yeah.

(Photo: Reuters / Financial Times reader at a Russian Economic Forum meeting in London in 2005)

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