Dickson: That is part of what we want to do. We have to address a huge range of reader demands, from very short instant market blogs at one end to investigative reporting at the other. We are placing increasing emphasis on our investigative reporting.
CJR: Is that so?
Dickson: Yeah. [FT top editor] Lionel Barber, two years ago now, hired Christine Spolar…She’s a great American investigative reporter, who now heads up our investigative reporting unit. Under her leadership, we’ve run some really great, in-depth series over the past year or two. I don’t know if you recall the tax law series we did with ProPublica, which won an Overseas Press Club award…That’s one example. The LIBOR scandal—we played a leading role in reporting on that, both in terms of reporting and then in-depth analysis of how it worked and what it means…Hopefully, it would be wonderful if one of these days, we got a Pulitzer. Another thing I’d point out, which is very much in the mainstream of what we do, is the series on Amazon we did earlier this year. Amazon is not a company known for being terribly liberal with its relations with the press… I think that shows a pretty major commitment to investigation. And that took months put together.
CJR: Is that a cultural change for [the FT]?
Dickson: It’s been a gradual evolution. There’s been a constant desire to do investigative reporting. You go back 20 years, or 15, 20 years, we had an investigations unit which did some very good work. But there’s been very much a new emphasis on it since Lionel took over as editor. He has really pushed this agenda.
CJR: What is the job of the US managing editor? … How much autonomy do you have? What’s your mandate?
Dickson: My responsibilities are three-fold, really. One, to manage our team in North America—and we have 50 journalists or thereabouts around the country—to manage them and help them develop their careers, which is a very important part of what we do.
CJR: I never heard that before from a managing editor! (laughs) You want to help reporters? Wow.
Dickson: Let me just elaborate on that, because one of the strengths of the paper is the fact we move people around the world. I mean, not against their will, but most people like to travel.
What we’re trying to create is people who have great global knowledge, great knowledge of a range of industries. So we like to, every few years, keep moving them around the world, gaining knowledge, gaining experience that they can then bring back, either into reporting roles or editing roles. There’s logic to this: it increases our knowledge base, it increases the culture. That’s why helping people develop their careers is very important for us. It also keeps people engaged and loyal to the paper.
CJR: Reporting. How do you win favor here? What are the incentives?
Dickson: The incentives are, in no particular order: writing great news stories, getting great scoops; two, being able to analyze a subject and write longer form pieces that see the wood for the trees and give the reader a coherent overview of the subject at hand…And three, longer form investigative reporting.
CJR: But in no particular order?
Dickson: In no particular order.
Dickson: So job one is managing the team here. The second job is to be the public face of the FT which means appearing on public platforms, which means hosting events, which means appearing on TV, radio, as required.
CJR: You mentioned earlier about “we cater to an elite audience” and I kind of understand what you mean. If someone came in and asked, “You mean you write for the 1 percent about the 1 percent,” what would you say?
Dickson: I’d say, not at all. I’d say there are a significant number of the 1 percent among our readers, as you’d expect. A considerable portion of the 1 percent are highly successful businesspeople with a global view who need to be kept up to date, but we have many readers in other parts of…pursuing other professions, pursuing other interests. In the UK, it has been traditional for leaders of trade unions to read the FT. Our middle-eastern coverage is read by people throughout the middle east, irrespective of whether they’re businesspeople or not.
Yes, we appeal to a lot of people among the 1 percent, but we appeal to an awful lot, more people beyond that. I think the criteria that binds our readers together is an interest in world events, be they business, economic, or political.