Media Profile: Striving to be first in business - Ben Laurance, business editor, the Observer

It’s a warm Monday in March and Ben Laurance, the Observer’s business editor, is looking pretty relaxed. And so he should. In the business stakes he believes he has just seen off the paper’s rival, the Independent on Sunday. He has scored a coup by recruiting Paul Farrelly, the IoS’s deputy business editor, who was almost the last business journalist the paper had. After the Independent announced last month that it was buying in copy for its business pages from Bloomberg Financial Services it made two journalists redundant, including Industrial Journalist of the Year David Bowen. Laurance is pleased.

It’s a warm Monday in March and Ben Laurance, the Observer’s

business editor, is looking pretty relaxed. And so he should. In the

business stakes he believes he has just seen off the paper’s rival, the

Independent on Sunday. He has scored a coup by recruiting Paul Farrelly,

the IoS’s deputy business editor, who was almost the last business

journalist the paper had. After the Independent announced last month

that it was buying in copy for its business pages from Bloomberg

Financial Services it made two journalists redundant, including

Industrial Journalist of the Year David Bowen. Laurance is pleased.



’I don’t think that people buy newspapers to read wire copy,’ he

says.



’It’s difficult to get people to buy Sunday papers at the best of times,

because the Saturday papers are so good. Sundays have to give something

extra.’



Laurance recruited Farrelly from the IoS to replace Heather Conham, who

will return as a part-time writer and columnist after a spell on

maternity leave. It is the latest stage in his ’permanent evolution’

which has been his policy since taking over in May last year. He was

recruited while travelling in China by editor Will Hutton after he took

over from Andrew Jaspan. Hutton had hunted Laurance down because he felt

that the old regime’s business section had been very weak. Fortunately

Laurance agreed.



’The old section had features on the front page, it was very unfocused

and I think readers had trouble finding their way around it,’ he

says.



’They had tried to take the news agenda out of the section and write

stories for the casual reader. I can understand both arguments but I

just don’t think it worked.’



Laurance’s reign has introduced a news front page, news analysis, the

policy forum - which is often a head-to-head debate on some issue of

business such as the EMU or the floating of mutual societies on the

Stock Exchange - and of course the Martin Rowson cartoon.



’The old team did sit down and ask what readers wanted from a business

section,’ he says. ’I think they got the wrong answer, but at least they

asked the question. We should make sure we know what stories our readers

expect. On one extreme in business journalism you have the Sunday

Telegraph which simply writes stories about quoted companies. To the

other extreme there is the Economist which writes on macro and

international economics.



If we are trying to be different it is by being more thoughtful and

analytical than the other business sections.’



’We’ll have some more changes in the summer when Emily Bell (City

features editor) takes her maternity leave, but for now I’m happy about

the way everything is,’ he says. ’Every Saturday we go to the printers

in the morning and I spend the rest of the day dreading a phone call

from the newsdesk that some other Sunday has a story we should have got.

But I rarely find that happens these days. I don’t want to seem smug,

but in the 45 weeks that I’ve been here, there have only been a few

weeks that I feel we came a poor second. Now that’s pretty good, isn’t

it?’



HIGHLIGHTS

1988: Financial reporter, the Guardian

1994: Analyst, Merrill Lynch

1996: Business editor, the Observer



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