Journalist Q&A: Francesco Guerrera, US finance and business editor, 'Financial Times'

With the 'Financial Times' since 2000, Francesco Guerrera has made a career of covering financial services and corporate governance.

Name: Francesco Guerrera
Title: US finance and business editor
Outlet: Financial Times
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With the Financial Times since 2000, Francesco Guerrera has made a career of covering financial services and corporate governance. He's been US finance and business editor since 2008. He talks to Erica Morris about covering the financial crisis and print journalism's future

You've reported from FT offices the world over. How is writing for a US audience different?

Guerrera: Financially, the US is a more challenging market. It's the most sophisticated sector in the world. You have to really know what you're talking about or you're going to lose the ear of those in the industry. The people you're dealing with are on the ball.

What big stories are you focusing on now?

Guerrera: The big topic at the moment is obviously the future of the banking industry. I'm following JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Barclays closely. The question is how will the industry shape up following the crash, and a lot of issues fall under that umbrella.

For instance, there are numerous public affairs issues related to rebuilding this sector, which gives a political angle to my writing. Traditionally, I don't have to cover the political ins and outs, but I do have to stay in tune with domestic and international politics as they pertain to corporate governance and finance.

What types of stories are you most interested in covering?

Guerrera: I'm particularly interested in how the financial sector and economy will work together to reconnect with the real world. How it will improve its relationship with consumers, improve its lending, and stand on its own again. Eventually, the government side will be the less interesting angle. It will be more interesting to see how the people banking begin to invest and save.

How do you decide which stories to cover?

Guerrera: Often, stories present themselves. I'm covering a market that is very news-breaking. There are constantly issues we cannot ignore. If you're talking about public affairs as it relates to finance, TARP, banking regulations, you know right away that these are things you have to cover.

Then there are your trend pieces, your exclusives, where you generate content based on tips or what you're hearing from sources. Here, it's vital that you've cultivated a reliable set of sources you can depend on for accurate information.

Do you think banks will be able to restore their public standing?

Guerrera: I do. People want to trust; we're just skeptical. Because we are, we need to see the business leaders taking steps to protect our best interest. That will happen in time.

Restoring public opinion is a function the financial industry must not ignore, and it isn't. We've seen examples of big banks taking specific action to prove to the public that they are not going to play by the old rules, like scaling back on bonuses and incorporating new regulations into their business. They don't always get it exactly right, but they are working toward this goal.

How do you interact with banks you cover?

Guerrera: It's tricky because people in the industry know I'm going to report the facts and won't go easy on them. You can't exactly make friends that way, but I need to build trust with these people. You do that by building a reputation as someone who reports with integrity. If a contact knows I'll do my research and report honestly, they might be more inclined to ensure I get the right facts from the start.

How do you get through to a source that's being less than forthcoming?

Guerrera: That's a matter of persistence and of building those source relationships. At the end of the day, the story must get told. I'm not going to quit until I have the information I need. Knowing who to call on specific issues is crucial.

Can you describe the typical FT reader?

Guerrera: I think of someone very senior in a company with a business background. This person will know a lot about finance and economics. I want to make sure I'm not explaining to readers issues they already understand, but I also have to make sure to talk about implications they may not already know about.

There's been much talk about print journalism's decline. What do you see as that medium's future?

Guerrera: We'll get to a point where no one will care how they get news. At some point, journalists have to say it doesn't matter how people are reading our stuff, as long as they are. That said, I don't think we'll see the end of print journalism in five or even 50 years. People still like to hold a newspaper in their hands.

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