Anthony Hilton: Follow the trends, not just the news

When the holiday season comes round - Christmas, Easter, the entire month of August - the normal news flow falls away because Parliament and the law courts go on holiday, thereby cutting off the source of much of what we routinely write about.

Business also dries up because company reporting drives a lot of that news flow and it is geared to the weeks following the end of the calendar year and the tax year. So with acres of space to fill and not a lot to put in it, journalists fall back on one of their oldest ploys - seeing what tricks they used to solve the problem in earlier years and repeating them. Thus Easter is full of stories about spring, while Christmas has its quizzes and reviews of the year.

There is a lot to be learned from looking back a year. There was once an economist in the City who had a year's supply of the Financial Times in a large stack in his office. Every morning when that day's paper came in he placed it unread at the top of a pile and religiously dug out the edition from the same date but a year earlier.

It gave him an interesting edge in judging current events. He could see whether the predictions of 12 months ago had been accurate. He could spot the early beginnings of little-noticed things that, with the benefit of 12 months' hindsight, only he knew had become important.

But the point of all this was that by knowing what happened to the old news, he was better able to sort through and put in proper context what was happening now. He was giving himself a daily lesson in the difference between news and trends. For an economist, news is often an aberration that should be ignored. Trends change the environment in which people work and have a lasting impact.

I have always thought the PR industry misses a trick by not tailoring its flow of news and ideas to trends rather than news, but it has always seemed unsuccessful in persuading clients do anything unconventional. They say recessions provide a climate where innovation thrives, so maybe it is time to try again.

- Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard.

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