Emily Bell is bemoaning the lot of the working mother. Her 16-
month-old boy has gone down with a temperature and she has had to spend
a day looking after him. She is clearly still worried, even though she
jokes that his temperature allowed her to watch Countdown yesterday.
Things are not going to be slacking off in the next few months for her,
either. She has been promoted from deputy to business editor of the
Observer, not bad going for a girl who was refused an interview at City
University’s post-graduate journalism diploma. Instead she started her
career on trade magazine Big Farm Weekly in 1987 before moving on to
Campaign within a year.
In her new role she is overseeing a huge change in the paper’s coverage
that takes effect next year. The Observer will be splitting its business
and personal finance sections from 3 January. Bell will oversee both
sections, but she will devolve a lot of responsibility to Maria Scott,
the personal finance editor, who will effectively run the finance
’Personal finance advertising has mushroomed in the last few years and,
if you assume that under New Labour we will see more privatisation of
things like pensions, reader interest can only grow,’ she says. The
competitive nature of the Sunday newspaper market means she is keeping
her powder dry about the style, shape and substance of the two new
sections, but she is giving them a lot of thought.
’We’re dealing with a business section that goes down on a Friday night
so we have to be able to predict what’s going to be happening far better
than before and work harder at digging for stories or providing
analysis,’ she says.
Her peers don’t think that is going to be a problem. ’Emily is one of
the wisest people I know,’ says Janine Gibson, media correspondent for
the Guardian. ’She has an uncanny ability to predict stories. It’s
because she is that rare thing amongst media journalists - someone who
really understands business and can make all the right connections. She
is also extremely honourable so people trust her.’
As to the analysis, two weeks ago the chairman of Barclays Bank resigned
on Friday, giving the evening and Saturday papers ample time to cover
the story. Radio 4’s Today programme, however, said that the Observer’s
coverage was the best of the lot. Bell doesn’t preen, but she is clearly
chuffed at the praise, especially considering the attitude that one or
two financial PR companies have towards Sunday papers which aren’t the
’Some financial PROs operate a two-tier system which can be incredibly
annoying for a Sunday journalist,’ she says. ’We have a better business
section than the Sunday Times. That is not just my prejudice. We won two
awards last year. You still have one or two financial PROs who favour
the Sunday Times, but that makes it all the more enjoyable when you get
a story about their clients that shocks them,’ she laughs.
1987: Reporter, Big Farm Weekly
1988: Chief reporter, Campaign
1995: Media business editor, the Observer
1998: Business editor, the Observer.