Media Profile: Observing a modern economist - Will Hutton, editor, the Observer

It’s tricky to know where to start with Will Hutton when you interview him. Do you ask about his economic theories - as published in The State We’re In - which helped shape Tony Blair’s stakeholder society speech?

It’s tricky to know where to start with Will Hutton when you

interview him. Do you ask about his economic theories - as published in

The State We’re In - which helped shape Tony Blair’s stakeholder society

speech?



Or perhaps about the intensely personal columns that have flourished at

the Observer under his tutelage - Ruth Picardie’s harrowing account of

her unsuccessful battle with cancer or Kathryn Flett’s emotional split

from her husband?



Do you ask him about his chairmanship of the Employment Policy

Institute, or his Governorship of the London School of Economics? Or do

you go for the subject which can prove the true indication of a man’s

character?



I settled for talking about football and asking which player is his

favourite.



’I suppose it’s David Beckham,’ Hutton says. ’He always seems to be a

thinking player. I’m impressed by his intelligence on the field. He’s

also a team player in that he won’t squander chances by keeping things

for himself. I also think he really works hard.’



It’s a cheap journalistic trick, but let’s see how Hutton stands up to

comparison with his favourite player. A thinking journalist? As a former

economics correspondent for the Guardian as well as Newsnight, with an

MBA, a Political Journalist of the Year Award and a best-selling

critique of the structure of the British economy under his belt, you

could call him a thinker. As for hard-working, Hutton’s pervasive

confidence is only rattled when you ask about his spare time.



’It’s hard to fit things in sometimes,’ he admits. ’I can find my

evenings taken up with things like my membership of the governing

council of the Policy Studies Institute. I’m also a huge walker and I’m

working on improving my golf.’



What seems odd about his editing style is the apparent conflict between

the intellectual economic journalist, which Hutton undoubtedly is, and

the explosive, emotional way the paper has developed. The columns are

just part of the style and intense subject matter that makes up the

Observer these days. Where does it come from?



’Economists have feelings too,’ Hutton bristles slightly. ’My hope is

that the Observer is a liberal paper and the readers are as interested

in Ruth coming to terms with the dreadful fact of her mortality as they

are in the structure of the country economically and socially. I’d like

to think the Observer is about the way we live today.’



Hutton’s close relationship with the party of government is both an

advantage and an uneasy challenge. Throughout his career he has, in

effect, been in oppostion to the mainstream thinking of the day. Now he

is broadly supportive of the ruling ideas.



’Through the 1980s, liberal papers were out of the loop,’ he says. ’I

think the Observer was to a certain extent an unhappy bystander. Now our

best contacts are running things, which means we will inevitably get

better stories than the right wing papers. I think that will pay off in

circulation terms. We will be seen to be a better informed paper than

our rivals.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1983

Economics correspondent, Newsnight

1990

Economics editor, the Guardian

1995

Assistant editor, the Guardian

1996

Editor, the Observer



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