Scandals, scoops and insights: A deep-dive into the FT’s companies coverage

12 Nov 2020 10:32 am by Megan Burnside

Scandals, scoops and insights: A deep-dive into the FT’s companies coverage

Coronavirus has dominated global business coverage in recent times, and with an editorial team of over 600 journalists across the world, the Financial Times has been uniquely positioned to report on the impact of the pandemic across regions and industries.

While the FT has mobilised its network to examine the response in different sectors, it’s continued to uncover no shortage of other interesting corporate stories. From reporting on accounting scandals and dubious entanglements, to new startups and surprising tie-ups, FT readers have been kept entertained as well as informed.

In this post, Companies editor Tom Braithwaite helps us explore the strengths of the FT’s corporate coverage, and highlights some of his favourite recent scoops and unique pieces of FT journalism.

ExpertQ&A

Priorities in a pandemic

In his 16 years at the Financial Times, Companies editor Tom Braithwaite has been a Lex columnist in San Francisco, US banking editor in New York and held reporting positions in London and Paris. He also covered the aftermath of the last financial crisis from Washington. Now almost a decade on from that role and in the midst of the most unpredictable economic environment in living memory, what are Tom’s priorities for the FT’s business coverage?

“One of the key objectives, above all, is just to tell fun and interesting stories, preferably that you can't read elsewhere,” Tom says. “Then in terms of themes, the two obvious ones at the moment are the pandemic and Brexit.” As the UK and EU enter the final phases of negotiations, the FT will be on hand to unpick the many implications for all sorts of organisations.

The aim of keeping the FT’s corporate reporting ‘fun and interesting’ is a challenging one against the backdrop of coronavirus, which has been a bleak period for many companies. FT reporters have however sought to bring readers stories of corporate resilience, which has also highlighted the value of its global reach.

“The prospering in the pandemic series probably gave us the most feedback we’ve had this year, and really did have an impact,” Tom explains. “In many ways it's the companies you'd expect. It's the Amazons of the world and a certain class of work from home/play from home company. It was a series of four or five pieces and is well worth looking at as it did fantastically well.”

Exclusive stories and unique takes

Another goal of the FT’s companies reporting is to bring readers something fresh that they’re unlikely to be able to find anywhere else. While this can be stories the FT breaks first (‘scoops’), it can also mean providing a new take or deeper insight on an existing story.

The Wirecard accounting scandal is a prime example of a massive corporate story that the FT had real ownership of and demonstrates the quality and value of FT journalism. While Dan McCrum and colleagues laid bare the full extent of the scandal and the firm ultimately collapsed, for a long time it seemed that their years of digging may result in little more than some movements in the fintech group’s share price.

“Wirecard is interesting because Dan plugged away at it with help from various other people for two or three years,” Tom explains. “The articles had a following and were well read, but it was only in the last few months where it became apparent to everyone that it was a huge fraud.”

Anything the FT writes about accounting is always incredibly popular in terms of views, but it’s difficult to predict where the next big fraud story might come from. The FT may not break all of them first but strives to go deeper in surfacing new insights for subscribers.

“There's quite a public case right now about Nikola, this electric truck company, where we can’t claim to have spotted it first, but we have broken stories,” Tom says. “We uncovered that Nikola had bought the designs to their flagship electric truck, rather than developing them in their founder’s basement as they’d claimed.” That kind of Wirecard ‘hunting’ is going on all the time.

A priority for Tom since taking up his post as Companies editor has been to make their ‘main’ read each day as original as possible. “It’s about 1200 words and can be anything from a dive into an individual company or more of a cross-sector piece,” he explains. “A favourite one recently was on this testing company that claimed to have a 20 second coronavirus test. That was a good example of the FT digging into something that doesn't smell quite right.”

Cross-border, cross-beat reporting

As the Brexit negotiations come to a head, Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf has stressed that the FT is not leaving Europe and it remains a key focus. In terms of companies reporting, a number of recent stories have showcased the strengths of the FT across the region.

“We’re strong in France, we’re strong in Germany,” Tom says. “I don't want to keep mentioning Wirecard but it's not just Dan McCrum, our correspondent in Frankfurt Olaf Stolberg has been a fantastic addition. In Paris, Leila Abboud is another recent hire and an extremely strong reporter who did a fantastic piece on Danone during the pandemic. It really gets into the nuts and bolts of how a large multinational is trying to adapt in a crisis situation.”

The ability of the FT to join up business, politics and finance across the world is one of the primary reasons behind the growing US readership. In a market where the media can be fairly domestically focused, US editor-at-large Gillian Tett describes the FT as “cross-border, cross-beat and politically neutral.”

Tom highlights finance as an area where the FT is particularly competitive in the US. “From financial regulation in Washington, to economics and central banking, and on Wall Street and parts of Silicon Valley, that’s where the FT can bring a fresh perspective.”

While the FT can’t boast four-figure numbers of reporters like other media outlets, Tom reflects on how his team are able to work across regions and sectors to provide readers with the kind of rare insight they’re looking for. “I think we're sort of blessed with the size of newsroom that makes collaboration a bit easier than others,” he concludes. “It's simply about the right people getting together and managing to produce something really good.”

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