Journo intel: Christopher Williams, business editor of The Telegraph, on digital news, cricket, and Sunday-type journalism
Previously the business editor of just The Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Williams now holds the title across all seven print and digital editions of the media group. In a webinar with our B2B PRmedia relations team, Christopher shared valuable insights into digital news subscriptions, the future of business journalism, and climate change, among others.
How has The Telegraph fared during the pandemic?
The pandemic coerced many people to adopt digital consumption habits they didn’t have before, a tendency The Telegraph greatly benefitted from, says Christopher. The broadsheet is now the biggest in the UK with a total number of online and print subscriptions of 675,000 – with online outstripping print at a ratio of more than 2:1 and still growing. This growth rate puts The Telegraph well on track to meet its goal of one million subscribers and 10 million registered users by 2023.
In line with what the paper has done for the past 180 years, business journalism, and sections like cricket and radio reviews, form a core part of its digital offering and restore The Telegraph’s offer to its readers, Christopher points out.
Doing journalism on the front foot
Whether online or offline, readers favour insightful reporting. That’s why Christopher firmly believes that, like any good news article, the best business journalism tells a good story with a compelling lead. In the past, old-style business articles served as a conduit for market data, but today a business writer’s job is to be more ambitious and journalistic. They need to find and break stories and pair comments and analysis in a way that’s worth paying for.
To engage its online subscription audience, The Telegraph offers Sunday-type journalism throughout the week with features and in-depth exclusives on trends that are worth reading, Christopher explains. “Report the world as you find it rather than as you want it to be” is this hardened scribe’s motto.
A day in the life of a business editor
With seven issues to compile each week, Christopher’s day starts at 9am with a routine news meeting followed by a features and comment meeting with the editor at 10am. Here they plot the two main features of the day, who the columnists would be and their topics. At 10:30am, there’s another news meeting where the editorial team review the story list, identify exclusive news angles, and dispatch reporters on their daily beats. At 3pm the group meets again to decide which articles go where and compile page mock-ups, and at 5:30pm, they finalise the process. All meetings are digital, and the use of paper, although still important, is increasingly waning.
Alongside these processes, Christopher plans and keeps a close check on the Sunday edition. Starting on a Tuesday, he commissions features, goes through the news list on Thursdays, and on Fridays works on both the Sunday and daily editions. He believes producing Sunday papers as a separate entity makes no sense – rather, all the editions “should be connected”. It’s essential that his team of journalists work in this manner throughout the week, says Christopher. He’s been in the office throughout the pandemic and, as of September, brought everyone back to the office “because creativity and ideas flow more easily when everyone engages physically.”
Changes at the business desk
The narrowing gap between business and technology prompted The Telegraph to fold its Technology Intelligence channel into the business desk. “Our readers have a great interest in the bustling tech sector in Europe, and because of the rise to prominence of fintech, in particular, we no longer felt it necessary to have tech as a separate structure,” explains Christopher. The paper has also reduced its business news coverage of Silicon Valley, a market dominated by The New York Times.
However, the hugely popular Economic Intelligence newsletter will retain its brand since the writers – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and Jeremy Warner – have their unique followers. According to Christopher, the newsletter is an “effective way to reach busier professionals while also creating a useful funnel to attract new subscribers.”
Key focus points for reporters
From a broader perspective, the continued contraction of public markets has shifted the focus to private investment. “A vast amount of public regulation, partly to do with low interest rates, has made life difficult for public markets. Therefore, the FTSE is no longer where the action is; we only witness the odd takeover bid now and then. Instead, private investment is what’s driving business and the economy today,” asserts Christopher.
“Themes that will dominate business news for the next few months would be inflation and shortages, whether it’s to do with energy or lorry drivers, the decline of public markets, or the undervaluing of UK assets.” Christopher is quite forthright about the type of stories he wants on his pages. “Readers are enticed by themes relating to electric vehicles, the movement of tech through the real economy, manufacturing, commodities, and climate change. To cover these regularly, I sometimes move journalists away from traditional patches. Another key theme is digital assets since it affects every economy and business today. Therefore, all our reporters are urged to interrogate this theme whenever they’re granted access to a C-suite contact.”
Since journalism, by definition, is about rapid change, the ubiquity of climate change makes it difficult for journalists to cover climate change in general, says Christopher. “To cover it daily, we look at real-world changes instead and interrogate these rather than writing about climate change as a thing. While The Telegraph will be covering COP26 in Glasgow at the end of October, we’re still not sure how we will tackle it from a business perspective. Climate change is, however, increasingly part of the discussion with business leaders.”
Asked in which tech areas Britain should be succeeding in over the next decade, Christopher had some sage advice. “While the UK isn’t a tech superpower, we’re an amazing creative superpower that punches well above its weight. We have enormous talent in television production and visual effects, and I believe we should build on this strength rather than trying to emulate the likes of Facebook.”