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Gorkana meets...Reuters Breakingviews

7 August 2015

John Foley, EMEA editor of Reuters Breakingviews, on creating provocative content, being an evangelist for numbers journalism and working with PRs to form great ideas.

Gorkana meets...Reuters Breakingviews

After spending the last few years coordinating Breakingviews’ China coverage, what brought you back to the UK as EMEA editor and what are the different challenges you are facing now?

I’ve been at Breakingviews for several years, since before Reuters bought the outlet in 2009. It was my first job in financial journalism, so I worked my way through and up. A job became available in London running the bureau, and as much as I love working in China, I had to go for it.

It’s a great time with everything that’s happening in Europe, so I saw a real opportunity to come back with the eyes of a foreign correspondent, ready to ask some fresh questions about how things work and why things are the way they are.

Can you talk us through your role and remit?

I run our team of nine journalists in London and Madrid, who work alongside bureaux in Hong Kong and New York. My job is to write, but also to edit, commission and generally guide our coverage of this region, as well as raising our profile, make sure we’re staying agenda-setting and influential and help us to refine our offering.

Are there any regions you’d like to extend your editorial in?

We have focused historically a lot in the UK, because that’s where we’re based. Lately it’s been about the ‘E’ in the EMEA because the Eurozone is such a big story and it’s going to continue to be. I think it’s an opportunity to grow that, while also looking more at some of the peripheral parts of that region; developing Europe, more content on the Middle East, and Africa and commodities stories.

Stories like Britain’s EU referendum will take up so much of our attention. However, I do want to increase the sense of this being a broad region with all different economies doing different things.

How does Breakingviews differentiate itself from the main Reuters brand?

We complement the Reuters news brand. We’re published in the same places and terminals. Obviously our readers are closely knit as well. We only do opinion though – that’s the thing we’re great at. Our job is to cut through the noise and deliver a punchy, short view. Because we have that narrow remit but cover a lot of sectors, we fit quite nicely into the Reuters portfolio. That means our readers and clients get everything they need.

How important is data journalism to Breakingviews?

What we do at Breakingviews is numbers journalism, which is slightly different. We do a lot of number crunching; we’re all financial and accounting literate, and we all understand M&A and corporate finance themes. Our journalists really roll their sleeves up and rummage around in the figures. It’s not quite data journalism, but we’re certainly evangelists for the idea that you have to use numbers, as well as ideas, to tell the story.

You syndicate content with a number of titles; how does your relationship work with them?

The one I can talk the best about is Chinese conglomerate Tencent, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Whatsapp, called WeChat. We have an exclusive deal with them in China to run Breakingviews columns. They translate them and pick the pieces that they want and publish them every day on their website.

In Europe, our main partner is the International New York Times. They publish two stories a day and they know that in terms of print, they are the only English-language partner in Europe that can publish Breakingviews, which they get a day later than our paying subscribers. It gives us access to a huge audience.

How can PRs help contribute content to you?

We look to PRs for two things; one is information, particularly when we have questions and need to know more about a company that we’re writing about. The other is ideas. A lot of those tend to come out of conversations, as opposed to press releases. We are not that interested in getting the same ideas that PRs send to everyone, but we want to pick people’s brains and find out what makes them tick. So for us, the best interactions that we have with PR people tend to be face to face.

Obviously, like everyone, we depend upon the amazing PR people out there who know how to send us the information that is right for us. The most helpful thing a PR can do is read our stuff; know the kinds of companies we write about and those we don’t. You can tell when people have done their homework.

What is your take on embargoed content?

We are a bit unusual because of what we do; since we do opinion, we are always off the record when we talk to people. That means whenever we have a conversation, we aren’t going to quote the person we talk to. Often people will give us stuff that isn’t out there. We try and avoid embargoes though because we don’t want people to tell us stuff we can’t use.

What is the best way for PRs to get in touch?

All the details are on our website, where you can find emails for all our columnists. The best thing to do is look at what we do and see who covers what. If in doubt, ask. If you have something that might appeal, tell us. If it doesn’t appeal, we’ll tell you. Our product is digital so we reply quickly to email.

What is the most common mistake PRs make when they pitch to you?

There are two. One is not knowing what we do. Any good PR person won’t fall into that trap – it’s about knowing that we cover the big companies and we’re financially focused. The other thing is, because we write opinion, we’re not just looking for other people’s opinions to publish. We love having debate with PR people and their clients, but we are generally not taking people’s views and publishing them as our own. Sometimes we have quite heated debates with PR people who don’t understand why we haven’t written a story the way it was presented to us. We have to explain that they are one of many sources we’ve spoken to.

Breakingviews’ journalists are available for broadcast interviews; what kind of shows are you looking for to feature them on?

We’ve done all kinds of things, from the BBC to CNBC. We do our own internal TV for Reuters. We’ve done panels and talking heads; we’re pretty comfortable when you can get us on a topic we know.

You encourage provocative content; how do you ensure that your editorial line remains balanced?

There is a difference between provocative and biased. This is really important to us. You can have an opinion and a view, but you have to be balanced in your reporting. You have to listen to all sides, give people a right to reply and be open to the fact that you might have got it a bit wrong. So be flexible. All of our journalists are trained to listen, as well as speak, and to look for all sides of the story. If you do that, the piece that comes out may be provocative, but it’s not going to be sensationalist.

Breakingviews is relatively young under the Thomson Reuters banner so how do you see it developing over the next couple of years?

We love working as part of Reuters, and we think they love having us. Hopefully we’ll just grow upwards and outwards. There is so much more that we could write about. Our journalists get better every day and practice make perfect. We are always looking for new talent. I hope we continue to do what we’re doing well and I help the Reuters brand be synonymous with valuable financial insight.

John was speaking to Gorkana's Niall Davies