New Reuters editor in chief talks business journalism
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Slightly more than a year after joining the company, Stephen Adler was named the editor in chief of Reuters on Monday, replacing David Schlesinger, who held the spot for four years but is returning to China.
For the past 14 months, Adler has been senior vice president and editorial director of the professional division of Thomson Reuters.
In that position, his job was to leverage editorial content across the organization. This involved hiring a team of journalists and editors in creating news services for the corporation’s professional division, which includes the legal, tax and accounting, and health care and science businesses. That team will now be incorporated into the Reuters news service.
He came to the wire service from BusinessWeek, which he left after it was sold to Bloomberg L.P. Before becoming BusinessWeek’s top editor in 2005, Adler spent 16 years at The Wall Street Journal, including posts as legal editor, investigative editor, and deputy managing editor. At The Journal, Adler led reporting teams that won three Pulitzer Prizes between 1995 and 1999. Previously, he was editor of The American Lawyer magazine.
Adler talked by phone Tuesday with Talking Biz News about his new job and the importance of business journalism to Reuters. What follows is an edited transcript.
How important is business and economics coverage to Reuters?
Obviously it’s incredibly important. It’s what our core customers want. They’re in investing and trading. For all of those people it’s incredibly germane. And they need that information to make decisions about investing money and making decisions for their clients.
It’s also important for our clients in legal, health care, and the professions. All of them are essentially in business, money making professions. If you’re a lawyer, you need to know what’s going with clients. If you’re an accountant, you need to understand the economic environment. If you’re a hospital executive, you need to understand what market your working in. And obviously, more broadly, business and economics matters to our general customers and the people we serve in newspapers and magazines and television. In our core platforms, where most of the revenue comes from, it’s absolutely at the core.
You mentioned yesterday that you’d like to see more stories that use Reuters data. Can you explain that a bit more?
One of the the things that strikes me about Thomson Reuters is that we’re not just a news organization. We’re an information company. We don’t just have raw data. We analyze it and we sort it. What we actually own ourselves. It’s an absolute treasure trove. For example, Westlaw is the leading database for lawyers. So if you’re writing about something about law, there are a million things you can get from that database if you know what questions to ask.
Let me give you an example. We can get data about jurors using social media and how that was affecting the system. So rather than doing that anecdotally, we can go into Westlaw and we discovered how many motions for mistrials had been asked for based on jury behavior in the social media world, and we went into finding out how many mistrials had been granted. It’s makes perfect sense because that is what people do. And anybody in the legal system is going to have to rethink how they go about jury selection. That became a very powerful story for us. It went out to our professional clients and on the news service. And it was one of the most viewed stories that day on Reuters.com.
Another example is when the latest insider trading announcement came out, the indictments, we wanted to know how judges actually sentenced people for insider trading. So we went to the last major roundup for insider trading and we looked at each person who had been indicted and saw the sentences that each person had got. We found out the average sentence was below the lowest level for federal sentencing guidelines. That is interesting to the financial and legal communities. That was very illuminating.
You can imagine all of the opportunities journalistically. It gives us a competitive advantage. If we organize around that correctly, we can do some journalism that nobody else can do.
How will what you were doing with the professional division help you in your new job?
It’s going to help enormously because what I was doing was getting to know those businesses — law, and health care and accounting. You need to really understand what the needs of those businesses are. Those are large businesses for Reuters. In an environment that was not news rich — there were databases but not a direct flow of news into those products — I started out by asking what the customer needed. We systematically worked our way through those businesses and determined what news they needed that was the most useful. We spent most of the past year trying to understand the businesses that Reuters has not been serving.
What’s the biggest issue facing Reuters these days?
For everybody in our business, you have to look at the new competitive environment where a lot of people have come into the news space. You see Huffington Post coming in and Daily Beast coming in and making an impact quickly. You have a lot more people doing news and not having to buy printing presses and distribute by print. Connected to that are new technologies for users of news to get access to news in a very immediate way. There’s been somewhat of a merging together of a professional platform and a consumer platform. You have to make sure your news and all of our assets are available on new platforms. We have to be really smart about that.
Part of what this new environment has done is that if you’re going to be effective as a news organization, you have to provide news and understanding. As news is being provided free, it becomes more of a commodity. So to not be a commodity, you have to provide analysis as to what all of it means. We’re in a favorable position where our news, data and underlying analtics work together. We’re making sure the news is highly germane. We don’t want our customers going to a free provider.
Reuters has pushed more investigative business reporting from its staff in the past two years. Do you see that continuing, and what is its importance?
You’re talking about telling your customers things they need to know that someone our there doesn’t want them to know. That is incredibly germane. You need to share that with your customers. I anticipate sharing more of that. I was the investigative editor at the Wall Street Journal and I built a very strong investigative team at BusinessWeek and we’re going to do more of that. We have a strong investigative team run by Jim Impoco.
Do you see any changes in staffing for business news coverage in the near future given that the company has a news hiring freeze until March 31?
My coming in is not a cost related move. My mandate is journalistic excellence to make this as strong as I can make it. That’s what I plan to do. I think we should be developing our journalistic talent and hire from the outside. There are always opportunities to promote people and to move people into new jobs. I’m not going to talk about the internal specifics, but we will continue to build.
What are your thoughts about the Trust Principles that govern Reuters?
Terrific to have in place because they both set out important guidelines as to how we operate as journalists. Everyone has to know what they are and has to know that we need to be fair and independent. It’s a protection against people who want to try to make us not fair and independent. It’s nice to have that protection.
And I think it’s a competitive advantage to have them in place. There is so much news and commentary and information coming along, that one of the challenges a news consumer has is what to believe. And we’ve seen many examples of stories coming out that are wrong or shaded from political perspectives. People know what they’re going to get from us. We have a really good reputation for fairness and accuracy. That’s important because people act on our news.
You mentioned in your note to the staff about cutting bureaucracy. How do you hope to accomplish that?
I said there would be a 60-day transition period, and that I will be going around and listening to people and figuring out how things work. In any large organization, you have to look ar your processes. I just want to make sure that journalists get to do good work and there’s nothing in their way. But I don’t have any conclusions yet.
Do you think the contract negotiations with the union as affected the journalism that Reuters has been producing?
I think the journalism has been really strong. I think there is a process is in place [for union negotiations] that is going to continue. I think our journalists are professionals and they are doing journalism because they love journalism. They’re doing a great job, and that’s really all I want to say about that.