Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Interview with Bill Emmot Editor of The Economist Magazine | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Asharq Al-Awsat Photo

Asharq Al-Awsat Photo

Asharq Al-Awsat Photo

Q: The Economist has recently appointed its first Director for Global Marketing. How significant is this move?

A: As Editor I am not responsible for the marketing and commercial aspects. Responsibilities are split between the publishing side which has taken the new person on board and the editorial side which I oversee.

Having said that, I am happy to talk about this new position. The Economist has reached a milestone and sold a million copies worldwide per week. We’ve accomplished this because our brand is well-known and respected amongst a particular group of people. At this stage, we want the Economist brand to be better recognized and understood around the world. This requires a global approach. In Britain , over 150 years, we have successfully established an awareness of our brand. We want to replicate this strength in our overseas markets which account for over 80% of our circulation. In terms of market penetration, the recognition and circulation of the Economist, if we take account of population numbers, are lower than in Britain .

Q: What is your future target?

A: I believe that in addition to brand recognition, our circulation and readership figures will continue to grow. The Economist offers analysis for world affairs which affects more people globally and therefore interest more people around the world. With the continuing spread of the English language, globalization will continue to be the wave that we ride and we will continue to prosper as long as we are doing our job well. In recent years, growth has risen by 5-10% worldwide and we hope this rate will continue in the future. In other words, if we grow, on average, 7% per year, we will double our circulation figures within 10 years.

Q: You mentioned the increasing popularity of the English language. Does that indicate you have no intentions to publish in any other languages?

A: No, but we don”t rule out editions in local languages. Essentially, our strategy is to use English as it is the language most suitable of our target readers profile. The Economist readers are international, educated individuals who occupy senior positions. We do use other languages to increase the sale of other products, such as the CFO publication in Chinese.

Q: How many syndication agreements such as the one with our sister news magazine Al Majalla does the Economist have?

A: Many! A number of these agreements stipulate a few articles are translated per week or annually, whilst others are in English. We also have 34 annual syndication deals with publications around the world, including “The World In” and “Intelligent Life”.

Q: In addition to the Economist, what other periodicals are part of your publishing group?

A: There us CFO which is the publication for Chief Financial Officers as well as “The World In” series (The World in 2005 for example) translated into several languages and the annual “Intelligent Life”.

Q: In your opinion, why do many individuals perceive your magazine as primarily a financial publication?

A: Most of those who see us in this light are not regular readers. It only takes someone to look at one issue to realize we discuss politics, science, technology, as well as business matters. our name might have an influence there as well that our we were a specialized business and financial publication fifty years ago.

Q: How would you describe the Economist online model?

A: We provide an extra online service to our core readers, rather than using the alternative model which is using the website to reach a different audience. .

We are making a profit with most of the revenue coming from advertising , and we are offering a special service to our loyal readers who expect more than the print edition of the Economist. Our online service is free to our subscribers but others will have to pay to use it.

Q: Rupert Murdoch predicted the death of the newspaper as we know it by 2040 creating a fierce debate in the media. Do you believe the same applies to magazines?

A: I believe that it is not a matter of publishing online or in print. The magazine approach with its thoughtful and analytical approach will always be in need. Developments in technology might mean you are able to receive the material electronically such with a “Tablet PC.” Of course, in the future, this might become the sole way of receiving information and reading news. However, I believe we offer our readers in depth analysis which is best consumed in print format for the time being. If better technologies emerge, we might change this. What we offer is a way of thinking not a technology.

Rupert Murdoch is right in saying newspaper and magazine publishers are wrong in being unaware that their job is not in the manufacturing process, which has to do with a specific physical medium, but an intellectual process whereby information, analysis, and entertainment are provided. Of course, the medium needs to correspond to what the reader demands; if they change, we will change as well.

Q: Why is the Economist often referred to as a newspaper when, in fact, it is a newsmagazine?

A: There are a couple of reasons for this. The legal name of our company is “Economist Newspapers Limited” which has been in use for over 100 years, perhaps because of the traditional English use of the word newspaper in the 19th century. Editors and the publisher use this terminology to emphasize our topicality. We feel the word magazine implies a monthly approach where the information is not time sensitive, such as with women’s magazines and “National Geographic”. The Economist, on the other hand, is mainly about news. In the U.S, we use the term newsmagazine, less common in Britain . Why complicate matters? We are printed on paper and monitor news so newspaper seems an adequate term to refer to ourselves.

Q: The Economist is renowned for not featuring bylines or the names of its editors. Why is that?

A: We believe the &#34idea&#34 is what is most important, not who writes it. We also want to offer a consistent way of thinking about the world and an opinion from the Economist as a collective rather than a number of shattered individuals. The absence of bylines also differentiates us from others. The fact that you are asking the question indicates you have thought about the Economist. Being different is very valuable nowadays.

Q: What does this mean for journalists and their sense of achievement? Have you ever discussed changing the policy bylines?

A: I have been working with the Economist for 25 years and have never taken part or heard of an argument on the subject. It is our policy not to include bylines; why argue about it? If a journalist is unhappy he or she can go work somewhere else. Many grow to like the policy after a while. It might seem alien at first but it soon produces a sense of joint responsibility; writers feel under threat because of other people’s mistakes and will want to avoid making mistakes themselves. This produces collective empowerment. Perhaps when the magazine stops being so successful will some stop and ask themselves whether the policy has benefited their careers.

Q: How many journalists work in your London headquarters and worldwide?

A: The Economist employs 70 writers and editors worldwide. The numbers are almost divided equally between London and overseas.

Q: Do you rely on input form additional inputs in certain countries?

A: No, only our 70 writers and editors.

Q: How would you describe the level of cooperation with your sister publications, as well as the “Financial Times” newspaper which owns 50% of your shares?

A: There is a lot of commercial cooperation between the two publications, we aim for joint advertising sales, pitches, and deals with advertisers. We also cooperate on conference. Cooperation on an editorial level is limited because we believe each publication should follow a distinct editorial policy; there is no advantage to gain from forcing us to cooperate together. In practice, journalists communicate with each other and share ideas informally. As for the &#34Financial Times&#34 and as Andrew Gowers noted in his interview with Asharq Al Awsat, (published on 17th July 2005 ), “We are friendly competitors.”

Q: The Economist follows a unique method in appointing its Editor in Chief. Can you shed light on this matter?

A: We have a Board of Directors which is a corporate board similar to any other company. When it’s needed to choose a new Editor, the Chairman forms a sub committee which looks for a candidate . The Board of Trustees, made up of four people who are independent and play a protective role, approve or reject the recommendation.

Q: Who do you report to then?

A: I report to the Chairman for salary and other general matters. The Board of Trustees holds a protective power as the Chairman is not allowed to fire me without their approval. Their only role is to protect my editorial independence.

Q: Do you believe this model is ideal?

A: Editorial independence is valuable for a publication because it means the readers can choose to like what they read or not, rather than a person with special interest in mind such as a shareholder or advertiser. It is an important factor for success but not the only one.

Q: Many individuals regard your editorial positions as daring. What do you basis your opinions on?

A: We believe in liberty, for economic and personal reasons. It’s important to recognize it is not just an economic idea. Freedom is also a philosophical concept which states men and women are free to choose what is best for them. For example, we believe drugs should be legal because people should have the right to choose what foes into their own body.

Q: How do you decide which positions to take on a certain issue?

A: Through debate and discussion, not only between senior editors but all writers and editors take part. Debate takes place at our weekly meeting, which is everyone is free to attend. We have special meetings when we need to discuss controversial issues such as the war in Iraq or which candidate to endorse. Although it’s an open discussion, I take the final decision. Usually, it is more or less by consensus though not necessarily by a majority vote.

Discussions are successful because editors and writers know they are open for everyone and all opinions will be heard. They also know that decisions are based on intellectual reasons and not commercial or political interest.

Q: Can you describe your weekly schedule?

A: Every Monday morning, each division meets to discuss their plans for the coming week. At 11:15am , we hold a large editorial meeting for an hour and 45 minutes to discuss the week ahead and the cover of the magazine. Once the plan is agreed on, we implement it. Pages are sent to production as of Tuesday. Wednesday is the climax of the week; we hold another meeting to make a final decision on the cover and discuss any late changes. On Thursday, I arrive at the office at 6:30am to oversee the final editing of the page proofs. My colleagues arrive at 7:30 am and the magazine is sent to the printers at 12:45pm . Friday is spent on evaluation and planning for the following week.

Q: The London bombings on Thursday 7th July 2005 must have created havoc at the Economist then?

A: As you probably know, the bombings occurred around 9am which meant the magazine should be ready three hours later. On that day, I was traveling to Athens . I was on my way to the airport when I heard the news on the radio. As soon as I heard about the bus explosion, I turned around and headed directly to the office. We redesigned the cover and I rewrote the editorial between 12 and 2pm whilst our editor covered the attacks before sending the issue to the printers.

Asharq Al-Awsat Photo

Asharq Al-Awsat Photo