Barber to end record-breaking reign at FT
Lionel Barber leaves in January after a 34-year career at the pink paper.
Lionel Barber will call time on a 14-year stint leading the Financial Times when he leaves in January, having notched up a tenure as Britain’s longest-serving national newspaper editor.
His departure comes after a milestone year for the pink paper, which recently celebrated signing up one million paying readers – seen as an impressive feat in an era of declining traditional newspaper readership.
Since becoming editor in 2005, Mr Barber, 64, has presided over a switch away from a reliance on print advertising to becoming an online publisher, with the FT now having followed an online paywall strategy for almost 20 years.
The strategy has paid off, with digital subscriptions now accounting for more than three-quarters of the FT’s circulation.
But the title claims the 131-year-old publication also continues to be profitable.
Mr Barber’s time at the helm has also seen the paper sold to new owner Nikkei, Japan’s biggest media organisation, which bought the FT for £844 million in 2015 – a hefty price tag which raised eyebrows in the current print climate.
The sale brought to a close a 58-year ownership by Pearson, which has since re-positioned itself as an education publisher.
He has transformed the FT newsroom into a world-class digital-first operation, producing a unique combination of deep, original reporting and powerful commentary Tsuneo Kita, Nikkei chairman
Nikkei chairman Tsuneo Kita paid tribute to Mr Barber as a “strategic thinker, true internationalist and great friend of Nikkei”.
He said: “He has transformed the FT newsroom into a world-class digital-first operation, producing a unique combination of deep, original reporting and powerful commentary. FT journalism has never been stronger.
“We also thank him for his commitment to the successful partnership between the FT and Nikkei, navigating an unprecedented collaboration between the two newsrooms.”
Mr Barber’s career at the paper spans 34 years, having first started as a business reporter in 1985.
He became Washington correspondent a year later, before being appointed Brussels bureau chief in 1992.
After stints as acting news editor and at the continental European edition, he was appointed US managing editor, before moving back to London as editor.
He began his career in journalism in 1978 as a reporter for the Scotsman, before moving to the Sunday Times three years later.
The FT has won a raft of accolades under his leadership, as has Mr Barber himself – having been offered France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur, in recognition of his career in journalism and the paper’s “positive role in the European debate”.
But his editorship has also faced some challenges, not least steering it under Nikkei’s new ownership, as well as last year’s threat of strike action among staff angered by FT chief executive John Ridding’s pay deal.
The outcry was defused after Mr Ridding was forced to hand back his salary rise and agreed a new pay deal.
Mr Barber has also admitted that more needs to be done to boost its readership in the US, where its major competitor, the Wall Street Journal, boasts a 2.5 million paying readership.
Praise for Mr Barber’s tenure flowed in on Twitter from counterparts and City figures, with New Statesman editor-in-chief Jason Cowley describing him as a “terrific” FT editor.
Guardian editor Katharine Viner tweeted that Mr Barber has been “brilliant”.
Seamus Smith, an executive vice-president at business management firm Sage, wrote: “You’ve steered @FT so well and will be leaving a fantastic legacy, which I hope will be built on.”