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Spend money on the front line, not long-form journalism

At a time when Reuters suffers from ever decreasing editorial budgets and cuts to staff, is it not foolhardy to spend big bucks on a new appointment in the questionable area of long-form journalism?

The new recruit talks of the need not to rush and to give less dominance to the “now-now-now”. But surely Reuters built its global reputation and funds itself overwhelmingly on urgency and breaking news, not on 3,000-word magazine-style articles that take months to produce and too often tell us little that we did not already know or care about?

Years of cost cutting at Reuters have undermined its former dominance in areas like the Middle East and Africa and left overworked journalists badly stretched to compete with a better-funded, more strategic Bloomberg.

While these cuts weakened Reuters core strengths, the editorial management brought in by the Thomson family has spent significant sums on hiring expensive senior staff, overwhelmingly ex-colleagues from The Wall Street Journal, and expended what resources there are on boosting coverage of the United States and on long-form journalism.

There is a place for longer, investigative stories and there have been some tremendous examples, not least from the two Myanmar journalists now languishing in jail for their bravery. But do financial market operators read many of these stories? Does anybody at all read them to the end? They are predominantly a vanity project aimed at winning prizes, not at funding the coverage that clients with fat wallets are prepared to pay for.

At a time of deep uncertainty following the Blackstone takeover, what Reuters needs is more journalists in the front line filing fast, incisive, agenda-setting news, not a new job that sounds like it belongs in children’s publishing. ■