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Reuters getting better all the time - Stephen Adler

Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler dismissed recent press criticism and said the organisation is getting better all the time. In a global telephone conference call, he urged editorial staff to achieve a fresh level of excellence to beat relentless, well-funded competitors in an incredibly challenging external economic environment.

“We are really an astounding organisation... I really do think we are getting better all the time,” Adler, pictured, said in the hour-long call on Wednesday.

Reuters was brilliant on news but was now adding commentary which “is incredibly important for many of our customers,” Adler said.

The organisation was getting more positive attention to its work. “Some of that we’ve been positively working to do. We’ve hired wonderful bookers who are getting us on important shows. And that clearly shows in the numbers. The broadcast appearances by Reuter journalists are up by 70 per cent. So, way more. And we’re getting great peer recognition. That is one measure of whether people believe we’re doing outstanding work. And the number of awards we’re getting globally is up quite a bit – double digits. Last time I looked it was 15 per cent year-on-year. So the external recognition seems to be there and improving.”

Listing coverage that had impressed him, Adler mentioned Syria – “an incredibly dangerous place to be working in, as we all know,” – the Eurozone crisis, the London Olympics and other news stories.  

He made no reference to an article in The Independent a month ago that said Reuters was facing an unprecedented identity crisis, with the relative value of breaking news diminishing, its financial customers retrenching and a string of operational mis-steps since the company was taken over five years ago by the Thomson group. A staffer in London asked him about it, however, and said it made a very depressing read and was “not the most accurate or best researched piece in the world”.

Adler replied: “Yes, I absolutely saw it. And I think you described it well. I don’t think there was much truth to it at all. And you do have to recognise that we’re in a very high-profile industry and if you spend much time on the Internet you’ll see every variety of opinion. You’ll recognise that competitors are out there always... trying to put themselves in a better light and the content role of commentary is much more active than it was before and eventually somebody’s going to write something... But what they say about the company, I don’t agree with that conclusion whatsoever. Nor do I accept the industry feels that way at all. The feedback that we’re getting and our businesses are getting is that the industry very much wants us to be successful. They think it’s really important that we play a strong role in the industry, they basically like working with us. And the customer reaction we’re getting from Eikon as it goes through its various changes and improvements is incredibly positive. And, frankly, I don’t remember what we are saying publicly about this so I’m not going to be as specific as I’d like to be, but people really like it, they think it’s really good.”

Adler said there was very little in the article about the news operation. “They were conflating problems with the terminals and using the Reuters broad name to cover it. But, again, the feedback I’m getting about our news is that people are very happy with it... I’m very optimistic.”

Adler said reform of regional desks was going well, with more uniformity raising standards on the editing desks. “I’m sure it’s not perfect. Many of you have questions about it. But I do think it’s a good initiative and that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Adler said Reuters was already well-positioned to meet the needs of its customers and try to do better. “We have the talent to do it. We have amazing talent to do this. And, crucially, we have enormous support from the company (and) from the CEO [James Smith]. He comes out of the news world. He was a reporter, then a publisher, then an operator in Thomson newspapers. Every conversation I’ve had with him shows that he has amazing news instincts, he understands the world we live in and he is enormously supportive. So that’s really good.”

He said the Thomson Reuters executive board was constantly asking questions about standards, about ethics and independence – “they play a wonderfully important role in our organisation. And our board of directors and our chairman David Thomson are big advocates of what we do, understand the direction and are strongly supportive.”

Adler told a US staffer who said there was a lot of consternation about headcount that the reality was “we’re on a very tight budget... when you’re in that situation you certainly go more slowly and are much more cautious about filling positions. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to end up filling positions that need to be filled... It’s a question of setting priorities... being really creative about doing things in other ways... this is not a permanent state but we’ll get through it.”

Asked whether he still planned to change his direct team, in which almost everyone is in the United States, to better reflect Reuters’ global footprint, Adler said: “Yes, I think it would be better if the senior leadership was better distributed around the world... Too many of us are in New York. We’ve tried to structure more simply, I think there’s a more simple structure than there has been in the past... I hope that over time that will sort itself out and that there will be more senior people in more places... It’s a good point. You do need headquarters, and headquarters was London and now it’s New York. There’s always going to be some place that’s headquarters. But broadly I do want to emphasise that one of our great virtues is that we are a global organisation. The goal is not to look at the world from New York, or from London for that matter, but to try to take a perspective that a global investor or a global leader might have about looking at the world and try to reflect that. We are trying to do that wherever our headquarters are.” ■