“What you don’t know can hurt you.” An afternoon at the FT. Aka nerd fun

On a beautiful London Friday afternoon, instead of taking a few hours off to wander along the South Bank, absorbing the gorgeous spring weather (which had been trumping Istanbul’s onset of spring for the past two months), or extend  with colleagues an ease into the weekend over pints or other beverages, I found myself at the head offices of the Financial Times, my host the gracious Executive Editor of FT.com, Bede McCarthy.

The FT is by far my most favourite newspaper and one of the many reasons why it is, is because, the Weekend FT especially

Financial Times side entrance.

makes me feel at home. How? I’ve been ‘on the road’ for the past 6 months and lived in between hotels and apartment-hotels, with small hiatuses with friends in between. Not really having a place to call my own and living out of 2 suitcases, the FT, whenever I could get it, always bound me to a routine and sense of place. That place is not necessarily London, though more often than late every-time I go there I fall more in love with, and become more attached to it.

Even before this last bout of nomadic-ness, there was something about the familiarity and routine of the sections and columns appearing without fail. Truly, that newspaper and the familiarity it invokes has been one of the constants in a very inconstant world for me of late and of the past 6 country-hopping years. In Doha, with a work week beginning on Sunday and ending on Thursday, in spite of a lifestyle that at one point involved working for 4 weeks straight with only one day off, and each of those work days ranging between 12-16 hours, the FT harkened back something familiar, the newspaper as faithful friend and the regular columnists appearing without fail. Even the paper delivery guys in Doha picked up on my one person FT fan clubbing and would include me on the distribution rounds, and I’m told they still stop by the office to leave a copy of the paper for me. It has had the happy effect that some of my colleagues have now started to peruse those previously unfamiliar pages.

The reading order for me usually follows something like this: flipping to the back of the Life & Arts  section for Tyler Brules ultra nomad life updates, a read through the rest of the section, The Secret Agent, Mrs Moneypenny, the News section and then browsing through until the entire paper was read. Incidentally, queries to the identity of the The Secret Agent, kept him, a secret.

I walked into the building attempting to contain my giddiness, because for me, this was a dream factory. Put simply, this was the hub where all those ideas, reporting, reviews, insights came together and to me, that was magic. There was something special for me to be in the newsroom of a newspaper. Again, it harkened back to the idea of collective intelligence, collective consciousness in the room. But there were some other little surprises too:

  • a little red dress hung up next to a desk, auspiciously for some last minute event which might require a quick change
  • stars towards the bottom left of the paper indicating which edition it is
  • an office in Hong Kong, which together with London and New York, allows the FT to activate an effective 24 hour news presence
  • Many journalists, writers, keeping stacks of papers by their desks, so they could clip their articles for their portfolios. Bede did suggest I subscribe to FT online, to ensure I’d always stay connected, but there is something about holding that signature faded pink paper on a Saturday or Sunday morning, preferably with sun shining and cappuccino or other fruity concoctions close at hand and being off screen, disconnecting the world of ‘right-now,’ of airport lounges and gates, checking in and out of hotels…. So how could I chuckle at reporters clipping their pieces out when I’m a little vintage myself?
  • the ‘library’ which at one point was going to be closed or relocated until a vigorous effort from the staff kept it put. Here I was standing in nerd heaven. Or nerd FT groupie heaven.

    Papers in pause. Apparently no one knows why they are there. Iittala, we need some help in decorations please

Of course, to be in a newsroom during the thick of things: a breaking news story or a spectacularly busy morning is a different feel altogether. As we crossed the Millennium Bridge, past St. Pauls cathedral as dusk began to settle on London, that was another reminder of the familiarity and fixed-ness of time and place. A newspaper as an institution, a firmament of familiarity that would persist and endure beyond the transitions of life, despite content continuously changing. So Bede, raincheck on round 2?
Another moment of giddiness – the library
The graphics wall
A parting thought. Remember the importance of having a reservoir of intellectual defense

A parting thought. Remember the importance of having a reservoir of intellectual defense


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