Financial Times names first woman top editor

Marc Tracy, The New York Times

Posted at Nov 13 2019 12:44 PM

Financial Times names first woman top editor 1
Roula Khalaf, who will become the first woman to edit the Financial Times in its 131-year history, poses for a portrait at Financial Times offices in London, Britain, Sept. 19, 2019. Charlie Bibby, Financial Times via Reuters

For the first time in its long history, The Financial Times will be led by a woman.

On Tuesday, the daily known for its robust coverage of international markets, its distinctive salmon-hued paper and its impenetrable digital paywall, announced that Roula Khalaf will be its top editor, starting in January. Khalaf, a 24-year veteran of the newspaper, which has its headquarters in London, will succeed Lionel Barber, a Financial Times journalist since the 1980s and its editor since 2005.

Barber, 64, said in an interview Tuesday that he had consulted with the newspaper’s owners about a transition for more than a year. “You mustn’t see this as some kind of ‘woke’ gesture — it’s got nothing to do with that,” he said. “She is one of our most outstanding journalists. She’s been deputy editor for 4 years, she’s been tested in all sorts of areas, and that’s why she’s the next editor.”

The newspaper, which was founded in 1888 and has a paid circulation of 1 million, including digital and print subscribers, declined to make Khalaf available for an interview. In a statement Tuesday, she said, “It’s a great honor to be appointed editor of The FT, the greatest news organization in the world.”

Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, and educated in the United States at Syracuse University and Columbia University, Khalaf has served as the publication’s Middle East editor, foreign editor and deputy editor. Before joining The Financial Times, she wrote for Forbes magazine, where she made waves with a feature article on Jordan Belfort, the shady stockbroker who became known as the wolf in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” A character based on Khalaf appears in the movie.

Khalaf returned to the subject of Belfort in a 2014 Financial Times article, writing, “I am the journalist who in the movie wrote the 1991 ‘hatchet job’ on Belfort and his respectably named but disreputable Stratton Oakmont outfit. My character — I was a Forbes reporter when I wrote the profile — gets a few seconds’ play, followed by a scene in which Belfort is infuriated by my story. I had described him as sounding like a twisted version of Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers. That was rather charitable since he was also probably fleecing widows and orphans.”

During his 14-year tenure as top editor, Barber guided the newspaper through a decline in the industry, as well as its sale four years ago from Pearson, the British media company, to Nikkei, the Japanese financial news publisher, for $1.3 billion.

He noted that he had traveled in the Middle East with Khalaf, interviewing the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, in 2013 and, in 2015, visiting Mohammed bin Salman, then Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince.

Barber’s legacy will include presiding over the newspaper as it reoriented its business model to be focused on circulation revenue — subscribers paying for access. Many legacy media news organizations, including The New York Times, have made this move in recent years. The Financial Times was among the pioneers, instituting an online paywall as early as 2007.

“We said, ‘We’re going to charge for content,’” Barber said. “By saying that, and also raising prices, that was a message to the outside market that we’re worth it. But it was also an incredibly powerful message to the newsroom: ‘Now we’re really going to have to be the very best.’”

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