By Donna Ferguson

Last week Women in Journalism put on our third annual event for women in financial journalism, kindly hosted by the FT. The topic of discussion at this year’s event was ‘Taking on a Career Challenge’ and our panelists were:

●     Becky Barrow, news editor of the Sunday Times and committee member of Women in Journalism.

●     Lisa Bachelor, deputy news editor of The Observer.

●     Kalpana Fitzpatrick, finance editor of Hearst UK and consumer editor of Good Housekeeping, Red and Prima.

●     Jane Martinson, Marjorie Deane Professor of Financial Journalism at City University,  Guardian contributor and committee member of Women in Journalism

●     Brooke Masters, Opinion and Analysis Editor for the FT.


Here were their top tips:

1)    Don’t be scared of feeling terrified. “I’ve changed jobs many times during my career over the years,” said Becky Barrow, who chaired the evening’s panel. “I know that despite the worry I feel beforehand, I’m always delighted to have made that change. My natural instinct is to stick with what I’m already doing – but I have learnt that change is a good thing.”

2)    It’s good for you to learn something new. “In general, at the Financial Times, there’s an assumption that you should be moving regularly and I think there’s real value in that,” said Brooke Masters.

3)    Try to identify what you’re passionate about. “Moving jobs is often about identifying which bit of a job you’re doing you really like and which bit of another job you really want to do – and then figuring out how you can get from A to B,” said Jane Martinson. “Getting to know people who sit near you and have other interests can help with that.”

4)    Consider starting a blog. “If you’re in financial journalism and you want to explore a different area of journalism, blogging is fantastic,” said Kalpana Fitzpatrick. “I don’t think I’d be doing the role I’m doing today without my blog. It enabled me to move from a business-to-business audience to a consumer audience. I also got a lot of TV work from it. It proved a real turning point in my career.”

5)    You can use your specialist knowledge to get a foot in the door. “I started off by pitching the newsdesk consumer-friendly stories that were in my specialist area, pushing for them to appear further forward in the paper,” said Lisa Bachelor. “Once I had established I could make that leap from my specialism to home news, it was easier to suggest other stories that might be outside my subject area.”

6)    Don’t make too many changes at once. Masters said: “I do a lot of hiring. We assume that adjusting to our culture at the FT is a big enough jump that you should be comfortable with your material. In general, if we’re hiring oil reporters, we’re going to look for oil reporters, not banking correspondents.” Barrow agreed: “I’d definitely recommend moving within a paper from what you know. I would never in nine million years have joined the Sunday Times as news editor, straight from the Daily Mail. Joining the Sunday Times as Money editor – because that was my subject – and then moving to news editor two years later was more manageable.”

7)    Negotiate your pay before you join a publication. “Don’t accept the first offer. It is regular changes in jobs that get you pay rises or being offered other jobs elsewhere,” said Barrow. “Never accept that line of ‘let’s just see how you do in the job and we’ll review in six months’. You remember the six months, but nobody else is paying attention.” Fitzpatrick agreed: “If you start on low pay, you’re going to move up really slowly. I don’t think you should be afraid to negotiate, even as a young journalist just starting out.”

8)    Now is a good time to apply for a more senior role and push for higher pay. “Right now, because all the papers are embarrassed by the gender pay gap figures, this is the moment to be pushing,” said Masters. “In two years, they’re going to be used to the numbers. So if you have any reason to negotiate your pay, don’t wait, do it now. Think of a figure that you want, and then ask for slightly more. You’ll be pushing at an open door.” If you’re unsure what to ask for, take a look at JournoResources, a new website founded by Jem Collins, winner of the Georgina Henry Women in Journalism award, which gives details of salaries and freelance rates.

9)    Be conscious of your market value when you freelance. “If you’re trying to pitch something as a freelancer that’s not in your specialist area of knowledge and you’re not a regular writer for that desk, don’t go over the top in negotiating rates,” said Bachelor. “That’s not the best time, because you’re trying to crossover.” It is still worth asking for a higher rate if you can make a good case explaining why the article will take you more than the average amount of work, she said. “But my advice would be if you’re then told a flat no, don’t keep negotiating.”

10) Be aware that the world of financial journalism is changing. “Personal finance journalism is very female-dominated and always has been. But business desks don’t have a lot of women – and that is very much to our advantage, because they are desperate for women and my God they need them,” said Barrow. “I think and I hope male editors finally understand that we just see stories differently sometimes. We might see them in more human, interesting ways and take a more lifestyle approach – and now that we can track the statistics of those stories, we know they do very well.” Masters was also positive about change: “At the FT, we have a heavily male subscriber base right now, but that means half the human race is up for grabs.”

11) Take advantage of condescending men who are stupid enough to underestimate you. There’s no such thing as a ‘stupid question’, our panel said. “A lot of the top business people you end up interviewing may be men. Where you can, know what you’re talking about – but when you can’t, be upfront about that,” said Masters. “When a man is condescending, take advantage of his condescension. He wants to instruct you. Let him. He may give you the stupidest quotes that you can then use.” Martinson agreed this was a good strategy: “Men will learn to underestimate you at their peril.”

12) Networking can open doors. “You never know who’s going to help you and recommend you for a job, or come back into your life,” said Barrow. “Talk to people you know, and find out what jobs are out there,” advised Martinson. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, recommended women on maternity leave or working part-time keep in touch with other journalists who offer them work: “Let them know when you will be available and what you want to do.”  Bachelor was equally encouraging: “Try to be nice to everybody, especially when you’re just starting out. You never know when you’ll meet somebody who will be useful to know later down the line.” In her experience, a good route from the trade press to the consumer press is to try to get freelance work from an editor you meet at an event.

13) Consider your next career move when you write stories for your current job. “If you can write in an accessible but not condescending way for trade magazines, you’ll have a much better shot of getting a job in general media,” said Masters. “Most people who write for trades tend to adopt the language. What I’m looking for when I hire journalists from trades is: are they writing in a way that my readers – not the trade magazine’s readers – will understand?”

14) Financial journalists have many strengths that are prized on other desks. “Accuracy, thoroughness, not being scared of figures, to list just a few,” said Barrow. “Not being embarrassed about needing to ask lots of questions,” said Bachelor. “Being willing to pick up the phone and speak to someone,” said Fitzpatrick. “Not accepting jargon and insisting that everybody you are interviewing explain everything,” said Masters. For Martinson, financial journalism is at the essence of all good journalism: “Once you have a basic understanding of how money markets and that world works, you get great stories – because it is all about people and power in the end.”

More about our panel

●     Becky Barrow: Before taking up her current post as news editor of the Sunday Times last year, Barrow was an award-winning Money editor for the Sunday Times, and spent 17 years working in business and financial journalism for the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

●     Lisa Bachelor: Before she became deputy news editor of the Observer in 2015, Bachelor spent eight years editing the Observer’s Cash section, as well as reporting on consumer affairs for the news desk. She first began writing about personal finance for the Guardian in 2001, after winning awards for her work as an journalist on Moneywise magazine.

●     Kalpana Fitzpatrick was appointed Finance Editor of Hearst UK in January. She edits financial content for a wide range of Hearst magazine brands, and is consumer editor of Good Housekeeping, Red and Prima. Before joining Hearst, she was a freelance journalist for a number of national newspapers and a columnist for the Daily Mail’s Femail section. Previously, she worked right here at the FT on its pensions publications. She also runs the Mummy Money Matters website.

●     In April, women in Journalism committee member Jane Martinson became the Marjorie Deane Professor of Financial Journalism at City University, where she is responsible for the MA course in Financial Journalism. A former Wall Street correspondent for the Financial Times, she joined the Guardian in 1999 as its US business editor in New York and spent 18 years at that paper. She worked in a variety of roles including news editor for City coverage, media editor and women’s editor, before being appointed head of media at 2014. She continues to write about the media industry for the Guardian as a columnist.

●     Brooke Masters spent 17 years as a staff writer for The Washington Post before joining the FT in 2006 as senior business correspondent. She went onto to work as city correspondent, chief regulation correspondent and companies editor before taking on her current post as Opinion and Analysis Editor for the FT in February.