Is the Financial Times Losing Its Edge?

In the past, I have been an FT loyalist and promoter, and found myself reflexively singing its praises earlier this week.

But then I started to wonder if that was still true. Yes, I still turn to the FT regularly, but it appears to be losing its preeminent position.

The pink paper has taken to somewhat sensationalistic headlines (e.g., “Shipping charter rates soar“) when not only does a close reading show that they overstate the content, but comparison with other sources show the reporting to a tad optimistic. This used to be the Wall Street Journal’s specialty. We even have an error that is still up more than 12 hours after another article, “Supertankers store 50m barrels of oil” was published:

Oil prices rose briefly above $50 a barrel, recovering from a four-year low of $40.50 earlier this month. Oil later traded $1.30 down at $44.95 barrel….

And we also have the way-too-frequent tech woes. I was unable to search the site last night, and this morning, FT Alphavile had to decamp to Facebook! What gives?

I e-mailed a buddy and found I am not alone in my take:

It has been going downhill for a while. The minute the US became their biggest market, they started dumbing it down….The Op-Ed is particularly bad now. Martin Wolf is about the only one I can read regularly.

Now there are some other comment writers I like, such as Wolfgang Munchau, and columnists I enjoy (John Authers, John Plender, Paul Davies, John Dizard), but the general point is well taken. Bring the old FT back!

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  1. vlade

    I killed my paid on-line subscription years ago, when they were suffering from technical troubles every other day (saying i was logged in and then denying access to an article becasue I wasn’t etc..). I read them now and then – mostly Wolf and Munchau, but I’d never pay for the content again. I buy the paper now and then when I forget to take a book on train and there’s nothing in Guardian, but again, generaly read lex, and maybe an interesting editorial. Rest of the news I can find on internet.
    Bring back papers that do a real journalism and true opinio-formers – anyone can do a simple news reporting these days!

  2. donebenson

    The FT’s tech problems are frustrating, as I couldn’t access Alphaville last night either. And, for me, Alphaville is the best part of the FT by far.

    Whatever the reason for their decline, it has mirrored the WSJ, which now has very few articles of interest.

    Thank God for the financial blogs [especially yours Yves], as they have picked up the ball, and replaced financial newspapers as sources of worthwhile content.

  3. Anonymous

    I feel the same way about the WSJ after Rupert bought it out and started to compete with the NYT.

    It is blogs like this though that have filled in many of the blanks from the major business dailies.

  4. Anonymous

    not nearly as relavent as it was some time ago. Agree completely. I used to go to site daily, now maybe, weekly, maybe not…
    Nothing lasts forever…
    thanks for all your hard work.

  5. William Mitchell

    The central problem is that online news generates too little revenue to pay for reporters.

    This is a problem for Yves and other high-end bloggers, who are in a sense senior editors not tied to any one source. If basic reporting goes away, they have a problem.

    This spiral may end well. When most printed papers fail, the remaining print audience will be driven online, where a few will be willing to pay. The publishers’ costs will fall, revenue will rise, and equilibrium will be restored.

    I hope.

  6. CityUnslicker

    FT Alphaville is still essential daily reading in my view. I read the rest in the office over lunch.

    Compared to say The Times the coverage is very good. Online it does have to compete with Bloomberg which makes a good fist of things in a much simpler manner.

    As to what to do in the future, advertising, derided or not, is going to be the only way to make money online in the future. The FT will have to get wizzy with it; however judging by today, that is a big ask.

  7. Anonymous

    I have been subscribing to the FT and also to their weekly sister publication The Economist for many years and I let both subscriptions run out earlier this year because I felt the same. They have definitely lost their edge in my view, and not just by a little bit. All the news you need are available today for free on-line and nowadays blog sites like this one and other good quality ones have got definitely an edge when it comes to commentaries and insights. The power of networks of independent thinkers with the best ones emerging by natural selection in the marketplace is very, very disruptive. I would rather spend my money rather on proprietary research and commentaries from Marc Faber, John Williams, James Grant and the likes. This spells big trouble for the established media.

    Regards, APM

  8. wintermute

    I fully believe the FT is being dumbed-down. Not only is sensationalism creeping in, and factual errors – but also the horrid “punning” headlines favored by tabloids.

    The FTs decline is part of a bigger malaise affecting all media. Now the BBC news won’t even show simple charts or provide percentages when reporting changes in trend. I got sick and tired of hearing how “Obama was ahead of McCain” in the polls without even the simplest supporting statistics. Isobars have all but disappeared from UK weather reports. CDS’s are always described as “insurance”. I could go on… but its seems futile to rail against this trend in English-speaking countries.

  9. S

    right on. There wwas a post on the economist forum last week that was from mars. It was the same day that the loathsome Gordeon Richman posted that the world currency (time for)is nearing. The editorial page is definitly heading downhill and I marked it when they ran a celebratory editorial on keynes.

  10. Anonymous

    While the FT treads fairly carefully around UK economics it seems to be much more forthright about US and global news. It is not quite a rose tinted spectacles as Bloomberg can be but its noticeable blind spot does not do it any favours. Apart from Alphaville which is always worth a read, news tends to be reported with out comment or detailed analysis. Too often the official line is printed without question and I guess their lawyers play a part in that.

    The world of news is changing rapidly and the FT will have to adapt and find different revenue streams as it adapts to changing demand from its readership. We welcome the FT to the world where business models need to change and evolve rapidly.

  11. Anonymous

    The FT’s problem is that they don’t like money and have even less understanding of how it is made.

    They have been a major supporter of the EU, no matter how awful it’s consequences are, they love the UN and have never met a Tranzi they didn’t like.

    Free enterprise is anethma to them, they love big soft left government, which short of communism is the worst seed ground you could imagine, to make money in.

    It’s pink for a good reason, that is their world out look.


    This is what happens in a competitive market. WSJ publishes sensational junk and to keep up FT has to do the same. It it bleeds, it leads, goes the journalistic saying. How sad.

  13. curious-er

    The minute the US became their biggest market, they started dumbing it down….

    If this connection is true, what a sad commentary on the US!

  14. Jesse

    Yes, Yves Smith is surely a form of divine recompense for the general failure of the mainstream media, and of such former gems as the Financial Times. I have felt the WSJ has long been coopted and denuded of value.

    So we lose a few gems but we have received a jewel of great value in return.

  15. apachecadillac

    No, it has not lost its edge.

    It has reached its apogee and with its success its tone has become more magisterial and a bit less tart. Which is probably why this group still likes Alphaville.

    Of course, it’s easy to slide from magisterial to pompous, what with the gravitas and all that. Lord knows there are many examples in journalism of that trajectory.

  16. baychev

    WSJ is much worse since Murdoch bought it. Is the FT just racing them down the hill to irrelevance?
    Thank you Yves for your supperior in both delivery and quality blog

  17. John

    Yup, I agree. Something about when it bacame “more American” it started to “get dumb”. I guess that’s a pattern. All Americans can comprehend is dumbass optimism.

  18. Puffer

    I dumped ft 4 years ago. Sites that reference them…like yours, are taken with a dim view. Same with wsj.
    Yves: All tv and radio was eliminated
    at same time. Like wrist watches, more of a fashion statement. Useless.
    I honestly have never seen or heard the light bringer.

  19. Anonymous

    This definitely qualifies as “olds.” All major papers are becoming more dependent on advertisers as subscriptions and classifieds revenues slide. (For ex., today, one of Canada’s big print media guys, Quebecor, announced a new, large round of layoffs)

    This is not without implications. AS mentioned above, the sometimes excellent writers in the blogworld rely on news collection organizations such as Bloomberg/ThomsonR/FT… and it is unclear how these organizations will sustain what little “objectivity” or “balance” in the face of advertisers relatively rising influence.

    For instance, Canada’s GlobeandMail has been notably circumspect with its reporting on their corporate parent, BCE. The paper has also shaded coverage of Canada’s frozen ABCP market, and kept Madoff of the front page section, likely because of the influence of Canada’s banking system on ad revenues. Autos, which continue to have a disproportionate effect on ad revenue, have been covered with a union-busting mentality, while legitimate and even overriding concerns, such as the global prisoners dillemma of auto (over-)production, are ignored.

    Beyond the quasi-Chomskian stuff, there is the worry that the diffracted blogoshpere that purports to be the heir to the modern news model will usher in a era of renewed partisanship…

    here’s Mr. Gardner, a Canadian blogger who’s been wringing his hands quite a bit on the subject:

  20. Anonymous

    PS: is a newspaper co. like a Hollywood production, in that it is no longer a business but a hobby for the super-rich and megalomaniacal?

  21. Anonymous

    I was very troubled with the coverage of Turkey and Russia in FT and the Economist. All the reporting is extremely onesided bordering on Stalin style propaganda.

  22. Anonymous

    Sadly, it has been in decline for years. Like a lot of venerable UK institutions it became embarrassed about being British and felt it needed to follow the globalist line to survive. In doing so it simply sacrificed one of the things that made it distinctive. In recent years too many of its journalists have lost their critical faculties and have simply acted as cheerleaders for much of the insanity that has seized the financial markets.

  23. Paul W

    Not as insightful and brave as it used to be, perhaps because there is less analysis or more sensationalism/opinion – a lower level of sophistication is being targeted it seems. On the other hand, FT Alphaville has improved the overall experience. (I had technical problems too, but switching to a browser that did not have my log-in information saved solved the problem.)

    It’s still the best MSM publication out there by far. I’ll keep my subscription while they work out the kinks of the reinvention.

    Also perhaps a tad too much overlap between the FT and the Economist. I know the same group owns them, but if they are going to cadge each others’ reporting, a discounted combined subscription would be welcome.

  24. cian

    The Economist had an edge to lose? Apparently there was a time when it wasn’t Pravda for the free market set, but it was way before my time.

    As for the FT. Isn’t it the way of the world that things are always getting worse. I think you’d find if you looked at ten year old copies of the FT there was plenty of weak journalism, cheerleading and plenty of puns (the last being a British journalistic weakness). We tend to remember the strengths of the past, and forget the weakness and so overflatter it.

  25. Jojo

    And one problem I have with FT is that in order to pass on any links to to others, the other person is first required to register before they can read the article.

    This is poor policy that dissuades people from trying to read their articles online.

  26. Anonymous

    i am subscribe since long ago. munchau is one of my favorites. that said, the letters reflect readers being barely literate sometimes. that is disturbing.

    anyway, i guess as i get tired of reading bad news, they also get tired of writing depressing news… hence, the badly placed optimism.

  27. Abbott_Of_Iona

    No offence.

    But has Naked Capitalism lost its edge?

    The USA has offically gone to ZIRP.

    Who cares if the FT has lost its edge? Is there nothing more important to highlight?

  28. van_farik

    FT Alphaville is definitely the best part of

    However, i noticed that nobody mentioned Willem Buiter. Although he has stated number of times that his Mavericon blog is his independent opinion blog( as it should be), i still believe that he along with Munchau are great commentators.

  29. raylopez99

    plenty of puns (the last being a British journalistic weakness)

    I think this is characteristic of the English language and not limited to the FT. Read Herman Melville but pace George Orwell. Thar she blows, down the memory hole! Punny stuff, eh?

  30. dd

    First I stopped reading NYT
    Then WSJ/Barrons
    Now I’m down to weekend FT
    And now doing research and analysis
    Prospectuses have more info
    But could be as untrustworthy
    as a Madoff ADV

  31. Anonymous

    oh well, i’m off the res as usual.

    I like a lot. I think it is a step ahead of the conventional wisdom, so I read it for facts and a sense of the leading opinions of tomorrow. E.g. I think Summers’ editorials in the FT were part of what got him his current job. They showed his re-evaluation of his own orthodoxy. Agree or disagree, is not the point.

    This is not the same as being an impartial arbiter. They are part of the establishment, absolutely.

  32. john bougearel


    You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say either Matt D wrote this post, or Matt D put you up to it! :-)

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