Lionel Barber speaks to Ni Nyampinga about Rwanda and what it takes to become editor of the world’s leading business publication.
Lionel Barber is the current editor of the Financial Times and has worked at the publication for 32 years. As part of his recent trip to Rwanda, both Lionel Barber and David Pilling, Africa correspondent for Financial Times, joined Ni Nyampinga journalists for their weekly editorial news meeting.
Describing the work of Ni Nyampinga as “inspirational”, Lionel Barber shared his impressions of Rwanda and his wisdom on what it takes to become editor of a leading publication.
“It’s my first time in Rwanda. I’m very excited to visit a unique country in Africa. I’m here to listen and to learn and to discover inspiring stories. I think that Ni Nyampinga is an inspiring story. Journalists need to write positive inspiring stories as well as focusing on problems.
“We know the history of Rwanda… we know there was the most terrible episodes of violence and killing 23 years ago. I wanted to witness the rebirth of the nation.”Lionel Barber
In your short stay how have you found Rwanda so far?
“I’ve only been here for 4-5 days, so this is still a very short trip, but in my time I’ve seen a face of an African country that isn’t like other African countries. The place is unique in that you talk to somebody who is 30, 40, or 50 years old and they’ve already lived in five different countries, like Burundi, Canada or Kenya. Perhaps one of the unique things is the way people have come back to try and build and rebuild the country… that’s a very fascinating political and social experiment.”
What’s it like being the editor of the Financial Times?
“Being the editor is a bit like being the commander in chief… but also someone who’s like the manager of a rock band. You have to manage all these talented people who are very strong minded. Getting them all to work together and making the best out of them is the big challenge.”
How many people read your publication?
“We have about 2.5 million people who read the Financial Times everyday. Of that we have 200,000 newspaper circulation and 670,000 people who pay for the FT.com digital subscriptions.”
What do you think about Ni Nyampinga content?
“I like the way you focus on people. You find extraordinary stories through people. I keep telling my colleagues at the Financial Times ‘don’t just focus just on numbers, focus on people.'”
What advice can you give to young journalists?
“You have to listen and you have to stay curious. If you become cynical or you’re not curious you won’t be a good journalist. There’s always a story behind the story. So when you go to a village or you talk to the powerful CEO, and you think you’re getting the story, you always have to think that there’s another even better story behind that. So you have to be deep and original and if you have a great brand like you have, I think you’ll be very successful.”
How is Financial Times impactful in people’s lives who read it?
“At one level we say that the Financial Times is for people who either want to make money or avoid losing money. So we’re for business people, but we also have academics, politicians, diplomats, lots of people read the Financial Times. It tells them how the modern world works, the connection between politics, economics, finance, business and technology. We connect the dots – that’s our job – and we’re global. We have 570 journalists and more than 100 foreign correspondents all around the world.”
Some of us dream of becoming editors. What steps can we follow to become one?
“To be the editor you need good luck. You can’t plan it. It’s a bad thing just to think ‘I want to be the editor.’ I didn’t do that. I never thought I would be the editor. I’m not an economist – I’m a linguist, a historian. I think it’s best to put the journalism first. If you’re a really good journalist and really good reporter and can tell stories in a compelling way, and be empathetic, understand the people that you’re talking about, and you become a good writer… then maybe in 15 or 20 years you want to be in charge of managing people. And then if you do that then well, maybe you get lucky and become the editor – but don’t think that’s the only great job!”