Economist gets first female editor in 172 years

Economist gets first female editor in 172 years

When Britain's respected weekly, The Economist, found out it was losing its editor-in-chief in December, it took the unusual step of e- mailing a list of 13 applicants for the opening to its entire staff.

One former editor describes the atmosphere at the magazine as a "little bit like the College of Cardinals", which chooses the pope in Rome, and one candidate for editor wrote that the e-mail led to "intense lobbying behind the closed doors of the hutch-like offices".

There, they promptly shattered the glass ceiling in yet another of Britain's old boys' clubs.

Tomorrow, a woman moves into the office of editor-in-chief at The Economist for the first time in its 172-year history.

It named Ms Zanny Minton Beddoes, 47, as its 17th editor-in-chief to succeed Mr John Micklethwait, who left to head Bloomberg News in New York.

The choice was widely reported as a "breakthrough" by the international news media, according to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan- Ifra).

While Time and Newsweek have had female editors, such long-standing bastions of journalism as Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Times of London have never been helmed by women.

"It's been 'one step forward, two steps back' for gender equality behind editors' desks over the past year, with two high-ranking female editors-in-chief being ousted from Le Monde and The New York Times within the same week," Wan-Ifra noted.

A gossip columnist for The Spectator, a conservative British magazine, wrote that Ms Minton Beddoes was a popular choice among her peers and colleagues, and is known for her intelligence and sartorial style.

"She's extremely sharp and wipes the floor with anyone in an argument," wrote the columnist known only as Steerpike.

Ms Minton Beddoes comes highly qualified to lead The Economist, as Europe grapples with what Mr Micklethwait called in his "Editor's Farewell" yesterday in a rare byline piece "the near-permanent euro crisis".

A trained economist and graduate of both Oxford and Harvard, she worked for the International Monetary Fund for two years before joining the publication in 1994. Based in Washington since 1996, she moved to London as business affairs editor last year.

The Economist Group's chairman, Mr Rupert Pennant-Rea, describes her as a "fine leader" and "a true advocate for The Economist and its values".

To that end, she has urged both rich and emerging countries to tackle inequality, institute more progressive tax systems and cut fiscal deficits.

As early as 2012, she was taking the lead in noting: "In the rich world as a whole, the best route of all would be further rises in the retirement age."

In being named editor-in-chief, she also breaks an age barrier.

Mr Gideon Lichfield, who left the magazine to help found Quartz, wrote in his online magazine last week: "The editorship has traditionally been not only a man's job, but a young man's one.

"Of Minton Beddoes' 16 predecessors, all but five were under 40 when they were appointed."

Still, she has a tough act to follow. During his nine years at the helm, Mr Micklethwait boosted circulation from 1.1 million to 1.6 million in print, digital and audio combined, doubling the group's operating profits and seeing the addition of 70,000 Twitter followers a week.

The recent introduction of an app already has half a million subscribers.

Thus far, Ms Minton Beddoes' own reaction to her breakthrough has been businesslike, and economical, to say the least.

In a terse tweet last Thursday, she wrote: "Thanks for all the good wishes. @TheEconomist is an amazing place with extraordinarily talented staff. I'm thrilled to be appointed editor."

zach@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 1, 2015.
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