After a short trip to China where he met with business and government leaders, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber was faced with a conundrum that many journalists know well.
Barber co-wrote a number of stories for the FT based on the interviews he conducted, but he still had interesting material pertaining to mergers and acquisitions that he couldn’t quite fit into any of his other pieces.
While those tidbits might previously have never made it out of his notebook, Barber was able to repurpose the information for Due Diligence, a new, subscriber-only M&A newsletter that the Financial Times launched last month.
Arash Massoudi, the FT’s London-based M&A and corporate finance correspondent, is the newsletter’s lead writer, along with James Fontanella-Khan, the paper’s New York–based M&A correspondent. They work with the rest of the paper’s corporate reporters to produce the newsletter Tuesday through Friday. It’s sent out at 5 a.m. London Time.
“[Barber] filed a bunch of lines to us, which included a scoop that Wang Jianlin basically confirmed to him why he had to kill his deal for Dick Clark Productions,” Massoudi said. “Some media bankers called me after they read that and said, ‘That hasn’t been reported anywhere, that’s super-valuable information.’ It’s that sort of stuff that’s in our notebooks, it’s quite informative to that audience, but it doesn’t necessarily negate the stuff that we do for our overall readers.”
The FT has more than 20 other newsletters, and the M&A newsletter market already contains entrants such as The New York Times’ Dealbook and Axios’s Pro Rata. With Due Diligence, the paper wanted to provide readers with more centralized M&A coverage while also finding a new way to present scoops or other bits of information, like Barber’s reporting from China, that it couldn’t fit elsewhere, Massoudi said.Ninety percent of business executives said they get news from email newsletters, according to a global Quartz survey released last year. Fifty-nine percent of executives said they primarily get news from their mobile phones, according to the same survey. (Quartz, with its Daily Brief newsletter, is not a disinterested party when it comes to email newsletters aimed at business executives.)
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Massoudi said. “It’s a way to address a couple observations we had about the way that media is evolving — how we could tap into the people who are most engaged with these things and give them an opportunity to interact with us in a closer, deeper way, without messing with the pricing model of the FT.”
“The half-life of a scoop now is 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the story,” he went on. “We want to draw people’s attention to the fact that we cover the entire totality of a deal with the same aggression that we would try to get a scoop. We’re not just trying to move a share price. We’re trying to do a lot of things to keep our readers better informed.”
Massoudi (along with the FT spokesman listening in on our conversation) wouldn’t share details about the newsletter’s number of subscribers, open rate, or the clickthrough rate.
The FT said that in 2016 it has a combined print and digital circulation of nearly 850,000, including 650,000 digital-only subscribers.
Due Diligence is only available to readers who purchase a higher-priced premium subscription. (In the U.S., a premium digital subscription costs more than $500 a year.)
Because it’s aimed at subscribers, the goal of the newsletter is to provide value to readers — driving traffic back to the FT’s site isn’t a primary concern. It links to other outlets and includes newsletter-only features such as a section on job moves, which is particularly popular, Massoudi said.
“The primary concern is that the most engaged audience on these topics are feeling well-served by the FT,” Massoudi said. “At the end of the day, these are the top paying FT subscribers.”
Massoudi stressed that it’s early days for Due Diligence, and the team behind it is still trying to grow the readership and figure out how it might evolve. It may incorporate advertising or sponsorships at some point. The FT is also looking into ways to incorporate sponsorships or advertising into the newsletter.
In the meantime, Massoudi said he’s getting used to the new workflow to produce the newsletter.
“I will not hide that, on top of the day job, this is keeping me up very late at night,” he said.