12 minutes with Daniel Franklin, Executive Editor of the Economist – in his own words

posted by Brendan Hodgson

As I posted earlier, it’s not often that one has the opportunity to pose a few questions to the executive editor of the Economist. So when the chance presents itself, you jump. I did. And the ”best of” excerpts from my 12 minutes with Daniel Franklin is the result: (Note:  grammatical errors should be attributed to my rushed transcription of the interview tape)

On the success of the print publication in the digital age:

“New media is important to any company, but what we’ve seen, or come to understand in recent times, is that there is still plenty of life for us in print. It seems that we are in a bit of a fortunate place in the print spectrum where people still read magazines,  and… that’s not even a function of generational age – young people read magazines as well.  Our circulation is rising healthily around the world, indicating that there is still an appetite for the sort of read where you sit back and make time to read something that matters to you. As opposed to the sort of consumption that happen on the internet which can be very important because it is a different kind of consumption.  It tends to be typically a quicker experience; snacking around the web, if you like.  We seem to be benefiting from the fact that people will still make time to read the Economist.”  

On the positioning and direction of the Economist.com:

“For us, new media and what we are doing on the web is tremendously important but it’s not, for the moment, a substitute to the experience of the print newspaper, as we call it, which is actually where the particular mix of things that we do at the Economist is probably done best… So that means we have an opportunity online to do something over and above that, and that’s what we’re building on.  I’ve been looking after the dot com for about 7 months now and we’ve been trying to expand the content there so that it becomes not just a manifestation of the print paper online, but also a very lively daily experience.”

On Project Redstripe:

“Project Red Stripe is, I think, a very, very interesting experiment for the Economist.  And while it’s not the only way that we are relying on getting new ideas – The Economist dot com has a whole program of new developments that I am implementing and starting to look at – Project Red Stripe is… a creative way of saying: well, we may not, in our normal processes, be capturing everything that we really should, and it would be interesting to look at other ways of innovation and to capture the creative talent that may not have their outlet in other ways. So it was an open competition to say “who would like to be involved in this from around the Economist group?”… and we’ll see what comes of that. But I think that the near fact of having such a project is quite galvanizing for an organization.  It sends a strong message that we’re interested in ideas and creative momentum wherever it can come together and a lot of people are very interested to step out from 6 months from their regular jobs and work on an exciting, different project. ”

On his vision of the Economist 5 years from now: 

“Well, the curious thing about the Economist is that it both stays the same and changes… and in many ways it’s the same creature it was when it was set up 160 years ago.  The guiding principle of the Economist is very much still the one that continue to be the one in our DNA.  At the same time, it’s surprising how much it evolves while remaining true to itself, so if you pick up an Economist of 5 years ago it already feels different. Small changes that have happened that collectively make a difference. I don’t know whether we’d yet introduced colour even 5 years ago. Most recently, we introduced the international section, and when I joined there were only two sections apart from a US and UK one covering international affairs; now there are five.  So these things evolve over time and you’re sort of surprised to see when you look back that we’ve changed. But I expect the same thing to happen over next 5 years; that there will be a period of changes which you barely notice at the time but which amount up to, if you like, an upgrade experience of the magazine. And I also imagine that part of that will involve referring increasingly to what we are doing online so that you, at least, have within the magazine more reference to the widened universe that we’re creating at the Economist dot com.”

On building community with Economist readers:

“We now have a very successful blog on economics, on American policy, and we just launched one on Europe… and I’m sure that that will grow. We’ve also done something interesting with our letters. In the physical magazine we only have space to publish half a dozen or so letters each week, and they are obviously highly selected and edited. But we get several hundred letters or emails every week from our readers.  So we created the ‘Inbox’ where we publish most of what people send us. Obviously we weed out the defamatory or offensive letters, but I think that in those ways and others laid out in the future, we are involving our readers much more in a sort of community. And I think for the Economist, that is an enormous strength in that our readers around the world are an extraordinary reservoir of knowledge and insight and we would be crazy to lose this technology that can help both tap into that… and also potentially help that world of readers engage with one another as well.”

On Social Media:

“Social media is very important, in the sense that it’s the conversation that is happening out there… So I think that, first of all, it’s important to listen to what’s being said about you. For example, there are number of forums on Facebook… communities that have spontaneously arisen of people that are ‘friends of the Economist’, if you like, which is a fascinating phenomenon… But you have to be a little bit careful about how you interact with these groups – that you don’t barge into other people’s private clubs or conversations. It’s a fascinating, rather early days phenomenon which I think will be important for any organization but which you have to treat with respect for fear of misbehaviour. You can create your own blogs and try and get your own message out so that people will be aware exactly of what you are doing – but you have to do something that is real and genuine.”

Thank you, Mr. Franklin.

2 Comments
26

Mar
2007

Jonathan

Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing, Brendan!

28

Feb
2008

Abhishek

Hi there!

It was great to bump into your blog and read the post. It sure must be an honor to talk to the man himself! I wanted to share with you my excitement as well. I was fortunate to have a podcast with him just yesterday and following is the link which houses the audio file:

http://www.theindicast.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7900317&Itemid=64

Please listen to it at leisure and hope you like it. Thanks a lot again! Keep up the good work.

Abhishek

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