Humour, Investigation And Criticism: My Life As A Writer


Jonathan Guthrie, Class of 1982, has worked at The Financial Times (FT) since 1993. Currently, he’s the Head of Lex (their flagship investment column) and an Associate Editor. 


Before university, I spent a year in India.

I worked on development projects, and witnessed the lives of poor people surviving in difficult circumstances. It was a really eye-opening experience, and one I’m glad I had.

My journalism career started in 1987 – though it really began at Nottingham University.

I studied English and worked on the university newspaper, where I wrote columns and ran the film review section. I produced one page headed “Surrealist Film Festival”, the rest of which was a huge black rectangle. Readers thought this was meant to be a witty surrealist statement. In reality, I’d given the printer the wrong instructions.

I specialise in opinion writing.

I’ve been an FT columnist since 2003. I often use humour as a means of delivering a serious message. At CHS, I started an alternative to the school’s Waconian Magazine with a friend – it was called ‘The Draconian’. This was very tongue-in-cheek and the school was quite worried about it, so they allocated an English teacher to be our censor. He didn’t really believe in censorship, though! He suggested jokes so hair-raising that we never published them. It was good fun and it made me realise journalism could be entertaining.

After university, I moved to London to write about finance.

I started at the bottom as a humble editorial assistant. IT was primitive, and my jobs included glueing articles onto pages for optical reproduction. I wrote for a few publications, including The Economist, and ended up editing magazines.

I joined the FT Group in 1993.

At present, I run ‘Lex’, the flagship daily investment column. We write incisive commentary on global capital spiced with jokes and financial analysis. I lead a great team of smart people based in such financial centres as London, New York, San Francisco, and Seoul.

My job involves numbers.

That would amaze my old maths teachers at CHS. But numeracy is vital to financial writers. It allows us to sniff out exaggerations, evasions, and hard truths. 

I’ve covered wild economic swings.

There have been five serious market crashes in my time. Much of what we write on Lex is driven by huge global trends: climate change, the technological revolution, and east-west political tensions.

Investigative journalism? Yes, I’ve done that too.

I have exposed dubious dealings at a couple of big companies. As a result, they quit the London Stock Exchange. I also investigated the so-called “Gem of Tanzania” – a giant ruby supposedly valued at many millions. It was used as collateral for a takeover but was pretty well worthless. After exposing the scam, I tried to buy it from administrators as a memento for the FT newsroom. But a businessman I knew beat me to it with a bid of over £1,000!

The internet has been great for FT.

From 2000, forecasters predicted every year that traditional media would be dead within five years. Well, 23 years on, we’re still here and doing brilliantly. The bulk of our distribution is online, which works well for our worldwide audience – finance, economics, and politics are global issues, after all. 

I write monthly natural history columns for the FT.

These are all about wild animals and how people relate to them, which is an interest for me outside of work. I’m married with two grown-up kids, and my wife and I often travel overseas to see different animals. We’re keen gardeners too.

If you’re lucky at school, you have at least one inspirational teacher you hit it off with.

Mine was Mr Scaife. He brought English history vividly alive, and that has informed my understanding of the UK and its politics ever since. I wrote a letter thanking him after I graduated. That’s a good way for old Waconians – or any former pupils of any school – to recognise the positive impact of great educators. I wasn’t the most diligent student. But teachers like him and a good group of friends meant I enjoyed school.

My top tip for budding writers?

You need to be determined and thick-skinned. Journalism is tough to get into and competitive once you’re there. But if you’re persistent and keep going, you’ll do fine.