Briefing Notes: The Economist

robin22nd March 2018

In this recent IBT Briefing, we welcomed Tom Rowley, a correspondent with The Economist who talked about the magazine’s coverage and opportunities for members to pitch stories.

Please note that this event was held under Chatham House rules which means nothing can be quoted directly – if you share these notes with colleagues, please make them aware of this.


Introducing Tom Rowley

Tom told us about himself – he’s 27 years old and was a graduate trainee at The Telegraph. In his 6 years on the paper, he travelled extensively (to 27 countries). He has a wide range of interests but his main focus is on characters and stories rather than issues. He particularly likes to write about stories or individuals that shed light on wider issues or trends. He’s been at The Economist for a year now, and he is employed to cover UK affairs but is able to pitch international stories provided that they don’t step on the toes of the magazine’s team of foreign correspondents. Although he is UK based at the moment it is likely that he will move abroad at some point if he stays with the magazine. He’s already done a 5 month stint in Korea.

Tom circulated copies of 5 articles which he has written – his favourite pieces – to demonstrate the kind of stories that appeal to him. For the Saturday Telegraph magazine he wrote about a Syrian swimmer competing as part of the Refugee Olympics team and a family of Syrians refugees who moved to Aberystwyth. For the Daily Telegraph, he wrote a dispatch from southern Sudan about a mother who was reunited with the children she thought she’d never see again. For The Economist, he wrote about cuts to music in schools and a fight between charities eyeing up a wealth tax paid by British Muslims.

Two of these stories were the result of direct pitches. The British Red Cross found him the Syrian family living in Wales and gave him access to the family over a 6 month period. The IOC pitched him the Syrian swimmer story.

Tom is currently writing about the child protection system having gained access to a court and a judge dealing with these issues. He’s also interested in the idea of global Britain and the fact that many Brexiteers are opposed to UK aid. He hasn’t written about this yet but he is clearly interested in the aid sector as he attended the Bond conference. He’s interested in the clash between trans rights and feminism.


About The Economist

The magazine has a big team – 200 journalists – so the bar is set quite high. They’re all competing for space in the magazine each week. Tom usually writes one short piece a week and then works on longer pieces over several weeks. There are a large number of sections – Britain, Europe, the US, the Americas, Middle East and Africa, Asia, China, Business, Finance and Economics, Science and Technology, etc. Each section has an editor based in London but the best is to identify a reporter who writes for a section and pitch to the reporter. Tom says the reporters come up with all the stories and they pitch to their section editors.

You can look up the names of correspondents in the magazine’s media directory.

The Economist looks to the future not the past. They don’t do anniversaries. Their target audience is ‘the globally curious.’ The magazine is widely read by business leaders, politicians, policy makers. And it’s still a magazine that sells hard copies. The circulation is 1m in the US, 250,000 in the UK and 500,000 elsewhere. They have 11m unique users online each month but most are not subscribers; 25m followers on Twitter and 9m on Facebook. The online content is almost identical to the content of the magazine. Occasionally there is extra content online and the magazine has its own film unit which makes documentaries and is based in London.

The magazine comes out every Friday and The Economist also has a bi-monthly sister magazine called 1843 which describes its coverage as ‘the arts, style, food, wine, cars, travel and anything else under the sun, as long as it’s interesting.’  Tom can pitch stories to 1843 but he hasn’t written for it yet.


Questions asked our members

Tom was asked about:

  • Exclusives or not – he said yes but he’s more keen on what he called ‘scoops of interest’ than scoops per se
  • Lead time – as far in advance as possible, even a year ahead
  • Global summits such as the G& – not interested
  • World Water Day etc – no
  • Data – yes, very interested especially if it is longitudinal and shows a trend over time (not just 1-2 years) that no one is aware of – the magazine is keen on data and they employ data journalists to check the numbers
  • Paid for trips – no, the magazine always pays its own way
  • Name checks for NGOs in stories he writes – unlikely unless the work of the NGO is directly relevant and no promises
  • Advocacy asks – again, included only if editorially important
  • Media partnerships for Aid Match – no
  • Slideshows / photograph compilations – not for The Economist
  • Rivals – New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker and the Financial Times
  • Any interest in off the record briefings with country specialists – yes
  • Comment pieces – no interest
  • Anonymity – Tom was asked if he could run a story without identifying the key character – he said this was very tough and unlikely but there were exceptions. In his piece about the child protection system he cannot identify any of the children


How to pitch to The Economist

Tom asked for one line pitches and he gave feedback. He has five criteria when deciding on a story – is it interesting? Is it new? Is it important? Is it narrowly and broadly true? Do I want to write about it? Does my editor want to run the story?

  • Interview with the Pope on migration – yes! Also very keen to track the refugee families that were taken in by the Vatican
  • A major bank committed to the Paris Agreement but at the same time funding coal power stations – interested but less keen
  • A group of billionaires coming together to end a disease – yes
  • Teaching blind girls to do judo – yes
  • How living in a haunted town in Cameroon stops people from voting – yes
  • Girls in Malawi being propositioned by their teachers for sex and marriage – no, too common place
  • How Ecuador has created pregnancy free zones – yes, Tom’s interested in teenage pregnancy and which country has got it right. What can we learn from this?
  • How pastoralists are disappearing in south Sudan as a result of climate change – yes, possible feature for 1843
  • The only female car mechanic in south Sudan – yes, again for 1843
  • A school in Senegal that has successfully integrated Muslim education – yes, Tom is interested in how schools get this right
  • How 3D printing is used to assist people in situations of conflict – yes this would be a great idea but they have covered 3D printing extensively on the magazine
  • How adolescent girls In Delhi are mapping their own city to identify safe spaces – Tom said this should be pitched to the Delhi correspondent, Max Rodenbeck
  • Access to mobile units in north east Nigeria working with victims of gender based violence – yes



  • Tom Rowley, UK correspondent
  • Daniel Knowles, Africa correspondent, based in Nairobi
  • Jonathan Rosenthal, Africa editor, based in London
  • Max Rodenbeck, South Asia bureau chief, based in Delhi

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