Interviews – Technology – Mark Wood

Mark Wood, the youngest editor-in-chief in Reuters’ history, has succumbed to the lure of the Internet by moving to the company’s Greenhouse Fund. Wood, 48, is in charge of developing Reuters’ strategic partnerships with other content providers, which the fund can then invest in. He is now one of the key players in Internet investment.

How did you become Reuters’ editor-in-chief at such an early age?
I joined Reuters straight from university on a graduate training scheme having studied languages. After a year based in London, I went out to Vienna as a trainee and then moved on to my own bureau in East Berlin. I worked there for three years before going to Moscow for a further four.

I returned to West Germany as chief correspondent. Eleven years after I joined I was asked to become European editor and two years later became editor-in-chief.

I was lucky to move so quickly. There was a definite need at the time as Reuters was changing very rapidly in the 1980s, having floated in 1984. There was a need to adapt the editorial side, which had been the core of the business, as we started to expand heavily into the business and financial centers. There were a lot of opportunities being thrown up and I was fortunate.

What does your new job involve?
We realize we can’t provide all the content our customers need, and it is also important we keep our brand and our name very definite.

My job recognizes the importance of drawing up alliances with other companies. We provide Reuters information for example on another site, and in turn people can go from our own site onto others if they need to access certain information that we don’t produce in-house. My job is to forge these alliances, by either investing in the start up companies we see as being valuable partners, or by establishing content partnerships and joint ventures.

I’m largely working for Reuters’ Greenhouse fund, which invests in Internet start-ups, but also on content partnerships for Reuters. At present the Greenhouse fund is maybe the leading European venture capital fund in Europe, with an awesome track record in Internet and technology investment. We now want to extend that into content investment, which is clearly of great value to Reuters.

What is the best and worst part of your job at present?
It’s an incredibly exciting job at the moment. This is the most exciting time we have ever had in the information business, so there isn’t much of a downside. There are so many opportunities and the best part of my job is probably picking out which ones to back.

How much has the Internet affected Reuters as a newswire agency?
The Reuters business has been heavily based on financial information and in editorial terms it still is. The biggest growth has been in financial information and in domestic services. We also have a worldwide political reporting network, which is outstanding.

The business has been built around the 400,000 or so customers worldwide who use as us their breaking news service. Now we are moving aggressively towards a 100% web-based strategy, moving our core financial product into web delivery so that we can attack broader markets.

We now also want to target people at home and are moving into the retail sector. We need to build up tremendous expertise in web information management, which we are already pretty strong at. There are some big challenges in moving the quantity of data we have around on the Internet.

What is it like working in a breaking news environment?
It is very exciting. For 150 years we have had a real time culture, where we have had to break the news as it happens. That means we are very suited to the web environment, in that people want to access information that is totally up to date. Some organizations find it very difficult to adapt to that time demand, but we are exceptionally placed to use it to our full advantage. One gets all the buzz of the breaking news environment.

We are also looking to strengthen our specialist areas, and are bringing in experts in all fields, whether it is metal reporters, bombs experts, energy reporters. This helps produce the quality that should ensure we continue to be successful, meanwhile allowing these specialist reporters to become leading authorities in their fields.

Is that a common way in?
Yes, if you come to the company saying you’re a soft commodities expert, for example, then you have a good chance of being taken on. That does not mean you won’t be able to move on after three or four years and do something completely different. We recognize it is not necessarily a good thing to stay in the same thing forever.

How many graduate trainees do you take on a year?
It is normally about ten or twelve, although it can vary.

Looking back at your own career, did you get any particular breaks?
I’ve had several really. I was determined to get into Reuters, and didn’t get in the first time I applied. I went away and did some post-graduate research, then came back and reapplied and got in. I hadn’t applied for anything else so I was pretty lucky.

Being given a bureau to run at the age of 25 was pretty amazing, and East Germany was a great bureau to get. I’m now chairman of ITN as well, and being given that position has been a massive achievement, and a great bonus for me as it has allowed me to gain a complete understanding of the news business.

What advice would you give aspiring young journalists?
It depends on what direction you want to go in. You need to love writing and be good at it. Good Internet skills are crucial. I would also encourage anyone in this country to think long and hard about financial news as a way into journalism. It is still an area which has a long way to go before it develops into the same culture as in America.

It is very important journalism, and I think it is a great place to start. I still find it slightly odd how people in the UK still seem to give financial news a sideways glance as though it’s second rate. The truth is it isn’t, it is most definitely first rate.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
I’ve done some lousy ones. Working in a flour mill as a holiday job was probably the worst.

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