On what the news stories all insist on calling the "sidelines" of
the Future of Business Media conference I had a very interesting conversation
with Ien Cheng, the publisher of FT.com. I told him he should start blogging;
he told me that everything he said was off the record. So much for transparency.
In order to get some on-the-record commentary about the FT, then, I asked a
panel of dealmakers about the Financial Times and whether it really belongs
as a part of Pearson. Steven Rattner kicked off by saying that there are three
global English-language business newspapers: the WSJ, the FT, and the International
Herald Tribune. Three’s too many, he said, implying that eventually there will
be only two. That would either happen through acquisition – the FT did
actually look at making a bid for the WSJ, but decided the price was too high
– or else it will happen through attrition, if the NYT can’t find a way
of making the IHT profitable.
Then Lauren Rich Fine stepped in, and said that "something has to happen
with the FT." While Pearson owns a lot of very good properties, she says,
the whole is less than the sum of its parts. And while I can’t tell you what
Cheng told me, I can tell you what he didn’t say, which is (a) that
Pearson has deep pockets and is willing to make a substantial investment in
the FT; or that (b) the FT gets much if any benefit from being part of the Pearson
that Pearson should sell the FT to Thomson-Reuters. But I don’t think I’ll be
giving away any secrets if I say that Cheng is decidedly bullish on the future
of the FT as an independent entity.