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December 8, 2022

The Kleinmanator: Sky’s ‘adrenaline junkie’ City editor makes 100 calls a day to feed scoop addiction

Mark Kleinman is the most prolific scoop merchant in British business journalism. And his rivals want to know how he does it.

By William Turvill

It is difficult to overstate the significance of Mark Kleinman as a force in British business journalism.

The Twitter feed of the Sky News City editor is a must-follow for rivals, business leaders, traders, financial PRs and anybody in the financial world who needs to keep their ear to the ground.

When I worked as a newspaper business correspondent, I would anxiously refresh Kleinman’s tweets in the hours before deadline to ensure he hadn’t broken a significant new story – or worse, stolen a march on one of my own stories.

Last year Kleinman won the business, finance and economics prize at the British Journalism Awards for breaking news of the European Super League, the takeover of Wm Morrison and the administration of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group. Last month he had the exclusive on Manchester United’s potential sale.

“Mark’s the best in the business,” said Simon Jack, the BBC’s business editor, when I contacted him for this profile. Many others, perhaps through gritted teeth, would agree. Betaville, a well-regarded M&A news blog run by financial journalist Ben Harrington, has dubbed him “The Kleinmanator”.

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When I asked a well-known businessman to share his views on Kleinman, he said: “They wouldn’t be printable.” The multimillionaire insisted on speaking off the record for fear of upsetting a man who the Financial Times has named as one of the City’s 30 most influential people. (Mark Kleinman was the only journalist to make the FT’s list, which comprised bank chief executives, the governor of the Bank of England and the head of the Financial Conduct Authority.) The businessman suggested to me that many people in the City dislike Kleinman and have war stories to tell – but that no one would be brave enough to speak out against him.

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“As someone who became known quite a while ago for breaking agenda-setting business stories, it does breed or instil a sense of wariness among some people,” Kleinman told me over coffee at the Crussh café in 4 Millbank, where Sky has an office. “That’s inevitable.”

Earlier this year, when I informed a couple of loose-lipped friends that I might be doing an interview with Kleinman for Press Gazette, several journalists on different Fleet Street business desks contacted me to ask about it. After the interview failed to materialise within a couple of months (we rescheduled and delayed), a senior figure at one newspaper messaged out of the blue to ask: “What’s happened with the much rumoured Kleinman interview?”

Simply put, Kleinman is the most prolific scoop merchant in British business journalism. And his rivals want to know how he does it.

Unfortunately, according to Kleinman himself, there is no secret formula. “The essence of what I do at Sky News is based on graft and hard work,” he said.

What this means in practice is that the 45-year-old wakes up at 5am each weekday, heads to the City for breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and makes sure to phone anyone he might not have a chance to meet in person.

“I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t making 100 calls a day,” said Kleinman, who wore a suit, a V-neck jumper, no tie and some stubble for our meeting. “Obviously a lot of those calls are pretty brief. Some of them are longer.” (A PR friend once told me Kleinman would regularly call her up just to ask: “What’s going on?”)

Contact-building, dot-connecting and the sixth sense

From a distance, I’ve always thought of Kleinman as an intimidating and prickly character. In the flesh, he was personable and asked me thoughtful questions about my life and career. It’s easy to imagine how he has used this charm to assemble the bulging contacts book that is key to his success.

Kleinman believes that one advantage he holds over rivals is that he is not just good at finding contacts – he also makes a special effort to maintain them. “If you call somebody up out of the blue after three years and you’ve not made any effort to maintain a relationship in the intervening period, because they think you’ve not regarded them as useful to you any more, then for sure they’re going to be less likely to help you when you need it,” he said. “Maintaining relationships with people, with sources, that other journalists perhaps have neglected is a really important part of what I do.”

Kleinman said that many of his stories originate not from sources but from his own “lateral thinking” and dot-connecting. “The longer you do a job like mine, the hinterland of knowing how situations – or anticipating how situations – will unfold often will yield stories without you having an original tip-off for something,” he said.

“You can anticipate how a story’s going to develop and follow the trail in that sense rather than necessarily needing someone to tip you off that a company’s about to be bought or a chairman’s about to be sacked or whatever. That’s just part of becoming accustomed to how the City, the worlds of business and finance, work.”

A sixth sense? “Yeah, there is a bit of that.”

On the day I met Kleinman, he had broken news that Foschini Group was close to agreeing a rescue deal for Joules, the retailer. He reported the deal could be announced that afternoon. (In the event, and after our interview, Next trumped Foschini Group to the deal.)

I asked Kleinman why he thinks it’s important for journalists to break these stories if they’re seemingly about to be announced anyway. “I think partly because it’s unfiltered by the official announcement,” he said. “So that’s important in of itself. It’s not tainted or coloured by the particular spin a company might choose to put on an announcement.

“But it’s also important because it’s information that’s valuable to the workforce, the suppliers and other stakeholders in those companies. Part of our job at Sky News is to tell people stories accurately, but as early as they are verifiable. And that’s one of the reasons why scoops are such an important part of journalism and always will be.”

‘A very, very strong story-getter, a newshound’

Kleinman had a “not particularly privileged upbringing” in South East London. He decided he wanted to be a journalist after the editor of Radio Times came into his school to make a speech.

After graduating from the University of York, he was scheduled to study for a masters in renaissance literature but decided instead to pursue his dream career after earning a place on a summer course at PMA Media Training.

From there, he worked his way through several B2B magazines, including Leisure Week and Marketing, before landing his first Fleet Street role on the Sunday Express. He later worked at The Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph, where he rose to become City editor.

“Even in 2006 it was very clear to us at the Telegraph that he was a very, very strong story-getter, a newshound,” said Damian Reece, Kleinman’s former editor who now works for PR firm Instinctif Partners. “He gets results. He’s very reliable. Even then it was clear that he was also very relentless in his pursuit of stories.”

Another former colleague, who asked not to be named, said of Kleinman: “Mark is one of the hardest working journalists I know. He is up the earliest every morning reading news, meeting contacts for breakfast and then on the phone all day. And back out for lunch, dinner and parties. He eats, sleeps and breathes business stories, scoops and the journalistic process. That’s how he gets his scoops.”

Will Lewis, the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal who employed Kleinman at both The Sunday Times and The Telegraph, told me: “I’m incredibly proud because he’s gone on to become this fantastic reporter who is number one in his space and knocks it out of the park every week, if not every day. You could tell right at the beginning he had a relentlessness and a desire to win that you can’t teach.”

Lewis added that covering mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is a “very, very tough beat. I did it myself for a few years. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. You have to be very structured and alive to market movements… It’s not conducive to normal life, but Mark shows a complete commitment to it.”

I asked Lewis if Kleinman ever switches off. “We’ve become good friends over the years,” he said. “I put on an annual football match at Crystal Palace, which he will come to and play on the right wing. He’s a half-decent footballer. But in the dressing room, he’s still working the phones. That’s the job. That’s the M&A job. He is an example to all budding journalists.”

Kleinman has a six-year-old son and told me it can be difficult to balance his work and family lives. But, he added, “I still try to do the school run in one direction every day if I can”.

Juggling his job and his son doesn’t leave room for much more, however. During my round of quickfire questions (below), I asked Kleinman when he had last watched a film. “Actually quite a while ago,” he said. “I was hoping to over the summer, but I just didn’t get around to it.”

‘I’m an adrenaline junkie’

Kleinman left The Sunday Telegraph to join Sky News as City editor in 2009. He works “semi-autonomously” at Sky News, with no team reporting into him, and this seems to suit Kleinman. When I asked him if he enjoyed managing a team at The Sunday Telegraph, he said: “I’m definitely better at managing myself than managing other people.”

Some 13 years after joining Sky News, Kleinman appears as motivated as ever by his job and the pursuit of exclusive stories.

I asked Kleinman if he is addicted to scoops. “Yes,” he said after a short hesitation. “And that’s not an embarrassing admission. Of course that’s what drives me as a journalist. Providing credible and intelligent analysis of the stories that I’m breaking is also of enormous importance.”

I asked him how it feels when a rival beats him to a story. “It happens all too often,” he said. “And that’s one of the things that motivates me to work harder and not be beat to the next scoop.”

And if a company beats him to a story with an official announcement? “It’s important that if I do miss a story that I reflect on who’s involved in it, why have I not spoken to these sources often enough recently, what are the reasons why I missed that story.”

I asked Kleinman if he beats himself up when he misses a story or experiences a dry spell. “Yeah, to a degree,” he said. “I suppose I’m my own harshest critic in that respect.”

Kleinman said he feels under pressure, particularly, because Sky News gives him the freedom to devote his working life to finding exclusives. “They know that I’m solely focused on delivering big scoops for the channel,” he said. “So when I’ve been through a period where that’s not happened, of course I beat myself up.”

Kleinman does allow himself to bask a little in big stories. “It’s really important to allow yourself a brief period to say: ‘That worked well, well done.’ Not just about myself but also to the colleagues who helped me get on air.”

But this period of positive reflection does not last long. “I’m an adrenaline junkie. And the adrenaline I get is from the journalism that I do,” he said. “Most journalists would say the same. But then that wears off, and then you’re on to the next story. And that’s the way it should be.”

Kleinman’s competitiveness sometimes gets the better of him. Back in 2018, he was embroiled in a Twitter spat with Simon Jack of the BBC. In a (somewhat one-sided) row over reporting on the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion, Kleinman said his rival’s recent coverage had been “poor even by your standards”.

When I asked him about the Jack spat, Kleinman said: “That probably wasn’t my finest moment. But actually Simon subsequently sent me a message to apologise for something that he’d tweeted about one of my stories. Emotions sometimes run high in journalism.” For his part, Jack also said it was water under the bridge, as his quote above suggests.

Kleinman said that he doesn’t “tend to get involved in those sorts of exchanges very often at all”. But, he added, “over the years, in particular, I would say that the FT has often tried to have digs at me on their public platforms. And I always find it quite amusing the FT journalists spend time having pops at me rather than finding stories.”

I asked Kleinman if he was suggesting the FT should break more business news stories. “Yeah, it’s interesting,” he said. “In terms of corporate stories, I suspect people in the City and the business world would probably say yes. But it’s not for me to dictate the FT’s news agenda.”

Clearly, Kleinman loves his job and lives for scoops. But I wonder whether he will move into a different field one day.

Robert Peston, who rose to the top of business reporting at the BBC, moved into political journalism. Kleinman took exception when I began to suggest to him that some might view politics as a sexier beat than business. “I’m not sure that’s true actually,” he cut in. “It’s certainly been more eventful this year, but I’m not sure it’s a sexier subject than covering stories like the ones that present themselves to me and my colleagues in the business unit.”

The other likely option for Kleinman might be financial PR. Many successful business journalists cross over on to the ‘dark side’ eventually.

“I don’t think it will ever be for me,” said Kleinman. “I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility, but it’s not something that I’m thinking about as a short or medium-term career option…

“That’s not to denigrate it at all as a career choice for lots of successful journalists. [But] I enjoy too much the thrill of the chase of what I do. To switch sides of the fence I think would be probably a step too far for me.”

Quickfire questions with Mark Kleinman

Favourite TV programme? Twin Peaks

Film? The English Patient

Book The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Music? Classical

Newspaper? The Times

Magazine? The Economist

Editor? Will Lewis

What gives you sleepless nights? “Worrying about my son.”

Career low point? “When I was at Marketing I got a story quite badly wrong and the proprietor of the company that it was about threatened to sue us. And that was, for a relatively inexperienced journalist, that was a worrying moment.”

High point? Winning the Business, Finance and Economics Journalism category at the British Journalism Awards 2021.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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