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October 16, 2018updated 30 Sep 2022 6:56am

‘Time for a revolution’ says FT editor Lionel Barber as he publishes letter criticising ‘lack of diversity’ among paper’s columnists

By Freddy Mayhew

Financial Times editor Lionel Barber has said it is “time for a revolution” at the newspaper in a tweet sharing a reader’s letter that criticised it for a “lack of diversity” among its columnists.

The letter’s author, Ahmed Olayinka Sule of New Malden, Surrey, wrote that he identified as a “black man of African heritage”, but that this “differs from the identity of the quintessential FT columnist”.

In his own analysis of the 861 columns published by the FT since 1 January this year, Sule said not one had been written by a black columnist.

“I refuse to believe that there is a paucity of black writers capable of intellectual rigour,” he said.

“The lack of diversity of FT columnist plays out in race-related articles which often demonstrates the FT’s lack of understanding of black issues.

“There is also a lack of diversity in the FT’s leadership, which is predominately white. The diversity of opinion is also lacking.”

Sule said a recent column by Harvard professor Lawrence Summers about finding a “different perspective on the American economy” on a cross-country road trip, had confirmed his “longstanding suspicion that FT columnists live in an echo chamber”.

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He added: “My interaction with some columnists over the years suggests that some of them live in a world that differs from the average person on the street.

“Prof Summers’ article is emblematic of this disconnect from reality. The disconnection is partly due to the lack of diversity in colour, opinion and experience at the FT.”

Press Gazette understands Sule contacted the newspaper privately about his concerns over the diversity of its columnists and that he was then asked to write a letter for the newspaper to publish.

Said Sule: “There needs to be a revolution in the FT — not the communist type of revolution, but a revolution that turns the mindset to see the world beyond a white middle-class neo-liberal tinted lens.”

The letter was shared by Barber on Twitter with the message: “Ouch – Letter of the day: Time for a revolution at the FT!”

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger praised Barber for running the letter, tweeting in reply: “Well done for printing it.”

Others were less kind.

BBC Front Row and Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed tweeted: “Got to ask, Lionel. Had this really never occurred to you before?”

Guardian writer Afua Hirsch also tweeted: “Great – will you be building on the persistent work and advocacy [FT engagement editor] Kesewa Hennessy has been doing for so long to make exactly this point?”

Press Gazette has asked for Barber’s reply to the letter on Twitter, but has yet to receive a response.

An FT spokesperson said new opinion editor Brooke Masters, who started in February, has worked with Barber and deputy editor Roula Khalaf to “track the ethnicity and gender of all writers of opinion pieces” in “recognising the need to diversify the range of voices in the FT”.

They added: “It takes time to identify and recruit staff columnists, but we have already considerably broadened the range of voices in our opinion section.”

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