1963: ‘Irish Times seeks Financial Editor ... ’

Ireland’s first full-time financial journalist recalls the ‘Rising Tide’ of the early 1960s

Wed, Nov 13, 2013, 10:54

This year is the 50th anniversary of the first Business and Finance section in The Irish Times. It was also the first daily financial section in any Irish newspaper and on May 20th, 1963, I had the good fortune, at the age of 23, to become the first full-time financial journalist in Ireland.

Irish Times seeks Financial Editor – some journalistic experience desirable” said a small classified advertisement in the Financial Times in January 1963. I did not notice it myself but I was working on the city pages of the Evening Standard in London and William Davis, the city editor, pointed it out to me. “You’re always going on about wanting to go back to Ireland,” he said. “Why don’t you apply for it?”

At that point, my “desirable” journalistic experience consisted of 10 months on the Investors Chronicle and six months on the Evening Standard.

When I started the Business and Finance section, I tried to combine the detailed information and analysis that is the hallmark of the Investors Chronicle with the accessible, read-me qualities of an intelligent tabloid like the Evening
Standard
.

Until then, financial coverage in the Irish papers had been provided by weekly notes from people working in brokers’ offices. The new section in The Irish Times therefore had an immediate impact. In the space of a few months, I received more than 700 letters from readers asking for advice about their investments.

Financial public relations was still in its infancy in Dublin and some substantial public companies were very reluctant to become involved in opening up their affairs to the media.


Banned from annual meetings
I was banned from attending several annual meetings, including the distiller John Power and the builders providers Dockrells. I remember its chairman, Maurice Dockrell, very graciously offering me a glass of dry sherry while I sat outside the meeting and waited for him to return with an account of what had happened.

The launch of the Business and Finance section came during a tense and difficult period in the history of The Irish Times. In 1962 it had been forced to close the loss-making Evening Mail and in November 1963, the likewise loss-making Sunday Review was also closed.

The joint managing director, Major Tom McDowell, told me when I started work that he had personally taken all the senior executives of the important Irish advertising agencies to a series of individual and lavishly hospitable lunches in the expensive Jammet’s restaurant to convince them that not only could he afford to pay the bill for the meal, but that also The Irish Times was not going to follow the Evening Mail and the Sunday Review into extinction.

It was fortunate for The Irish Times that the remedial action to salvage it from the losses of the other two papers came just in time to benefit from the final couple of years of a sustained mini-Celtic tiger boom which had begun, with no fanfare, back in 1958 when the First Programme for Economic Expansion was published.

One of the first people to contact me in the summer of 1963 was the late Gerard Sweetman.


Justifiable pride
He wanted to tell me how proud he was of his decision, when Minister for Finance in 1956, to abandon the previous guidelines for promotion in the department and to elevate the incomparable Dr Ken Whitaker to the most important job in the Irish economy. He had a well- thumbed copy of the resultant first programme which he showed me, with justifiable pride in what it had led to at the time.

The late Seán Lemass, who played a crucial role in capitalising on the potential of the first programme, was fond of saying that a rising tide lifts all boats.

The launch of the Business and Finance section was a key element in the ability of The Irish Times to take advantage of that rising tide in the 1960s and to expand its circulation so substantially in the 50 years since then.

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