It was 20 years ago today Hugo Dixon taught the band to play. On July 17, 2000, Breakingviews published its first edition of agenda-setting commentaries. The financial industry has dramatically changed since. The media business has been turned upside down. Politics will never be the same. But punchy, analytical journalism has only become more relevant.
Reflecting on that first bunch of columns, one thing gives me great pride in the outfit that Hugo – then in the editor’s chair that I occupy today – founded: our values remain the same. From the start, Breakingviews was established to deliver pithy insights without fear or favour, in real time, with a level of analytical depth that investors, bankers, lawyers, executives and beyond would enjoy reading.
Those value propositions haven’t changed. If anything, they have become widely adopted across the industry. New media startups promise “smart brevity” of the kind Breakingviews has delivered for more than 4,800 days. Email newsletters, now all the rage, have always been our primary means of distribution. Those “views flashes” on our home page were Twitter-length years before Jack Dorsey dreamed up his social network.
Much has changed since a handful of journalists began tapping out considered views from a cramped townhouse on Sandy’s Row in London’s East End. Breakingviews now has nearly three dozen and they have been situated at one time or another in Canary Wharf, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Palo Alto, New York, Zurich, Dallas, Milan, Washington, DC, Paris, Singapore, Beijing and Melbourne. For the last four months, most of them have worked seamlessly from their homes. When our two newest columnists join us next month, we’ll have more female than male bylines.
We’re no longer an independent startup, scrounging for spare dimes to make ends meet. A decade ago, Breakingviews became the global opinion arm of Reuters, the world’s largest news organisation, which has granted its acquisition an editorial autonomy that allows it to thrive creatively. Thomson Reuters brought new resources and expanded readership to hundreds of thousands of professionals via Refinitiv’s Eikon. Each day a selection of our columns is read by many more on Reuters.com, which counts 55 million global users.
Our customers have experienced seismic changes. By the time we celebrated our launch with a party at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Knightsbridge two decades ago this week, the dotcom bubble was already deflating. Cheap equity funding dried up. We rapidly constructed a paywall, believing our core audience would ascribe value to insightful editorial work.
With the support of subscribers, influential newspapers which paid to carry our columns back when they were flush with cash, and our shareholders, we expanded. We opened our U.S. operation from 2005 and built a team of top-notch writers, many of whom are still with us today.
Around that time our New York-based editor – and continuing contributor – Edward Chancellor was among the first financial commentators to warn of the excesses of America’s housing bubble. This helped to prepare our readers – and the team – for the crash that followed. The crisis of 2008 allowed Breakingviews to shine, with a global, joined-up approach to an unfolding emergency. It was also a pivotal moment for online financial journalism, which allowed us to grow our subscriber base even as customers like Lehman Brothers disappeared.
Breakingviews has added other bells and whistles. The cheap-and-cheerful TV clips once hand-recorded in our first office in New York – in a building known for its lingerie showrooms – have morphed into daily clips, slickly produced by Reuters video editors and distributed to new viewers on social media. Sophisticated graphics and easy-to-use calculators provide additional value. We launched a daily Asian edition in 2014.
Two weekly podcasts, Viewsroom and The Exchange, satisfy demands for audio versions of our columns and conversations with leading executives, politicians, authors and even the Beach Boys’ genius Brian Wilson. Publication of our annual Predictions book is celebrated with live events in financial centres. The pandemic has inspired us to be creative, culminating in a series of virtual newsmakers with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Airbnb’s founder and others.
But to really grasp the consistency of spirit and value that Breakingviews strives to provide readers, go back to that first day. One of the first pieces was by Hugo, arguing that Vivendi’s then-boss “Jean-Marie Messier looks increasingly like an old-fashioned empire-builder who doesn’t care about his shareholders.” They canned him two years later.
Another piece looked at Rupert Murdoch’s latest deal, opining that the News Corp boss “has clearly not lost his appetite for risk”. Murdoch ratcheted up that appetite, ultimately bidding for the parent of one of Breakingviews’ foundational investors, Dow Jones, whose Wall Street Journal carried Breakingviews columns until the media mogul took charge.
Lastly, yours truly dove headlong into Diageo’s decision to exit the food business, arguing that “becoming a pure-play in the business of getting people drunk should force investors to attach a higher value to Diageo”. Since that time, shares in the maker of Guinness and Johnnie Walker whisky have delivered an 800% total return for shareholders, eight times the performance of the FTSE 100 Index.
On that note, we at Breakingviews are popping open a bottle of something bubbly and toasting you, our readers, for your continued support. We wanted to have a party, of course, but blame it on Covid-19. Here’s to another 20 years.