Teach yourself to read the Financial Times – in four weeks



Prof. Dame Heather McGregor

First, choose between print and online

Carrying the physical newspaper makes a positive statement about your financial literacy, but remember it is simply a snapshot of the news when it was printed, whereas FT.com is a rolling 24-hour operation. A basic online subscription is only 159AED a month, 259AED for premium (more on that later), so it won’t break the bank to try it. But do carry a copy of the actual paper into important meetings and interviews. And make sure that you’ve read it.

I’m going to assume you have subscribed; read online or the app is user friendly.

Week one

Start scrolling and don’t be afraid to go down rabbit holes – put aside half an hour each day to explore. It will be daunting to begin with, but plunge in. Each day look for Lex, the FT’s most influential column, on global business, and pick a Lex note that grabs your attention (you will need a premium subscription). The FT’s best brains are on Lex, yet the pieces are surprisingly and deliciously short.

Week two

Most stories fall roughly into one of three categories: news, opinion/comment and analysis. This week, be mindful of that when you’re reading. Match up news stories to comment and analysis. BTW, Lex combines comment and analysis – read the notes every day this week and work backwards to the news that prompted them, then widen your search. You will find lots of navigation tools to help you.

Week three

On day one, go to myFT and choose some topics to follow using ‘explore’: companies, sectors, people and column(ist)s, etc. (This is easier to do on your computer than your phone.) Then go to myFT/contact preferences and set up a myFT Digest of stories that will land in your inbox, to save you looking. It will take a little time to organise, and no doubt you will need to edit it from time to time, but it will be worth it. Each day, when your digest lands, read the stories you’re sent. And while you’re in myFT, look for newsletters you can subscribe to.

Week four

By now you should be finding your way around. Continue to read and refine your myFT topics. Also:

  • Keep an eye on The Big Read, where journalists take a deep dive into a topical subject. Varied and worth reading, recent subjects include artificial intelligence, content moderation on Facebook and blood tests to spot cancer.
  • Check out another premium FT offering, Alphaville, the markets and finance blog. It’s serious stuff, but hugely entertaining and you will learn a lot: “We love financial plumbing, debt crises, balance sheets, margin calls, economic puns and snark.” If you’re a Succession fan, find their recent analysis, “Who owns Waystar? What are the Roys worth? And other pointless questions, answered.”
  • If you’re interested in deals, the Due Diligence newsletter (premium) is essential reading.
  • Look for more comment. Under ‘Opinion’, you’ll find points of view, both from within the FT and from knowledgeable people outside. Add those you like to myFT. (If it’s an outsider, their credentials will be shown at the end of the piece, so you’ll know where they’re coming from.) Notable FT columnists include: Pilita Clark on corporate life; Simon Kuper on everything from soccer to the power of elites; Ed Luce for outspoken views on US politics; Martin Sandbu, who tackles global economic policy debate; Anjana Ahuja on science and tech; Janan Ganesh for international politics and culture; John Gapper on business and when you’re ready, perhaps the most authoritative, Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator.
  • Also under Opinion you will find The FT View/The Editorial Board. These pieces are known as leaders or editorials, and tell you what the FT thinks.

After four weeks

I predict you will find it so interesting you will want to continue. But if you still find the FT indigestible, then maybe financial and business topics are not for you.

Worth knowing

  • The FT produces five print editions: UK, Europe, US, Asia, Middle East – all slightly different and focusing on that region’s perspective. On the app, you will see the same stories wherever you are. (Online – on your laptop, for example – you can toggle between editions, but to be honest, the differences appear to be minimal.)
  • You can see facsimiles of the physical pages of the newspaper every day, and for every edition, on Financial Times, useful if you’re a visual person – and interesting to see how coverage varies around the world as well as the editors’ decisions on what to include and how much prominence to give each story.
  • Read the comments on stories. FT readers are smart, and you will gain valuable insights into the topics you’re interested in.
  • Most of the FT is behind a paywall, but as a subscriber, you can ‘gift’ a number of articles each month using the share tool.
  • The Weekend FT is very different to the weekday edition and aims to entertain as well as inform you – treat it as your reward after the working week. Many online readers also pick up the physical version of the paper on a Saturday and enjoy it over the weekend. Look out for Person in the News and don’t miss Lunch with the FT, lively interviews with leading cultural and business figures. Recent Lunch guests include tennis legend Boris Becker, former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh. There is Life & Arts coverage during the week too.
  • And before you go for that big job interview, with a copy of the FT under your arm, remember that the person interviewing you might well be a reader too. Be prepared to be asked, What do you think about the coverage of X? What stories have caught your eye recently? Did you read Lex on Y today? Who’s your favourite columnist? And if you’re not asked, raise things yourself: There was a fantastic column about this very subject last week.