John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times speaks at The Cambridge Union on October 30, 2018.
Alisa Molotova—Getty Images
By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
May 14, 2019

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I have more than a passing interest in legacy brands defending their turfs against digital upstarts. With that in mind, I met last week in San Francisco with John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times Group, publisher of the storied British newspaper that’s now owned by the Japanese financial news organization Nikkei.

Ridding has presided over a daring and successful turnaround at the FT. It was the first big paper to institute a paywall, in 2002, though Ridding doesn’t like the word. “I always objected to that term,” he says, fit and casual in the lounge of an upscale San Francisco hotel. “When you buy a car you don’t run into paywall.”

Quite right. The FT was a lonely voice that had the audacity to charge its readers for its high-quality work. Now The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are soaring on subscription revenues—and a Trump bump that benefits the FT as well. Ridding is in a celebratory mood because the FT recently crossed a million paying subscribers. He says three-fourths of the company’s revenues are now from digital subs and a similar percentage are from outside the U.K., a complete reversal from the decade-plus-ago situation.

Ridding, whose own journalists successfully objected to his compensation package, has every right to gloat about the FT’s strategy. “A lot of news organizations have been making a lot of bad strategic decisions,” he says. “To try to win the scale war was always going to be self-defeating.” Quite right again.

***

While composing my Monday screed about Facebook spokesman Nick Clegg’s argument for why Facebook shouldn’t be broken up, I wrote a snarky line about the Brit having become an expert on U.S. antitrust law history. Believe it or not, I often self-edit out my snark, and I’m glad I removed that line because it turns out I’m not much of an expert on recent British political history. Clegg exited the U.K. governing coalition when David Cameron’s Conservative party was re-elected in 2015 without the help of Clegg’s pro-Europe Liberal Democrats. Therefore Clegg bears no responsibility for Brexit. I regret the error and appreciate those who called me on it.

***

It is tough to value an unprofitable company that faces brutal completion and has no discernible prospects of becoming profitable. With Monday’s 11% stock-price slide, Uber is now worth a bit over $60 billion, or half what its bankers once whispered it would fetch in the public markets. It’s a strange state of affair when a “failed” IPO raises $8 billion. It’s also tough to separate Uber’s Monday slide with the market’s, itself a victim of a tweet-and tariff-happy president who may not be the shrewd dealmaker he promised his voters.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

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