A Week in the Life of an Editor – The Sunday Times Business Section

Article by The Business Influencer

Oliver Shah is the award-winning Business Editor of the Sunday Times and one of the most respected national commentators on business and the high street. He was named business journalist of the year at both the Press Awards and London Press Club Awards in 2017.

The Sunday Times Business section is the 800-pound gorilla of weekend business supplements. Its aim is to break exclusive stories and provide in-depth analysis of the latest deals and trends, looking at business through a constructively sceptical lens and calling out excesses when we see them, as well as celebrating successes. As Business editor, I work with a team of 10 or so correspondents, putting together the section online and in print.

Sunday

In describing what the typical week looks like, it makes sense to start with Sunday. It’s the one day of the week when I don’t set an alarm, so I get up a little later than I would during the week – although I always time a tweet of the front page for 8am so followers can get a glimpse of the stories we’re leading with. The first thing I do, after making a coffee, is to go through my emails to pick up any early complaints or feedback. Then I’m on social media for an hour or so, tweeting out the biggest stories and posting a few things on LinkedIn.

After a run or a swim, I get all the Sunday papers in hard copy and spend several hours going through them on the sofa. It’s essential to see what the competition is doing and to spot things we might have missed, things we could have done better and things we can take forward in our own way for the coming week.

Monday

In theory, Monday is still part of the weekend, although in practice the week revs up again fairly quickly. I’ll start by listening to the Today programme and going through the daily papers. Then I’ll often have a call with Ben Taylor, our deputy editor, and/or Emma Tucker, our editor. It’s helpful to gauge what they’re interested in and to kick around ideas for the week ahead. I spend most of Monday working at home, catching up on calls and emails and preparing features for the coming week – although outside of Covid times it’s also a good day for a long lunch with a contact, the kind you can’t fit in during the busy week.

Tuesday

I’m up at 6am for the Today programme and, after flicking through the daily papers online, I’ll be out of the door by 7am. I’d usually have a breakfast meeting at 8am, although these have thinned out somewhat since the government’s latest U-turn on mixing. If I don’t have one, I’m in the office for about 7.45am and going through the papers in hard copy.

We have a team meeting (currently a team Google call) at 9.30am to discuss features – the bigger, longer reads that make up most of the Business section. We’re looking for incisive, original ideas that will set the agenda. The challenge is trying to work out what will still feel fresh by Sunday, so you can’t always follow the daily news agenda. After we’ve worked up the features list, I take it into conference with the editor at 11am. The team has another Google call at 5pm to check in on how features are shaping up. They’ll be thinking early about how to dress up features online and whether they should speak to our data team about producing special charts and graphs for the web.

Outside of Covid times, I’d have a lunch and a dinner. It’s important to pick up ideas and gossip – information is still the lifeblood of all journalism, especially Sunday journalism.

Wednesday

It’s the same morning routine, except this time the 9.30am team call is about how features are developing and whether we need to change course on any of them, depending on the developing news agenda. Wednesday is a day for doing lots of reporting as there aren’t any formal internal meetings, so you’ve got freedom to ring contacts and do interviews. I’ll be thinking about my column: as with features, the challenge is to select a topic that’ll feel timely by Sunday but where I can (at least try to) say something insightful and new. Again, in the pre- (and hopefully post-) Covid era, there would be a lunch and a dinner.

Thursday

The week starts to heat up. I usually avoid scheduling a breakfast meeting as I need to be in early to go through the papers properly ahead of our 11am editorial conference. The editor and the senior team want to see a good mix of ideas and tones – investigations, an interview, some analysis and some lighter pieces. After that, at 12.30pm, I sit down with our designers and map out how the pages will look in print. We’ll discuss pieces that need illustrations and they’ll go off and work up drafts.

Copy for the bigger, longer reads starts arriving from correspondents at about 6pm. Thursday evening is the point at which the Sunday paper sprint turns into a marathon: I’ll be in the office until about 10pm editing copy and refining layouts.

Friday

We’re back in early and it’s all about news. We have a team call at 9.30am to discuss what stories we’re chasing for the front page. After 11am editorial conference, I’ll be editing features that have arrived overnight, including from Danny Fortson, our Silicon Valley correspondent. Then I’ll be chasing news and making calls. I’m usually in the office until about 11pm: I don’t get a chance to write the column until most people have left. In some ways, it’s easier to write when you’re up against a deadline: it makes you focus.

Saturday

Since we launched Times Radio, I do two business slots on a Saturday, so I’m up at 5.45am. At 6.50am, after several cups of tea, I’m in the studio with Luke Jones and Jenny Kleeman. They’re great fun and laugh at the fact that I actually come in – as they launched in the middle of a pandemic, almost all their guests phone in. From 7am, I’m back at my desk, re-reading features and tweaking headlines and standfirsts. I go through the Saturday papers, then at 10.30am we have editorial conference where we discuss what we’ll splash the Business section on, what we’ll do as the front-page picture story and so on.

From that point onwards, Saturday is an intense process of getting news copy in, editing it and watching out for late-breaking stories. We’re done by about 5pm, at which point I’m back on Times Radio with Ayesha Hazarika discussing the next day’s business news. I write my email newsletter, do story placings for the website and leave at about 7pm, although I’m on call until midnight in case we need to make any late changes.

I like to leave my phone in another room when I go to bed on Saturday night. By that point I need to sleep, and if we’ve done a big investigation or broken a story on something controversial, the text messages and calls start coming in early!

Interview by Ninder Johal DL, CEO of The Business Influencer (https://thebusinessinfluencer.co.uk/), The Signature Awards (https://nachural.co.uk/the-signature-awards-birmingham/) and The Nachural Group (https://nachural.co.uk/).

Back to Articles