Editing a magazine about personal finance is a very tough job. Half your journalists would rather be writing about something else. Politics. Sport. Wars in the Horn of Africa. More or less anything, other than unit trusts.
A surprisingly high proportion of the other half of your staff are either anarchic or eccentric, or both. If they weren’t half mad, they would be over in the City making five times as much as you could possibly afford to pay them.
Your editorial managers are probably incompetent, and almost certainly venal. They want you to publish things that will please the advertisers. In their view, the readers can look after themselves.
And then there are the readers.
Who on earth are they? And just how many have dropped off the perch this week?
Given all this, how is it that a quarter of a century after she left the job, Gillian O’Connor still stands out as an outstanding and much admired figure in her trade?
The starting point is that she was a brilliant talent spotter. Dig into the CVs of the best financial journalists of a certain age, and you will find that an amazing number got their first break from Gillian. A good few of them are here in the church today.
On her watch, the Investors Chronicle became a place where ambitious young people went for a few years, got house trained, and stepped off on the pathway to the stars.
And it wasn’t just about hiring bright kids. She was good at managing talent of all kinds; liberal and easygoing in her approach, once she had decided you were any good. So the eccentrics flourished.
People like John Campbell, the author of the Bearbull column, who – in Bernard Gray’s words –regularly let himself into the office at 2am on deadline day and leaving only a perfectly finished column on Gillian’s typewriter and a dense cloud of blue smoke at his desk to mark his passage.
And behind that formidable exterior, there was a streak of mischief about Gillian herself. Michael Brett, who preceded her as editor and is very sad not to be with us today, tells the story of how she was supervising the final stages of production one day in the late 1970s, when news came through to the printers that Mrs. Thatcher had forced through a one pence cut in the basic rate of income tax.
At the last minute, Gillian shoved in a picture of Mrs. T on the contents page and a headline: “Maggie’s penny slash”.
All hell broke loose, and Michael found himself explaining to an infuriated Central Office that the person responsible for this outrage was a delicately nurtured young lady who had not been aware of the double entendre in the headline.
Gillian was beholden to no-one.
She would always back up her journalists, once they had earned her trust. At the right moment, if they were sad or in difficulty, she was thoughtful and kind.
But she didn’t suffer what she perceived to be fools. Stories of her bust-ups with management were famous in legend and song for years after the left the publication. She knew whose side she was on – the consumers, not the producers of financial products.
And she knew what her readers wanted. Clear and straightforward copy. Logical analysis. Conclusions that made sense, and that could lead to practical investment action.
Financial journalists often resort to jargon if they don’t really know what they were talking about. They could never get away with that for a second under Gillian’s steely gaze. And the result of all this was that the circulation of the IC rocketed to unmatched highs under her editorship.
So it was a great day for the Financial Times when she agreed to take over our personal finance columns, something which she did with great flair for several years.
And then she announced more or less out of the blue that she would like to do something completely different before she retired.
So it was that this person who had been deskbound for 30 years or more found herself as mining editor, bouncing along ice roads in Canada, or crawling around miles below ground in Botswana.
As with everything else, she did the job with style, judgment and integrity.
A lot of good journalists owe a great deal to Gillian O’Connor.
And for this and many other reasons, it is right that we think about her today, with respect, admiration and with warmth.