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Gorkana meets... James Coney
1 Juin 2012

This week Gorkana caught up with James Coney, editor of Money Mail since June 2011, to find out more about his deadlines, the best way to pitch to his team and the stories he is interested in.

James Coney has been Editor of Money Mail since June 2011. Other than a short stint at the Mirror, he has been at Money Mail since 2005. He has won numerous Headlinemoney Awards including Journalist of the Year this year.

Money Mail – key elements

There are four core pillars to Money Mail’s coverage: mortgages, pensions, savings and investments. Every week James tries to include some ‘good’ coverage around these core topics.

The guiding principle for the section is “How we can give families the best advice on the core topics? How can readers make the most of a situation eg Eurozone for these big issues?

Tax is becoming a more and more important part of coverage – especially when it comes to mistakes by the authorities. James’ view is that tax is an interesting issue when it comes to news stories or it is budget season but not current enough throughout the year to become a fifth pillar of the section's coverage. Tax stories do have a long shelf life and many readers, as they do with pieces on charitable giving, save the articles for a later date.

Other issues have now crept onto the personal finance agenda such as energy bills, phone tariffs, TV packages etc. Generally, the regular bills households have to pay have increased relevance for the section.

The core market of Money Mail readers are families where the parents are in their fifties. They will typically have decent levels of savings above the UK average and will generally be suburban rather than inner city.

Money Mail team

There are five full time members of the team. Nobody is restricted on what they can write about but everybody has areas that are their responsibility to follow:

Sam Dunn: deputy editor, tax and technical issues

Sylvia Morris: savings including technical investments and with profits policies

Ruth Lythe: banking including mortgages and current accounts

Dan Hyde: pensions and investments (also overlap on savings with Sylvia)

There are also a number of key freelancers who are used regularly like Rosanna Spero and Laura Shannon who tend to pick up the more consumer issues eg mobile phones and general insurance.

How does the team integrate with other parts of the Mail and Mail on Sunday

There is a growing relationship with mailonline’s This is Money, edited by Andrew Oxlade. Both James and Andrew can see the added benefits of more cross-over. No journalists write across the two platforms but there is increasing signposting in the newspaper to This is Money. Extra material to a story that can’t fit in the paper is now posted online and James and Andrew try to have a briefing every Monday morning so Andrew can think about what issues to take forward from that week’s Money Mail.

After a move to the newsroom a couple of years ago money Mail now sits adjacent to the Mail’s City desk. James describes a “very dynamic relationship” between the two as they constantly flag up issues to each other. There is a particularly close link with Becky Barrow on the property side.

Money Mail stories can move very quickly to the front end of the paper. A breaking story (eg lending criteria on mortgages) will now be written straight away as a news story and sent up front. James talks to the news pages every day.

There are no links with Financial Mail on Sunday

Working week

Money Mail is published in Wednesday’s Daily Mail. Planning starts for each edition the Wednesday before. The main news meeting takes place at 11am. Therefore, the best time for PRs to flag something is 9.30-10.30 by pitching a Money Mail angle to the relevant journalist (best not to use generic email addresses). It is very important to try and pick out something from a story that will specifically appeal to Mail readers.

James currently has 35,000 unread deleted emails such is the weight of irrelevant surveys and reports sent to him. He still likes to see everything to get a feel to what is happening but does not like to be harangued over whether he has read an email. Each week James goes through the postbag on a Wednesday afternoon. He still receives around 200 hundred letters per week in addition to 50-100 emails (especially just after the paper goes out). The letters page is edited by his predecessor Tony Hazell. It covers a huge spectrum of issues but it gives not only a great level of feedback but also alerts the team to issues. As a general guideline it takes five different letters to raise alarm bells about a company. Then the team will investigate, speak to the readers and get the paperwork.

Wednesday and Thursday are good for lunches and meetings. James’ advice is to make sure they are useful and bring something along that is relevant. They don’t always have to be on the record, but are very important for building trust. Preparation is very important for getting a story up the agenda so that reporters can focus on the breaking story when the news breaks. Wednesdays and Thursdays also good for after work relationship building meetings.

By Friday James has a clear idea what is going to go on the front of the section – he always tries to make that a news story. The team will also have decided on a special report on a timely or special concern. However, if a big issue breaks the team can still rejig the front three pages of the section on a Tuesday morning.

By Friday much of the ‘furniture’ of the section will be filled out – the savers and borrowers pages, the letters and the back of the section leads.

Come Monday morning, there will another long meeting to discuss the weekend papers and Money Box to know what needs reviewing in their schedule. James will also receive a rough layout between 10-13 pages. This is then sent to deputy editor Ted Verity, the No 3 on the paper and the editor with direct responsibility for Money Mail, on Monday night. The two will have a chat on how the stories are to be sold, the designers get to work on Tuesday before James and Ted meet again to discuss headlines. The copy is sent by 7pm.

James’ Last Word column is written on Monday night or Tuesday morning – usually after he has edited all the copy.

Emerging Themes

Some of the big themes James is interested in pursuing in the future include: savings and mortgages rates and the debate between savings and pensions. He receives a lot of feedback on poor pensions.

James is keen to hear more from fund managers as he thinks they’ve got good stories to tell. He believes investment coverage should be ‘more fun’ and that consumers would invest more if they were told the narrative behind fund management decisions. Unfortunately too few fund managers are prepared to speak openly. He also thinks there is a shortage of accountants prepared to discuss family finances.

Case studies

Case studies are useful for broader generic subjects – “families are better for Money Mail, pets are always good”. He does understand how the relationship works but there are sometimes problems when names of company providers get edited out by sub-editors. However, he urges PRs to treat these as long-term relationships and providers will benefit in the long run.

Exclusives

James is, of course, keen to receive exclusives and thinks they really work when the theme is relevant to the news agenda. Advance warning helps his team considerably and they need to be delivered with all the necessary relevant material in the package.

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