Lionel Barber’s pick of the week

Introduction:  The world tips into recession; the eurozone discovers (again) the myth of decoupling from the US; oil dips below $55 a barrel; fears of deflation mount; and pirates seize a Saudi oil tanker off the Somali coast.  If you missed the Financial Times or FT.com this week, here are ten gems which beat the rest of the pack…

1)  The Labour government will increase borrowing sharply to nearly £120bn in 2009 but will claw back the sums through tax rises once the recovery is under way. Chris Giles’ scoop was so good that BBC TV’s Ten O’ Clock news was still leading on it 24 hours later.
2)   South Korea has bagged half of the arable land in Madagascar for a song, the latest sign of worries over food security.  Javier Blas’ story was widely followed and drew praise in Le Monde for exposing neo-colonialism in Africa.
3)  Martin Wolf penned a devastating column on why the UK should not join the eurozone, whatever the current economic difficulties.  A must-read for euro-enthusiasts and sceptics alike.
4)  The Chinese navy harbours ambitions to own an aircraft carrier, according to a top general. Mure Dickie, in his last days in Beijing, helped secure a rare interview on the defence ministry’s premises.
5)  Carrefour is ousting Jose Luis Duran, its Spanish chief executive, and will name Lars Olofsson as his successor.  Scheherazade Daneshkhu and Peggy Hollinger broke the story, while Peggy scooped the local press on Thierry Breton returning to France to run Atos, the French IT services company.
6)  Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator, is training his young son to endure steam rooms and ice baths (a useful skill these days) as preparation for leadership. Stefan Wagstyl, Jan Cienski, and freelance Geoffrey Smith broke the story in a sprightly Special Report on Belarus.
7)  Jyrki Katainen of Finland is the top EU finance minister, according to the annual FT ranking. Ralph Atkins produced the latest instalment, neatly presented on the Analysis page and in interactive form on the we, and bagged a video interview with the winner. The ranking was widely picked up across the European media.
8.) Sonia Gandhi has made an explosive anti-business intervention in the economic debate. James Lamont wrote a sharper story than the competition, identifying a worrying trend for foreign investors in India.
9) George Osborne and the Tories are sticking to their strategy of supporting funded tax cuts only, in the teeth of criticism from business and Labour.  George Parker and Jean Eaglesham secured a good pre-Budget interview with Osborne. George wrote a sharp op-ed on the Brown bounce on Saturday.
10)  The Debt Collector’s tale in the Weekend magazine was a welcome slice of humanity in a grim week.  Let’s not forget to delight our readers with wit and humour.

Award of the week: Neil Hume picked up the top award at the M&A International media awards in Milan on Friday night for his scoop on the InBev/Anheuser-Busch bid. Another triumph for Alphaville.

Trend of the week: Gerrit Wiesmann and Richard Milne highlighted the significance of BASF’s decision to cut output by 25 per cent – a scary sign of how the economic downturn is causing havoc in Europe’s industrial base. Richard’s inside analysis ICN was also complemented by an article on the US chemicals industry by Hal Weitzman – a good example of how we can add value by putting stories into a broader international context.

Trend of the week, 2: James Blitz and Robert Wright wrote a deeply reported Saturday Big Page on modern piracy in the Gulf of Aden and way beyond, which combined narrative power with fresh information.  Barney Jopson’s dispatch from East Africa was excellent too.

Foreign dispatch of the week: Tough call, but step forward Tom Burgis for his beautifully constructed news feature on Africa’s biggest copper smelter, “a space-age contraption towering over rickety dwellings and pot-holed roads in Chingola, Zambia”.  A white elephant almost before it bellowed into life the other day.

Humour watch: Robert Shrimsley’s Notebook, which included a mock conversation between a psychiatrist and the pound, was a comic masterpiece

Foreign feature of the week: Tobias Buck’s magazine front cover on the warlords of Gaza was an excellent read, well edited to boot.

Most elegant prose of the week:  Simon Schama’s Diary in Life and Arts.

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