Martin Dickson’s pick of the week

Election fever in Iran, election torpor in Europe, and febrile politics at Westminster were among our top stories this week, and on each occasion our newspaper and online stories meshed extremely well.
Our Iranian coverage throughout the week has been excellent. Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Anna Fifield in Tehran gave us really insightful and colourful news and analysis of the extraordinary energy unleashed in the build-up to polling day, with analysis ranging from the mood of the bazaars to the role of women in Iran – and of the disputed result. The online coverage was equally powerful, including Anna’s online report with pictures, and strong online reporting on Saturday and Sunday. Roula Khalaf provided an excellent Q&A and strong leadership in London, together with Tom O’Sullivan. Daniel Dombey got a good interview with John Kerry calling for a US change of policy on Iranian nuclear power. We also wrote authoritative leaders.

Our European election coverage was also very strong for the most part. From across the continent we had excellent coverage from bureaus, led by Tony Barber with fast, very well judged news and analysis. Tony kept his Brussels blog lively in the run up to the vote.

In the UK the whole of the lobby team did a great job over the elections and the resultant political upheaval. Alex Barker was a particularly outstanding Stakhanovite on Sunday when we were blindsided by the results slowly emerging during the night, rather than in one fell swoop as expected. Later in the week the Westminster blog team revealed Mandelson’s battle with Whitehall over the union flag while George Parker wrote a very fine “Mandy” in the News. He and Chris Giles had a very newsworthy interview with Alistair Darling, from which they extracted full value, while the video team scrambled to ensure we had online coverage.

Another paper/online highlight of the week was the insightful profile by Beth Rigby of George Davies for the (excellent) Saturday magazine and related news stories and the audio slideshow online, organized by Beth and edited by Rob Minto. Charlie Bibby took some great photos.

Among scoops, Henny Sender and Patrick Jenkins kept us out ahead in front of the competition on the negotiations between Barclays and BlackRock over the BGI sale, (and Kate Burgess chipped in with a well-timed analysis of M&A in the sector). In the Middle East, the big business story was the trouble of the Saad group, and Andrew England and Simeon Kerr, with support from Patrick Jenkins and Neil Hume in London, did a great job keeping us ahead of the field.

Henny and Francesco Guerrera had a splash with new rules being considered by US regulators that would govern how private equity groups could buy weak banks.

A sophisticated splash – and huge hit on the web – came from Michael Mackenzie and Alan Rappeport on US long-term interest rates hitting a high for the year after a disappointing auction of new 10-year Treasuries. Tom Mitchell, Matt Garrahan and Jack Burton led the field with an investment by Malaysia’s Genting gaming group in MGM, and Ed Luce and Krishna Guha had a scoop of interpretation on the problems facing US government efforts to enlist buyers for depressed banking assets.

In the UK, Brooke Masters’ and George Parker’s excellent digging came up with a splash scoop on City concerns over Gordon Brown’s waning influence in Europe (with a nice Lombard by Andrew Hill), while Jean Eaglesham scored with a widely followed piece on how ex-Labour MPs face little hope of lucrative private sector jobs.

Javier Blas had an exclusive on a fund that allows investors to tap into Glencore’s commodities expertise, while Carola Hoyos, with support from Michael Steen, had a strong and much followed scoop with the boss of Shell calling for executive pay reform. Daniel Schafer reported that Qatar was considering a big stake in Porsche, while Jonathan Moules reported entrepreneurs were queuing up to be Tory candidates.

Mick Kavanagh gave up a lot of his weekend to get an excellent second front scoop and inside interview on Ferrexpo, while Martin Arnold had a string of great private equity scoops, notably Damon Buffini stepping down as chairman of Permira, but also deals involving Baxi and Wood Mackenzie. John Reed revealed Koenigsegg was set to buy Saab, and George Parker and Jane Croft that the UK government was set to help the building societies. Michael Steen revealed that grounded KLM pilots were doing menial jobs.

Among the columnists, Simon Kuper wrote brilliantly on the uselessness of football transfers, while Philip Stephens wrote provokingly on both the crisis of capitalism turning into one for the left and Cameron sleepwalking towards Europe’s exit. He also wrote a magisterial Analysis page on power ebbing away from Labour. Gillian Tett wrote sensitively about the Bank of England rediscovering its City muscle, while Chrystia Freeland hit out at the raw deal for Chrysler bondholders and John Gapper did the same on US financial regulators’ turf wars. Lex was impressive on European stress tests, US executive pay, the UK housing market, and after Tarp.

One of the most enjoyable pieces of analysis this week was Chris Giles’ elegant skewering of Gordon Brown’s misrepresentations in the great debate over public spending. We followed through with an excellent leader on the need for honesty in the debate.

Another of the week’s highlights was Jamil Anderlini’s superb analysis of the Falun Gong movement on the 10th anniversary of its suppression.

Elsewhere in Asia, Sunny Tucker contributed a strong maSrket insight into how the collapse of Chinalco’s Rio bid will divert China’s wall of money from M&A towards under-the-radar investments through fund managers. On the same capital markets page, Lindsay Whipp had offerings on continued appetite for huge amounts of Japanese municipal bonds and a Sony bond sale that took corporate offerings in Japan to 11-year highs. Such coverage provides important insights into how the enormous savings in China and Japan are being marshalled as confidence slowly recovers. Mure Dickie did well on Japan’s post-Kyoto offer, securing an interview with Taro Aso, prime minister, in which he laid out Japan’s offer to cut emissions by what turned out to be a modest 2 per cent on its Kyoto pledge.

Justine Lau did exceptionally well, getting our Asia online news moving earlier in the day. She wrote several early takes on stories outside her usual remit, two so strong – one on Standard & Poor’s sounding the alarm on fiscal deficits, the other on signs that China’s stimulus package is working – that they made the front page of the newspaper.

Other strong analysis included Mike Mackenzie and Aline van Duyn on the tricky balance for central banks on when and how to unwind support for the market; Francesco Guerrera and Greg Farrell analysing winners and losers from the Tarp repayment decision, James Wilson on the problems of German banks and Gerrit Wiesmann and Elizabeth Rigby on the Arcandor insolvency. Richard Waters wrote a superbly authoritative Saturday Analysis page from the frontiers of personal technology. The techblog kept us up with news from the Apple conference.

It was a good week for Special Reports, with a helpful influx of advertising. Highlights included the Spain report, with fascinating pieces on coming to terms with the civil war and on linguistic diversity within the country. The Rail Industry report contained some nuggets from Robert Wright, including that the Tokyo Metro does not keep train reliability data as it would be unacceptable for a train to break down, and (perhaps something you didn’t want to know) that the train out of Blackfriars will use computer technology to take it down the UK’s steepest rail slope because no driver would have the nerve to drive at the speed it should travel at.

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