Financial Times’ US News Editor David Crow Creates Positive Change through Journalism
The power, purpose and responsibility of journalism extends far beyond just keeping the public informed. From serving as a watchdog and exposing corruption to playing a role in shaping public perception and setting agendas, journalists are gatekeepers that help determine what deserves our attention.
They are ethical creatures, if not first by nature, then assuredly through their rigorous training– as transparency and a responsibility to the public are the backbone of the industry.
Unfortunately, with the rise of unverified “news” feeds reaching the public via Facebook and other social media platforms, and the existence of large-scale automated propaganda– many now question the ethics of the news–but the thing is– what’s on social media is not journalism, it’s junk food.
In the midst of the “fake news” debate, the truth is that real journalism is alive and thriving; and the work of editors and journalists like David Crow, the U.S. news editor of the Financial Times, prove that it’s more powerful, and arguably more important, than ever before.
“I am passionate about journalism because of its capacity to unearth facts that powerful people do not want the public to know,” says David Crow.
“Without journalism, we would not know about Watergate or the Thalidomide birth defects scandal. It follows that society benefits because when reporters expose wrongdoing, the wrong ends up being put right, at least for the most part.”
Over the years David Crow has earned widespread praise at the highest journalistic level for his work, including a high commendation in the Science Journalist of the Year category at the 2017 UK National Press Awards, and is the recipient of the June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism by the American Association for Cancer Research and two honorable mentions at the Best in Business Awards, administered by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). Far more important for Crow than any award though, is the direct effect his work has had on the public.
Though they may not be aware of it — anyone who, since mid 2018, has taken one of several drugs by Pfizer, such as Chantix, Viagra, or the glaucoma medicine, Xalatan, has experienced first hand the power of the journalism penned by Crow, without it, those same drugs would have a higher price tag.
In 2018 Crow, who was covering the pharmaceutical industry for the FT at the time, broke a story detailing how Pfizer was lifting the price of 100 of its products– a move that was diametrically opposed to claims that then President Donald Trump had made about pharmaceutical companies lowering their prices.
The FT story caught the attention of then-President Trump, who quickly voiced his dismay on Twitter, a move that resulted in an apologetic phone call with Pfizer executive Ian Read and a subsequent price reduction of a broad range of Pfizer’s pharmaceuticals.
“Americans pay far more for their prescription drugs than anyone else in the world. Too often battling a sickness means battling a financial crisis as well,” explains Crow, who is originally from the UK.
“I think the egregious abuses of the system uncovered by my reporting and others had a major impact: it is now very rare to see companies ‘price gouging’ medicines. But prices are still far too high.”
During his time as the FT’s Senior Business Correspondent in New York, Crow revealed several other instances where pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. were shamefully price gouging products– such as Impax Laboratories, which put a $442 price tag on a pill to treat pinworm, which was being sold over the counter in the UK for a mere £1.75. Another instance was Nostrum Laboratories, which had announced a proposed 404 percent increase to nitrofurantoin, taking a bottle of the UTI antibiotic from $474.75 to $2,392.
These are just a few examples in a long list of revelatory stories that Crow has broken over the course of his impressive career, which began back in 2004 when he joined his university newspaper, the Glasgow Guardian.
“I quickly realized that one could use writing to bring about change. After that, I never looked back,” recalls Crow, who had envisioned a career path in academia before joining the paper.
During his first year on the paper Crow was named student journalist of the year at The Herald’s Scottish Student Press Awards for his investigative journalism work on an article that uncovered a slumlord housing company that had been putting occupants at risk by using shady tactics to skirt health and safety codes.
“In 1999, two students in Glasgow died in a fire in an unsafe apartment, which had no smoke alarms and bars on the windows that prevented them from escaping,” says Crow about the tragedy that, in part, prompted him to write the article.
“Glasgow’s council subsequently introduced a new licensing regime called Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO), which stipulated that apartments being shared by multiple residents needed to undergo an inspection and meet strict safety criteria.”
Crow caught wind of housing rental companies that, in spite of the horrific fire which had occurred only a few years prior, were using loopholes to avoid the HMO safety inspections– so he exercised his journalistic voice to expose them, and arguably saved lives as a result. Crow recalls, “The company I exposed ended up being blacklisted from the list of accommodation approved for students. And the HMO system was toughened up. Ultimately, students in Glasgow ended up living in safer apartments. The tragedy of 1999 was, thankfully, never repeated.”
Crow’s journalistic skill was spotted In 2006, while he was still attending university. He was sought out by Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Sunday Times, who recruited him to write a weekly column for The Business magazine focusing on emerging media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter. He was 21 at the time.
After graduation Crow became a reporter for London-based daily financial newspaper City AM where he broke a series of exclusive and groundbreaking stories that quickly led him to be promoted to Political Editor. What’s more impressive though is that prior to Crow’s arrival, the paper, which was primarily focused on business and finance, had no presence in the political sphere whatsoever — so he created one.
“I secured interviews with senior politicians through dogged persistence. The first request would always be refused, and the second, third and fourth. But after a while– if you make enough of a nuisance of yourself– people give in,” recalls Crow.
“I would call politicians’ advisers every day, sometimes twice. After I had published a few interviews, other politicians started to take me more seriously and it became easier.”
In terms of politics, Crow put City AM on the map; and at the same time, he proved that he was teeming with one of the most important journalistic qualities, perseverance.
“I have never thought of myself as a ‘natural’ and so I have tried to make up for that by putting in the hours,” admits Crow. “Robert Caro, a journalist hero of mine, recounts advice he was given by his editor at ‘Newsday,’ a Long Island, New York, newspaper: ‘Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.’ In short, never stop digging. The things that good journalists uncover are not handed to them on a plate: it requires perseverance.”
By the time he left City AM, just two years later, Crow was the paper’s Managing Editor and head of news, the third most senior job on the paper, where he was responsible for all of City AM’s news output.
After a meteoric rise in rank, it was time for a bigger challenge. The Financial Times.
Crow joined the FT in 2012 where he was quickly promoted to Page One Editor, which meant he was responsible for editing the front page of the FT’s four daily global editions being published in the UK, U.S., Europe and Asia. Over the next few years he would take on several high ranking roles at the paper, such as being the FT’s Senior US Business Correspondent, U.S. Coronavirus Correspondent, Banking Editor and US Political News Editor.
In 2021 Crow was appointed as U.S. News Editor of the Financial Times at the age of 37, making him one of the youngest people to have held the role. In January, he became an executive editor.
“Our job is special. The FT’s U.S. newsroom is full of incredibly talented people who could earn a lot more if they were to work on Wall Street. But they would have much less of an impact on the world if they were to make the switch,” says Crow. “It is also incredibly exciting: you get to have a ringside seat to history in the making.”
Over the years Crow has continued to break countless groundbreaking stories that have both changed history and positively impacted society, including the FT series “Opioids and the Sackler Family,” which earned him an honorable mention at the SABEW’s Best in Business Awards in 2018.
In the four-part investigative series, Crow exposed how the Sackler family’s pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, used aggressive marketing strategies to expand the scope of the opioid drug they produced, OxyContin, from treating strictly terminally ill patients to being used for everything from shingles to back pain.
Crow also revealed that Purdue Pharma and Dr. Richard Sackler, who was the co-chairman and president of Purdue Pharma at times from 1990 to 2018, was not only granted a patent to produce a drug that would help wean patients off opioids, but that the Sackler family also owned a second opioid producing company, Rhodes Pharma.
The Sackler family’s ties to Rhodes Pharma were unknown until Crow’s discovery, which proved to be of massive importance as it showed that the family was even more responsible for the production of opioids than previously thought.
“The discovery of Rhodes Pharma was important because the Sackler family had, for years, been trying to distance themselves from Purdue, cognisant of the fact that they were facing significant personal legal risk. But they had not taken the same steps to disassociate from Rhodes, a generic opioid maker they owned that had operated under the radar,” explains Crow.
“Because they were more obviously involved with Rhodes, it allowed prosecutors to directly tie them to the ravages of the drug addiction epidemic. Also, the Sacklers had always argued that Purdue’s drug, OxyContin, was not the chief culprit in the opioid crisis: they claimed that generic opioids had done more harm. And what did Rhodes make? Generic opioids.”
With the combined opioid output from Purdue Pharma and Rhodes Pharma equating to 6 percent of the market share in the U.S., Crow’s investigative work as a journalist proved that the family was responsible for a much larger part of opioid production than they had previously claimed.
In addition to being used in numerous other lawsuits, the vital information that Crow brought to light proved to be integral to suits brought against the big pharma family by California and Maryland, with their respective state attorneys general writing, “The Sackler Respondents’ involvement in Rhodes and its relationship to Purdue were not publicly known until the September 9, 2018 publication of an article in the Financial Times.”
Crow says, “I was proud to have played a part in the collapse of the Sackler empire, and the subsequent $6bn settlement secured by U.S. prosecutors. But I will never forget the victims of the opioid crisis, some of whom I have met. Their lives were tragically ruined.”
As a journalist and editor Crow takes his role as an agenda setter seriously. Over the years he’s brought the public’s attention to numerous stories that would have likely otherwise been ignored and scientific discoveries that may have been underfunded without media attention, such as patients undergoing gene therapy for blindness or experimental drug treatments for Alzheimer’s.
When asked what gets him excited to write a story, Crow responded, “First and foremost, people. Journalists can tell stories but they don’t belong to us — they belong to our sources. I have been blessed during my career because I have had the chance to meet fascinating, inspiring people from all walks of life.”
“I also like complex stories that require you to navigate difficult and often competing narratives. Easy questions have easy answers. The stories I’m most attracted to have difficult answers.”
It’s safe to say that the last few years have produced more complex stories than ever before. From the Trump presidency and the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capital to a pandemic practically shutting down the world and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, not to mention dramatic economic shifts around the world, we are living in the biggest news time that has ever occurred in history– and Crow has been there to cover it all.
“We often say at the FT that we have had a decade of news in two years,” says Crow. “It has been an exhilarating if exhausting time. We also often ask when things will get back to ‘normal.’ But I don’t think they will. The fact is we are living in a very consequential period. It really is history in the making.”
While we are undoubtedly living in what many would call dramatic times, we can take solace in knowing that we have journalists and senior editors like David Crow who tirelessly bring us the truth through the news without fail.
“For now, I am focused on building the FT’s US operations. It’s an incredibly exciting time for the organization given our growing American audience. In my own writing, I want to leave behind a body of work that made a difference. In terms of my role as a newsroom executive, I want to be a champion and steward of other reporters’ great journalism.”
In addition to being one of the key figures at the helm of the FT, where he averages a 60-hour week, Crow is dedicated to sharing his knowledge with younger generations. Not only is he a board member at SABEW where he helps recruit and train the next generation of journalists, but he also recently imparted his expertise in the field as a judge of the 2022 Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism.
“It was an honor to judge the competition. As a journalist, I learned a huge amount,” says Crow. “I was assigned to the investigative category and was in awe at the amount of work reporters had put into exposing wrongs, from the abuse of workers at a lead smelting plant in Florida to the flagrant abuses of the lobbying system in Washington, D.C.”