Who owns Reuters? Reuters’ commitment to independence threatened its merger with Thomson


Reuters, one of the largest news agencies in the world, has built a reputation for maintaining independence in its reporting. The agency is a specialist in the finance arena, going toe to toe with rivals such as Bloomberg News. Reuters has made strides in the legal field in recent years, but it’s primarily viewed as a financial sector reporter. 

The agency generates half of its revenue from financial data specialist Refinitiv, a company once wholly owned by Reuters before the London Stock Exchange Group Plc acquired it for $27 billion.

Reuters has experienced few ownership changes in its history, which has helped it secure a place among journalism heavyweights. 

Key Takeaways

  • Paul Reuter founded the company in 1851 in London as a commercial news agency.
  • Roderick Jones and Mark Napier purchased all shares in the company after Herbert de Reuter’s death in 1915.
  • Jones and Napier sold the company to the Press Agency.
  • The Thomson Corporation acquired majority stake in Reuters, renaming the company Thomson-Reuters.

Paul Reuter founded Reuters in London as a commercial news agency

Paul Reuterr
Baron Paul Julius De Reuter, The Founder of Reuters | Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS Getty Images

Paul Reuter gained fame and adulation in his native Germany by distributing radical pamphlets at the beginning of the Revolutions in 1848. In 1850, he developed a news service using pigeons and telegraphy to transmit information between Aachen and Brussels. 

Reuters moved to London a year later, where he established a news agency covering commercial news. It initially served banks and businesses before landing its first newspaper client, London’s Morning Advertiser, in 1858. 

The agency’s rapid growth continued as it became a trusted source for critical international news. Reuters journalists often point out that it was the first European agency to report Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. 

The same year, Reuter incorporated the business, becoming the managing director of Reuter’s Telegram Company Limited. Overland telegraphs and undersea cables facilitated Reuter’s expansion to the far east in 1872 and South America in 1874. 

Paul Reuter retired in 1878, handing the company to his eldest son, Herbert de Reuter. In 1883, Reuters began sending messages electrically to London newspapers. 

Reuters reverted to private ownership following a purchase by Roderick Jones and Mark Napier

Sir Roderick Jones
Sir Roderick Jones, managing director of Reuters from 1916 to 1941 | Photo By TheBaron

Herbert de Reuter served as managing director until his death by suicide in 1915. A year later, Roderick Jones and Mark Napier purchased all shares in the company, an essential acquisition in the company’s history as Jones and Napier dropped the apostrophe, renaming the agency ‘Reuters Limited.’

In 1923, Reuters pioneered the use of radio to transmit news internationally. Two years later, the Press Association of Great Britain acquired a majority stake in Reuters and later gained full ownership. 

Like in the First World War, Reuters faced pressure from the British government to serve national interests. Reuters resisted the pressure by restructuring: The Press Association sold half of the shares to the Newspaper Proprietor’s Association. 

In 1945, Reuters recorded another first by reporting Heinrich Himmler’s attempts to negotiate with the Allies through a Swedish nobleman. By then, Reuters had become a global news agency, serving the world’s leading newspapers. 

In the 1960s, Reuters was one of the first companies to transmit financial data overseas via computers. Reuters continued its pioneering adoption of technology throughout the 20th century. 

The company went public in 1984, and as with its first attempt to go public, the move proved disastrous. Its share price grew during the dot-com boom before dipping dramatically due to the banking troubles of the early 21st century.

Still, its reputation as a major news agency never waned. 

The Thomson Corporation acquired a majority stake in Reuters following a merger valued at $8.7 billion

The logo of Thomson Reuters is pictured at the entrance of its Paris headquarters, France, March 7, 2016 | Charles Platiau/Reuters

In 2008, the Thomson Corporation acquired a majority stake in Reuters, forming Thomson-Reuters. Tom Glocer, the then Reuters chief executive, became chief executive of the merger company. 

Glocer helped Reuters negotiate the financial crisis of the early 21st century by slashing costs and removing jobs. The merger led to further job cuts across both companies to reduce Thomson-Reuters’ operational costs. 

The deal alarmed union members who feared that the merger would blemish Reuters’ prized editorial integrity. 

In the mid-20th century, Reuters’ owners formed the Reuters Trust and the Reuters Trust Principles to maintain the agency’s independence. The rules established the Founders Share Company and prevented any party from owning 15% or more of Reuters’ stock. 

Under the merger, Woodbridge, the Thomson family holding company, would own 53% of Thomson-Reuters, which was against the Reuters Trust Principles. 

Union members feared the Thomson Corporation would sell its stake; it had previously sold The Times and Sunday Times to Rupert Murdoch. A letter from union members to the Founders Share Company read:

“There are deep concerns, despite assurances we have already heard, over whether a reconstituted Reuters would maintain the high standards of journalism and the integrity, independence and freedom from bias that have shaped the company’s 156-year-old reputation and are crucial to its future success.”

Thomson convinced the Trustees to approve the deal by pledging to adopt the Reuters Trust Principles and hold Founders Shares in the Thomson-Reuters Corporation and Thomson-Reuters plc. In approving the merger, Pehr Gyllenhammar, chairman of the Reuters Founders Share Company Trustees, said:

“We believe that the formation of Thomson-Reuters marks a watershed in the global information business, and will underpin the strength, integrity and sustainability of Reuters as a global leader in news and financial information for many years to come.”

Current President and CEO Steve Hasker plans to usher in Reuters’ website paywall era

Thomson Reuters president and chief executive officer Steve Hasker | Mark Blinch/Reuters

Steve Hasker succeeded former president and CEO Jim Smith in March 2020. As part of extensive changes to corporate leadership, Mike Eastwood also succeeded Stephane Bello as chief financial officer. 

“This is the right time to pass the baton to the next generation of leadership, given the continued success of our business and the spin-off of our market data and trading operations,” Jim Smith said. “The organization is on its firmest footing in years. The foundation has been laid for continued success and Steve is the right leader to take us forward.”

Smith became the chairperson of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which advocates for media freedom and access to justice worldwide. He also provided transitional support to Steve through 2020 and into 2021. 

One of the most significant changes planned by Steve Hasker involved the introduction of a paywall on Reuters’ website. In April 2021, Reuters announced a subscription to its website costing $34.99 that would come into force on 1st June 2021. 

Josh London, chief marketing officer at Reuters, described Reuters’ new website as ‘the largest digital transformation at Reuters in a decade,’ per The New York Times

However, Reuters postponed its paywall inception after Refinitiv alleged that the move would breach a news supply agreement between the two parties. 

In 2018, Refinitiv struck a 30-year deal with Reuters to receive news and editorial content. The agreement guarantees Reuters annual payments of at least $336 million until 2048. Refinitiv argued that the paywall breached the terms of its deal with Reuters. 

“We are still working through our plans for the relaunch of Reuters.com as a subscription service,” a Reuters spokesperson said. The dispute between Refinitiv and Reuters has delayed the paywall for nearly a year. It’s unclear how long the delay will last and how it will affect Reuters.  

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