Polina Sparks recalls Trevor Tarring’s newsroom
At the old Metal Bulletin offices in Lower Marsh, Trevor’s presence and guidance were always felt, even once he stepped back from the day-to-day running of the newsroom in 1999 — and it became the case of occasionally dropping in. He had set the wheels in motion, and they proceeded to run much as he’d expect them to.
I walked into the Metal Bulletin newsroom on my first day as reporter on 17th August 1998, the day Russia defaulted on its sovereign debt. As the Russian speaker on the non-ferrous desk, it fell to me to write the front page on how this crisis affected the nickel market. I knew where nickel sat in the periodic table, how it might react with other elements, why it was used in stainless steel, and that it was mined in the Arctic circle. There my knowledge ended.
Armed with a contact list—largely authored by Trevor and expanded by his reporters, I set about calling brokerages, traders, Norilsk Nickel and Russian ministries, and asking questions. A London nickel trader gave me an explanation along the lines of “there are more buyers than sellers, so prices are going up”. He then had a good laugh at me for having shared that deep insight of the bears in woods variety with the metal market.
It was with the help of Trevor, the extensive library of metallurgy his father and he had amassed on the ground floor at Lower Marsh, LME futures and options training, talks with producers, buyers, recyclers, brokers and traders, and an Outokumpu hedging manager sitting me down to deliver an A to Z hedging primer, that this market illiteracy was eventually rectified. To the resources in the library, I was gradually able to add information about the ever evolving metals industry in the former Soviet Union and a Russian-English glossary or metallurgical and trade terms. That Trevor’s father Leslie Tarring had used to illustrate his travel reports in MB with hand-drawn sketches gave me the excuse to sneak a few rare illustrations into pages full of dense text.
The nickel industry grappled with nascent high pressure acid leaching technology hiccups, such as the valves blowing on the early Murrin Murrin autoclave. Almost literal wars played out in the Russian aluminium sector. And so it came to be my turn to sit down with Trevor and set out who was squeezing the markets where. This discussion ended in Trevor gifting me a copy of this book Corner! A Century of Metal Market Manipulation . This book is still sitting on my shelf for dipping into, and it should be compulsory reading for any reporter getting ready to cover the metals trade.
Many such conversations on, I’ll always be grateful to Trevor for his guidance and humour and his enthusiasm for bringing journalists into his wide network of contacts across the metals world. Later on, as editor at Metal-Pages that eventually became Argus Metals, when training my own team, I hope that I’ve succeeded in doing the same for other journalists — and that they will do the same in turn. Anyone reporting on metals and benchmarking metal prices today owes their practice to that which Leslie and Trevor Tarring had built at Metal Bulletin. And in which, over 110 years of MB’s history, generations of journalists have trained each other. Trevor’s legacy lives on as trade journalists and analysts ask questions, gain knowledge, adapt to emerging technologies, as they listen, learn and keep their eyes and minds open.
By Polina Sparks, MMTA
Image: Corner! A century of metal market manipulation by Trevor Tarring, Metal Bulletin Books Ltd. London. 1997
ISBN: 1900663236 | ISBN-13: 9781900663236.