American History of Business Journalism

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In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments

David Dietz

By Pooja Kodavanti

He was a modern-day Renaissance man. During his 40-year journalism career, David Dietz was a resilient reporter, an energetic educator and a fierce friend.

With a career spanning the desks at The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, and Bloomberg Markets magazine, Dietz chased investigative stories with vigor and zeal, winning more than 25 national and regional awards.

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Dietz was first inspired to be a journalist by his father, an editor at the Newark Star-Ledger. Dietz went on to study history at Rider University and landed his first reporting job in New Jersey, and then moved to the Marin Independent Journal in the 1960s.

Steve Cook, who worked with Dietz at the Independent Journal, said they reported on local government, crime and fires. Dietz later became city editor. “Dave had a zest for life – family, fishing and camping, parties, pursuit of the story,” said Cook.

Jim Finefrock, who was editorial page editor at the Examiner, met Dietz around 1973. At the Examiner, Dietz worked both as a reporter and editor on the city desk before beginning his career in business writing and editing. Finefrock remembers Dietz as being a tall, good-looking guy who was curious and accessible to his sources.

“Journalists take a lot of heat for what they write, even if it’s absolutely correct. It’s always a good reason to be absolutely accurate with what you write so that it’s defendable. And secondly, to always treat the targets of your stories with utmost respect and we had a rule in the investigative team of no surprises,” said Finefrock.

Joanne Derbort, Dietz’s wife and executive editor at Sonoma magazine, remembers Dietz as having a passion for exposing corporate fraud and financial misdeeds. “He believed in shining light into dark corners, and he believed in getting to the bottom of things and as close to the truth as might be possible,” said Derbort.

Dietz’s tough persistence matched his even gentleness, especially when dealing with reluctant sources, said Derbort. “He had a wonderful combination – in his personality, and his work – of New York directness and soft-spoken gentility.”

Dietz and Derbort met at the Examiner around 1980. At the time, Dietz wrote a personal finance column, and Derbort approached Dietz the first year she worked there for help with her tax return and for CPA recommendations. Several years later, they fell in love.

“In hindsight, we both realized that his having helped me with my taxes all those years before might have had significance we didn’t realize at the time.”

Brant Houston, former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editor (IRE), stated that Dietz was to some degree one of the unsung heroes of bringing in-depth, knowledgeable business reporting into journalism.

“He was an incredibly important person to establish the significance of business news, to show people how exciting it was to do investigations in it, to show why it was important to do it and then last of all he not only espoused it, but taught people how to do it,” said Houston.

Dietz served as board president of IRE, an international organization founded in 1975 born out of a mob murder of a journalist in Arizona, where he was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2010.

Phil Bronstein, executive chair of the board for the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), became close friends with Dietz. He met Dietz as a reporter at the Examiner in the 1980s and together they took on the investigative beat. An ongoing investigation surrounded a successful, wealthy businessman who came to San Francisco.

During this investigation, Bronstein remembered getting a call from Dietz alerting him that a prominent attorney in San Francisco at the time was suing them on behalf of the businessman for about $400 million. Ultimately, the lawsuit did not follow through, and the business itself collapsed.

“It was a very powerful experience, working with Dave. He really understood not just all the fundamentals of reporting in general but came from the business side of reporting and really understood that,” said Bronstein.

Dietz always did his homework. And, his diligence led him to peculiar encounters. “I seem to remember there was one incidence in the story when a guy chased him off his property with a shotgun,” said Bronstein. Still, Dietz kept going and continued to report.

As senior writer for Bloomberg Markets magazine, Dietz’s last major story exposed how companies were misusing federal tax credits, directed towards reducing poverty, instead to develop luxury hotels and office buildings.

At Bloomberg he also worked on a story, “Broken Promises,” which uncovered tax-exempt deals intended to supply $7 billion in bonds for low-income housing or inner-city schools that were instead a way for firms like JPMorgan Chase & Co. and American International Group to receive more money.

Other notable stories from Dietz’s career include his coverage of Patricia Hearst’s kidnapping and an investigation of near-collisions of airplanes on runways. After the airplane piece, the Federal Aviation Administration promised to reduce those hazards.

Houston remembers his last conversation with Dietz. By then Dietz was diagnosed with cancer but still had that spirit of life.

“To me in the last year of his life here he is still interested in journalism, still teaching, helping people with stories and at the same time trying to make his own community – to preserve something that was very meaningful in the community,” said Houston.

Houston created a fellowship with the IRE in 2012 to honor Dietz’s powerful legacy of financial investigative journalism. “It was the fastest, easiest fellowship to establish in all my time. He was so admired by so many people. I believe it set the record for donations needed to establish it,” said Houston.

Houston remembered the best piece of advice he received from Dietz as being variations of “this too shall pass.”

Dietz passed away from cancer at the age of 70.

Pooja Kodavanti, from Apex, N.C., is studying business journalism and economics in the Class of 2015 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
Mark Haines

Mark Haines

By Max Miceli

With his jacket unbuttoned and red tie exposed for all to see, Mark Haines took off his glasses and leaned on the left arm of his chair toward his co-anchor Erin Burnett during CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on March 10, 2009, in the middle of the recession.

Speaking with a conversational tone that almost encouraged viewers to speak back at him through the TV, the late anchor remarked with confidence, “I’m going to step out on a limb here… I think we’re at a bottom. I really do.”

“I think we’re going to have a rally,” Haines said. “In other words, I think today this is for real.”

And he was right. The market began a rally that has continued five years later.

Haines, who had been with CNBC since 1989 and helped make the network what it is today, wasn’t just making a random guess. Citing his research and conceding possible refutations, Haines assured viewers in a way that only he could.

It was Haines’ in-depth research and genuine care for investors that helped make analysts such as Jim Cramer, who admits to taking the “what would Mark Haines do?” approach when he searches for answers to economic phenomena.

“That’s was him at his best,” Cramer said in a 2013 episode of “Mad Money.” “He recognized that things had gotten out of hand… He had his totems.”

“(His research) is what made him so darn sure of himself.”

As someone who’s seen Haines at his best, Cramer knows that sometimes the key to helping give investors advice is to approach analysis with the same skepticism and rigor as Haines did.

It was that true craving for the truth and knowledge in clutch moments that made Haines not only a great researcher but also an unflappable and highly demanding interviewer.

“Mark was really at his best in times of crisis,” Sanford Cannold, former supervising producer of “Squawk on the Street,” said. “On an ordinary day Mark might not have been his best.

“But Mark was kind of a playoff player.”

It was that clutch gene that allowed Haines to be relentless when asking questions in interviews where he demanded respect — and answers.

“A lot of anchors today are scared to ask the tough questions in an interview. That was Mark’s hallmark,” said Darren Rovell, who started working for CNBC as a sports business reporter in 2006. “The guy was completely fearless and didn’t shy away from asking the blunt question.

“That’s what made him the Everyman that he was.”

Rovell added that this bluntness gave Haines a knack for stealing the show on occasion. Simply put, Haines had a knack for the theater of television.

“I’ll never forget when I interviewed Mets executive Dave Howard on Opening Day at CitiField,” Rovell said. “In the middle of the interview, the producer says in my ear that Mark wants to ask a question.

“The next thing I know, Mark, who was a big Mets fan, is telling Dave Howard how much the team stinks live on our air.”

That was Haines. He loved his Mets. He loved his kids. He loved lacrosse. He loved his nicknames.

That was how you knew you were in with him. From David Faber, “the Brain” to Sandy Cannold “Sandman,” Haines was never slow to come up with a nickname for a colleague or even compliment them on air.

When they looked good, so did he. That was his philosophy.

So one could imagine that, when long-time co-anchor Burnett decided to leave for CNN in May 2011 after years of sitting next to Haines, it was tough to leave the always-authentic catalyst of CNBC without a teary goodbye.

“The day before Erin’s last show I told Mark, ‘You should prepare for Erin to cry,’” Cannold said.

“You’re crazy Sandman,” Haines replied. “She’s not going to cry.”

And as the show came toward its end, Haines’ predict seemed to be coming to fruition.

With relative composure, Burnett recalled her time with Haines handing him small sentimental trinkets as gifts to remind him of the time they spent together in hopes that she could maybe find a way to repay the man she claimed taught her everything.

Before she could give a final word, before she could say goodbye, Haines did what Haines does.

Taking Burnett’s hand, he stole the show.

“Coming to work for the last five and a half years has been an absolute joy,” Haines said on air for all the viewers to see. “You’re the best… We’re going to miss you a lot.

“…I’m going to go home and cry.”

Not much later in that month, on May 24, 2011, Haines died unexpectedly of congestive heart failure in his home at age 65.

The following day there was a moment of silence on the trading room floor in honor of the man who demanded respect from guests and always fought for his audience’s money in a theatrical manner.

Haines was gone, but the lessons he left for the Cramer’s and Burnett’s of the world stayed.

And Cramer quite possible portrayed that sentiment in the most concise yet accurate way possible in a statement published the day after Haines’ death on

“He was the standard.”

Max Miceli is a High Point, N.C., native and business journalism major in the Class of 2015 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
Popper Family Archives

John Dierdorff

By George Verity

With the gentle touch of an iron pen, the epitome of business journalism in the 1900s was transcended by no other than Jack Dierdorff, a man whose journalism career lasted more than seven decades.

Forever known to his colleagues as the editor who never took off his suit jacket or to loosen his tie, the formality of Dierdorff’s presences was never mistaken for nothing less than friendly and supportive — an anomaly among editors .

“Different from any editor I had before, Jack wasn’t rough around the edges — he was refined,” said Joseph Weber, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and former colleague at BusinessWeek. “His style was very gentlemen like. In his memos, Jack consistently used the word ‘kindly’ to end each note to reporters regarding any suggestions or corrections.”

Dierdorff’s innate ability to value the integrity of journalists and a higher standard of accountability stems from a long commitment to journalism.  Dierdorff’s journalism career began at a small weekly newspaper he created in Portland, Ore., before ending as a consulting editor with the online edition of BusinessWeek.

In 1949, Dierdorff graduated from Yale and returned to Portland as a reporter.  Dierdorff later became the assistant editor of The Oregonian newspaper. Dierdorff joined BusinessWeek in 1956 and was managing editor at the time of his retirement in 1993.

“Jack was a commanding presence at BusinessWeek,” said Sarah Bartlett, dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a former BusinessWeek staffer. “He was the one who everyone went to when they had an ethical dilemma.  He held himself to very high standards and that made everyone around him aspire to meet them as well.”

According to Steve Shepard, former dean at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek, Dierdorff was the editor of the front-of-the book section – the 10 pages of news stories that ran near the front of the magazine that were the last to close every week when he started at the magazine.  Shepard noted Dierdorff responsibilities were to solicit story ideas from the staff, then nurture the stories along in phone calls and meetings, and finally edit the stories, pick the pictures, brainstorm the charts and graphs.

“He stayed late every Tuesday night and barely had time to breathe all day Wednesday as everything came together,” said Shepard. “To a kid like me, he was a teacher, a gentleman, and a role model.  I couldn’t imagine anyone better to work with.”

Shepard added that his decision to come back to BusinessWeek later in his career was because of Dierdorff.  Together as editor-in-chief and managing editor in the 1980s, respectively, Shepard and Dierdorff transformed BusinessWeek into a top-notch business journalism publication with a readership that grew to more than 6 million.

“Shepard had the vision, and Jack got things done,” said Weber.  “Jack acted as the bridge for BusinessWeek.”

Bartlett added Dierdorff was apolitical and only interested in the betterment of the magazine.  He was unflappable in the midst of deadline pressure.

“He could always weigh the pros and cons of a situation with precision and come down on the side of right,” Bartlett noted.  “He made it seem effortless, but his ability to navigate thorny problems with such equanimity was impressive.”

Dierdorff who in 1987 testified that McGraw-Hill suspected a leak in of the “Inside Wall Street” column, prompted a review of security procedures of the company’s publication in which he worked for — BusinessWeek.

“Sometimes, it fell to Jack to be the tough cop,” said Shepard.

According to Shepard, Dierdorff contacted him in August 1988, while he was on a trip to Los Angeles.  Shepard said Dierdorff received a phone call from the New York Stock Exchange with information implicating the magazine’s radio broadcaster, Rudy Ruderman, in insider trading.

Shepard said Dierdorff confronted Ruderman, who denied the accusations despite the evidence.  However, Dierdorff fired Ruderman, and a few months later, Ruderman pleaded guilty to illegal insider trading and was sentenced to six months in jail.

After the McGraw-Hill scandal, Dierdorff received the 1992 Elliot Bell Award from the New York Financial Writers’ Association.  Dierdorff then served as a consultant for 15 years, helping the magazine develop its online strategy.

“For a wordsmith who cherished the printed page, Jack was remarkably adept at embracing technological change,” said Shepard.  “He helped oversee the pioneering Atex editing system that BusinessWeek adopted in the early 1980s.”

“He was willing to embrace technology and throw himself into the deep end,” said Bartlett. “Very few people would have been so open to that exploration.”

Shepard said Dierdorff was a product of a bygone era.

“I prefer to think that the integrity and values he stood for are really eternal verities, the sort of things we should all aspire to,” said Shepard.  “I was proud to be his friend and colleague for so many years.  For all of us, he remains a living paragon, an example for the ages.”

Dierdorff died Aug. 8, 2013, at the Baptist Home in Rhinebeck after a long illness. He was 85. Jack’s friend and partner of over 40 years, Alonzo Smith Jr., died in 2011. Dierdorff is survived by his brother David Dierdorff and sister-in-law Madeleine Lefebvre, of Juneau, AK; two nieces; a nephew; and 10 great-nieces and great-nephews.

George Verity is a native of Bay Shore, N.Y., and a public relations major in the Class of 2014 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.