American History of Business Journalism

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In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
jerry heaster

Jerry Heaster

By Kelci Hight

Jerry Heaster had a nose for news, real news.

In 2006, he became the fourth recipient of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers President’s Award for his longstanding commitment to excellence in business journalism.

Heaster served as the society’s president at a time when journalism, specifically business journalism, was struggling. He was given a roster of 150 members, but found that only a third were interested in being involved.

“SABEW owes him and our other early leaders a great debt for their vision to see the need of educating workers to our craft,” said Jonathan Lansner, former SABEW president.

Today, thanks to modern communication conveniences, the society has a roster of more than3,500 members, a number that would make Heaster proud. The organization was important to him for its sense of community.

He once said one reason he was attracted to SABEW was that business journalists had no place to learn the craft. “Business was a backwater in those days,” said Hester. “If you were the kind of person who wanted to do your job well, you had almost no place to turn for help. SABEW changed that.”

He was born as Gerald David Heaster in the traditional West Virginia home of Gerald and Virginia Heaster on May 10,1938. He graduated from South Charleston High School in 1956 and immediately enlisted in the Army.

While he was stationed in South Korea, Heaster worked for the Pacific Stars & Stripes. When he was honorably discharged, he chose to remain in the Far East and began working for the Okinawa Morning Star.

The Morning Star was the daily newspaper that English-speakers relied on in the Far East. Heaster held many positions there, ranging from news editor to out-on-the-town society columnist. After marrying and having two children in Okinawa, he returned to the United States and began working on the business desk at The Journal Herald in Dayton, Ohio.

In 1979, he was hired as a business editor for the Kansas City Star. By 1990, he was writing his own column full-time.

Heaster was, as they say, a “consummate professional,” according to his Kansas City Star co-worker, Keith Chrostowski. “He was always even-keeled and polite to all his readers and colleagues.” Heaster had a broad following and kept each letter he received. Once a year at Christmas, he would publicly thank his readers.

Heaster elevated The Star’s business coverage at a crucial time for the newspaper. The Baby Boomer generation was maturing and paying closer attention to the economy.

Chrostowski says he most admired Heaster for always coming up with three columns a week. “Even when retreading familiar ground,” he said. “He was always able to provide fresh insights.”

Heaster thought of himself as a local reporter and was humbled that SABEW would honor his work, but many agreed that his column extended beyond Kansas.

“I have just loved this job, and working with the people in this business,” Heaster said when accepting his award in 2006. “I never did this for recognition, but SABEW’s decision to honor me is unexpected and wonderful.”

In his 27-year career, Heaster wrote 5,000 columns. He won both critics and fans for his unwavering support of the free market and conservative ideals, but he held disdain for the label. It was too simplistic.

Heaster is remembered for his willingness to listen and help educate others. “He was always ready to help less experienced business reporters decipher earnings reports or explain complex topics simply,” said Chrostowski.

He personally influenced Chrostowski by helping him to realize that business and economic coverage is a vital part of the newspaper and a worthy career path, something Heaster believed to his core.

Beyond business reporting, his interests included reading, drinking, listening to good country music and playing golf. In 2000, he published, “Jerry Heaster’s Guide to Kansas City Golf.”

He was a man who pursued his passions.

Heaster suffered a long illness that included esophageal cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He didn’t request a memorial service and in lieu flowers, the family suggested contributions to SABEW.

Randy Smith was Heaster’s boss and president of SABEW in 1992. He told the society that he remembers Jerry buried behind a newspaper, back in the days when everything was in print, the days before the Internet.

“Jerry represented an era that has since passed us by,” Smith said. “But he continues to inspire us.”

Kelci Hight is a native of Raleigh, N.C., and a broadcast and electronic journalism major in the Class of 2015 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
Dick Turpin

Dick Turpin

By Chelsey Dulaney

Most people remember Dick Turpin as a pioneer of real estate reporting; a jovial, welcoming editor; a vestige of old-school journalism.

Tales of his savvy abound: He did, after all, transform The Los Angeles Times’ real estate section from an advertising insert to a massive weekly editorial section, sometimes 50 to 60 pages long — and in doing so, changed what real estate sections looked like at newspapers across the country.

The Times’ Sunday section was named the best in the country three times under his leadership and was consistently ranked in the top five by the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

But what most people won’t tell you is that Turpin was also something of a fashion icon.

When Turpin was real estate editor at The Times — a position he held for 22 years — the men’s fashion trend of the time was to wear a long-sleeved shirt and tie to work. In the Los Angeles heat, this ensemble could be oppressive.

“He boldly decided to wear a tie with a short-sleeved shirt,” said Lauren Beale, who worked as a real estate reporter under Turpin from 1980 to 1983. “By showing up to work like that, other men thought, ‘Oh I could do that.’”

He wasn’t always “Turpin,” as most of his reporters and co-workers came to know him. Born in Turkey in 1919 as Dick Tarpinian, he changed his last name early in his journalism career.

After serving in the Marines during World War II, Turpin worked as the city editor at the Burbank Daily Review before he was hired by The Los Angeles Times in 1948 as a reporter-photographer.

He would spend 41 years — the rest of his career — at The Times, where he worked as a reporter, education editor and, finally, as real estate editor.

When he took the position in 1967, Turpin had no background in real estate journalism. But he brought with him a range of accolades, among them a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for local reporting.

He was tasked with taking the section, essentially an advertorial, from the advertising department and infusing it with independent coverage by publisher Otis Chandler, who was leading a transformation of his own.

Chandler served as The Times’ publisher from 1960 to 1980 and oversaw its expansion from a business-to-business publication to a consumer-focused newspaper with broad coverage areas.

“It was a natural following,” said Beale, who writes The Times’ celebrity real estate column today. “Let’s have editorial independence because we can. Let’s offer different subjects that people are interested in.”

On Turpin’s real estate desk, these old and new perspectives came together.

Turpin had a staff of seven — unheard of for a real estate section at that time — and together they produced a massive weekly section. The section was mostly comprised of press releases sent in by local real estate agents and groups, but also showcased feature-length cover stories.

It made perfect business sense: an independent editorial section allowed The Times to charge a premium for ads while also giving increasingly-savvy readers more content to engage with.

“That section got so big, at one point, we had a 64-page section — and that’s broadsheet,” Beale said. “It was pretty remarkable. It was a heyday for selling real estate ads.”

On the other side of the country, Lew Sichelman was the real estate editor of the Washington Daily News and later, The Washington Star. He, too, took part in this shift in real estate journalism.

“I don’t think it was a conscious shift by newspapers,” said Sichelman, who now writes a real estate column for United Feature Syndicate. “I think it was the guys who were in the trenches — Turpin, me — we all started turning it back into what newspapers were at that time.”

Evelyn De Wolfe, 91, worked on Turpin’s real estate section for 12 years and became its unofficial architecture expert.

“We were always getting recognition,” she said. “I think one of the reasons, quite frankly, is because he invited his staff to generate ideas. I think that’s the big secret. Sometimes he’d say ‘Come on in here, I want to ask you your opinion,’ which is rare among editors.”

Turpin retired in 1989 and in 2008, The Times’ real estate section folded. He died in December 2010 at the age of 91.

De Wolfe remembers the time she spent working under Turpin as the golden years of journalism.

“We were very close and enjoyed journalism so much, especially in those days,” she said. “We didn’t have cell phones or anything else. We just had our typewriters and boy, we better get it in by deadline.”

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
Robert Nichols

Robert Nichols

By Scott Sewell

Robert “Bob” Nichols is most notably known for his tenure at the Los Angeles Times from 1961 to 1968 as the financial editor.

Nichols believed Los Angeles would become home to major businesses and financial centers, similar to New York. He helped improve the Times financial section to attract and cover businesses in the area. Because of his commitment to Los Angeles, Nichols successfully enhanced the quality and breadth of the financial section, placing the Times in the national contention for premium financial information.

While working for the Times, Nichols won the Loeb Award in 1964 for his exceptional financial reporting, presented by the University of Connecticut (since 1973, the University of California, Los Angeles presents the award).

Nichols won the award for a multi-part series, “Price of Security.” The series reported on the large price the United States had to pay for security during the Cold War. Nichols said, “But inevitably, these human situations — to be understood or appraised economically — must be translated into man power, money and — motivation.”

At the beginning of his tenure at the Times, Nichols wrote majority of his articles on companies and industries in southern California and the West Coast.

He covered chemical sales, electronic components and blue chips, airline manufacturers and the hopeful computer industry. However, Nichols shifted his writings to cover more national financial news. Stories about the gold policy for the United States, world trade, international affects on business and the Federal Reserve dominated Nichols’ stories in his last two years at the Times.

Although he continued to publish some California-specific articles scattered in his latter years, Nichols’ transition from regional to national reporting shows he was successful in building a national following and expanding the financial section, becoming a major financial section for economic coverage.

Additionally, Nichols was a founder of the Society of American Business Writers in 1964, and became the organization’s president in 1967. Being one of the founders and figureheads, Nichols was instrumental in developing the organization to its current size and credibility that it maintains today.

The organization, now known as the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, was founded to emphasize exceptional business and economic coverage. It currently has more than 3,000 members.

Myron Kandel, founding financial editor of CNN and former SABEW president, said Nichols helped to begin formulating SABEW’s Code of Ethics, the first code of ethics for a specialized journalism organization.

After leaving the Times in 1968, Nichols worked at the Federal Reserve as a special assistant to the Board of Governors.

He left the Fed in 1970 and took the director of editorial services at Bank of America. In 1973, Nichols was promoted to director of public relations at Bank of America, where he recommended the bank to publish its Corporate Disclosure Code, an unheard move at the time in the world of commerce. Nichols served as public relations director until he retired in 1985.

Nichols was born in 1925 in Daytona Beach, Fla. He moved to the West Coast when he attended San Diego State University and became involved in local journalism organizations.

In 1996, Nichols died from cancer at the age of 71 in San Francisco, Calif.

During his brief interactions with Nichols, Kandel remembered him being a great guy to be around and a well-respected journalist.

Kandel said Nichols was “one of the outstanding business editors of his time.”

Scott Sewell is a native of Wilmington, N.C., and a business journalism major in the Class of 2015 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.