American History of Business Journalism

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In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
John Curran

John Curran

By Nick Shchetko

When Richard Teitelbaum, an investigative financial journalist, was drafting a plan to visit his old friend and colleague John Curran on the first Saturday of August 2013, he didn’t know it was not destined to happen.

John Jude Curran, 59, a prominent business journalist and editor, passed away July 5, 2013, at his home in Weston, Conn. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in May 2012.

Curran was born in the Bronx, New York, on Nov. 21, 1953. He graduated from Bard College in 1975, with a bachelor’s degree in languages and literature. Curran started his career at the Wall Street Transcript, but is best known for work at Fortune, the magazine he joined in 1978.

In more than a three-decade career span, Curran wrote himself and directed coverage of business, investing and finance for Mutual Funds magazine, Fortune and, to name a few.

Curran was also appearing extensively on television, as a business commentator on the “NBC News at Sunrise” television program. He left Time Inc. to join Bloomberg News in late 2010 as a senior writer for Bloomberg Markets magazine. His most recent position was news director at

Curran excelled in coverage of international markets. He won the Overseas Press Club Award for Japan coverage, and a Time Inc. Luce Award for commissioning and publishing a story on the threat of global terrorism coming to the US, half a year before 9/11 attack.

Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune, who worked with Curran in 1980s and 1990s, said that “John was a very smart … and creative guy.”

“Sometimes you would think of creativity is being a great cellist … but journalist can be creative too, and he was,” Serwer said. “He would really study and find new ways to cover investing and Wall Street, and so, he was very creative that way.”

Curran realized the importance of Eugene Fama’s work on markets and asset pricing before it became a hot topic and long before 2013, when Fama became a Nobel Prize laureate. “John was sure very early on discovering the importance of this work,” Serwer said.

“A rare journalist. Great intelligence, great integrity, great wordsmith,” said Steven Mintz, financial writer and author, who remained in touch with Curran for almost two decades.

As the editor, Curran was tough and demanding, his colleagues agree.

“He was … a somewhat overbearing boss, to be frank,” said Teitelbaum, who started worked with Curran in 1989 at Fortune.

He had a “good bullshit detector,” said Serwer. “When you were trying to like coast or get by, he’d picked up on it right away and call you on it.”

John Huey, the former editor-in-chief of Time Inc., who worked with Curran in Fortune, in a comment to Bloomberg said that “John … never took the cheap route to a conclusion or a story.”

“He was famously inflexible with deadlines,” said Teitelbaum. “To the point where you’d be there at 12.30 at night and he’d say: “I need that when I come in at 7.”

Curran was “an inextricable workaholic” with “a little bit of machismo,” Teitelbaum said. He recalled that once after appendicitis operation, Curran was back in the office on the next day.

“John was driven … Sometimes people, you know, go through the motions, I wouldn’t say that ever about him,” said Serwer.

Ruchika Tulshyan, who interned at Time in the summer of 2010, said that despite she was one of the youngest interns, Curran noticed her passion for business writing and encouraged her to pitch stories.

“He would work with me tirelessly to polish my ideas,” said Tulshyan. By the end of her internship, she said that one of her business stories became the most read story of the month on

“He gave me a chance at a time when many editors just viewed interns as rotating summer help … He continues to be the benchmark when I work with editors,” said Tulshyan.

While tough as the boss, “John the friend and father was warm, funny, emotional and fiercely loyal,” said Rik Kirkland in a comment to WestportNow. Kirkland, now with McKinsey, joined Fortune with Curran in the fall of 1978.

Teitelbaum recalls that when he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1994, Curran became supportive: “he came down with a colleague and visited me the first day there.”

“He was a brilliant, well-respected finance writer who had studied drama at Bard, favored khakis and tennis shoes, and admitted with amusement that his own finances were a mess. You just had to love him, and everybody did,” said Nancy Perry Graham, his lifelong friend and former colleague at Fortune.

“Nobody made me laugh harder than John. His ability to pinpoint the absurdities of life, with a wry, clever aside, was unequaled,” she said.

Curran is survived by his wife, Joan, and their four children: Alissa, Alexandra, Joanna, and John Richard Curran.

“If ever two people were perfect for each other, it was John and Joan,” said Graham.

Family was immensely important to Curran. “He was spending an enormous amount of time … with his siblings, his extended family. It seemed to be a really happy big Irish family,” said Teitelbaum.

In January 2013 Curran wrote in a short piece for that his diagnosis didn’t make him unhappy: “At its core, my happiness rests on a spiritual life, a sense of purpose and — oh, yes — a sense of humor. In this life, where beauty fades, wealth wreaks more havoc than happiness and death awaits us all, if you can’t laugh about the journey’s ups and downs, you’ll fret. And who wants to worry?”

Nick Shchetko is a journalist from Belarus who has been covering technology companies in print and online media since 2001. A Muskie Fellow, Nick is working on his master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In: Stories 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
Alfred Malabre

Alfred Malabre

By Alex Dixon

Born in New York City in 1931, Alfred Malabre wrote for The Wall Street Journal for 36 years, from 1958 to 1994. He’s written seven books about the economy and is currently living in Charleston, S.C., where he still occasionally writes about golf for the Journal’s Encore page.

He spoke with UNC-Chapel Hill student Alex Dixon about how he covered the economy, his thoughts on the state of journalism, and learning about gold from the man who inspired the Goldfinger character in the James Bond film.

What drew you to economics reporting?

My father gave me a six-month subscription to the Journal, which I never read, and I think he hoped I’d go to work on Wall Street or something instead. I thought hey this is a damn good paper and this is when the Journal’s circulation was just beginning to take off. So I decided to apply to this place. So instead of going to work on Wall Street I ended up working in Europe and going all over the world. The managing editor offered me the chance to start an economic beat, and I grew to like it very much. But I didn’t major in economics in college; I was an English major. But I discovered there’s a lot of meat there.

Where did your grasp on economics come from without the background in it?

It was really just osmosis and a lot of reading. A lot of hard work. A lot of talking to important people. Because I worked for the Wall Street Journal, that opened a lot of doors. When I was wet behind the ears on the new beat, the managing editor said you ought to try to learn something about gold. So I called up Charlie Engelhard, who ran a huge gold investment company and he was the model for Goldfinger in the James Bond film.

He gave me a lot of knowledge that he had about how the gold market works, how gold is mined. But gold isn’t as important anymore. Some of my early stories were very naïve. For example, I once wrote a story which appeared in the paper that said because people were borrowing more and going deeper into debt this was a bad thing but actually if you go deeper into the data over decades you’ll find that borrowing is good for the economy.

What kind of stories were you writing? Were you strictly covering the economy? Were you making economic predictions?

Well, it wasn’t so much predictions as it was analysis of data. And I used to interview people like Arthur Burns and Alan Greenspan. So I would say it was a combination of analysis, a little bit of forecasting, but mainly sort of taking stuff and very often I would try to find something that was important but hadn’t been really written about. In 1968, one of the things that the Democrats were saying was that the Republicans are the millionaire’s party and blah blah.

And I went back and got some statistics and I discovered that actually rich people do better under the Democrats than they do under the Republicans. And that’s still true today, by the way. The easy money policy of the Fed has enabled people who are wealthy enough to own stocks to do very, very well. People of more limited means tend to keep their money in savings accounts and CDs and that sort of stuff and because the rate of the expansionary money policy of the Fed has kept interest rates so low, people with those sort of savings are getting very slim return on their money.

On the other hand, someone who has more money and tends to invest more in stocks would’ve made a killing. But anyways, that’s the sort of stuff I looked for. I tried to be very impartial and I’ve never been a registered Republican or a registered Democrat. I pretty much tried to call it as I saw it.

How were you were able to bring economics to a relatable level for readers?

The Wall Street Journal is not a technical newspaper. We don’t print economic formulas or econometrics. If I got an economic study from Brookings or something, I could at least understand what they were talking about but then I had to translate that to a language that the layman could understand. That was a very important part of the job. I think that’s very important in journalism in general. And the first book I ever wrote was precisely trying to make economics understandable. In fact, the title of it was Understanding the Economy for People who Can’t Stand Economics.

What were your inspirations for your seven books?

I never thought I’d write any books. And I was approached by a guy who was the editor of a firm that’s now defunct. He sent me a letter and said “I’ve been reading your column and we think you write very clearly. We think there’s a market for a book that’s sort of understanding economics for the layman.” So I said sure, what the heck. And the last book, Lost Prophets, I think that’s the most sophisticated of the books I wrote, was written for Harvard Business School Press.  And that was more academic. It has been used not as a textbook, but as supplementary reading in a number of economics courses.

And in Lost Prophets, you kind of introduce the reader to various economists from the last century, correct?

Lost Prophets really begins in post World War II beginning with the Bretton Woods Conference. The first chapter’s about the international monetary system and it really goes one through the different theories: you know supply side economics, etc. And the basic theme of the book is that economists become so absorbed in this theory or that theory that they tend to forgot that there’s a basic pattern to economic activity. And they can tweak it but they can’t really change things that much.

It seems people get unhappy with these theories and they get replaced or discredited to an extent, for example with Keynesian economics in the ’70s. So how do you think economics coverage has changed over the years that you’ve done it and how is it continuing to change?

Well, I think it’s still good. I don’t read a heck of a lot of papers anymore. When I worked I used to get free subscriptions to everything under the sun but now the only thing I don’t have to pay for is the Wall Street Journal. I think the Journal’s coverage is good. The Journal’s changed a bit since I was in it. I guess with Murdoch now they have guys all over the world.

When I went abroad in 1960, we had a grand total of four guys covering the whole of Europe. And in those days newspapers weren’t pinching pennies like they are now. Heck, I used to stay at the Ritz. No more, those days are over. I’m not too optimistic about print journalism in general although I love it. In the morning, there’s no way in hell I’m going to sit in front of the computer to read the Wall Street Journal. I want to hold something in my hands.

Alex Dixon, a native of Gastonia, N.C., is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in economics and journalism.

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments
Austin Wehrwein

Austin Wehrwein

By Chris Conway

Austin C. Wehrwein was in a hotel room, somewhere in Canada.

The year was 1952.  He’d been given an assignment from his newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal, to write about the economic boom in Canada.

The bookish man, with thick-rimmed glasses and degrees in economics and law, was typing. He was working on a story about the Canadian economy – something many Americans had never heard about.

Wehrwein would do this 25 times across Canada. The series of stories that resulted would win him a Pulitzer Prize.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1953 for a series called “Canada’s New Century.”

“The 20th century belongs to Canada,” wrote Wehrwein in the first article of the series. Wehrwein thought it was important to tell the story of Canada’s development to Americans. Canada held a wealth of natural resources and was growing rapidly.

“[America] must face the fact that while we grow poorer by the hour in natural resources, Canada grows richer,” wrote Wehrwein.

The Canada Wehrwein described was the first exposure many Americans had to the country. It was a burgeoning economy filled with plentiful natural resources.

According to an obituary in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Canadian officials said the series was a “most lucid and observant account” of the Canadian economy.

Wehrwein’s colorful and engaging writing made the stories approachable to American readers.

“The writer’s leg work, plus good writing and know-how brings our neighbor to the north into the house,” the Pulitzer jury said, putting Wehrwein’s series at the top of their list.

The success didn’t come overnight, though. Wehrwein bridged the gap between law, politics, business and opinion over the course of his career, writing for a string of publications.

“He was a bit of a loner,” said Judith Wehrwein, Austin’s wife.  “Journalism and his job were his first, second and third priorities.”

Wehrwein earned a degree in economics in 1937 from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree from Columbia University in 1940.

Although he passed the Wisconsin bar exam, but he went into journalism after spending his adolescence working at newspapers – first as the editor of his high school newspaper, then as a university correspondent for The Milwaukee Journal in college.

“He never really got away from his interest in journalism,” said Judith Wehrwein, adding that he never actually practiced law.

He worked at the Associated Press’ Madison, Wis., bureau and the United Press’ Washington, D.C., bureau prior to World War II. He covered the government and the Supreme Court.

During the war, he worked in public affairs for the military. His work in public affairs took him to Europe and China; he met his future wife, Judith, in London while working as part of the Marshall Plan.

“He was interested in the world,” said Judith.

In 1951, Wehrwein, newly married to Judith, returned to the United States and wrote for the Milwaukee Journal’s business desk. He would quickly win the Pulitzer.

After winning the Pulitzer, he had stints as a writer at Time magazine and The New York Times and as business editor for The Chicago Sun-Times.

In 1966, he started as an editorial writer at The Minneapolis Star.

Being an editorial writer perhaps fit Wehrwein best. Beats were loose, and he could write about whatever topics he found interesting. Often, those topics were the law, economics, higher education and politics.

“He was an exceptional observer of American society and all its expressions,” said Kate Stanley, a former editorial writer at The Star. “He could find interesting stories in an empty cardboard box.”

Whenever Wehrwein wanted to slip out of the office to find his next story, he would sling a spare overcoat over his desk chair and place a spare pair of galoshes by the door, giving the impression that he was simply elsewhere in the office.

But instead he could be gone for hours, sitting in on meetings or wandering around downtown Minneapolis, looking for something he found interesting, said Stanley.

He was curious. He was bright. He wanted to tell a good story, and he wanted to tell the truth.

“He started [his journalism career] telling the truth he felt needed to be told,” said Stanley. “But his career evolved so that he ended up interpreting the truth that he felt everyone should know.”

Wehrwein retired from The Minneapolis Star in 1982, but continued to write for a number of publications into his 80s.

Wehrwein died in 2008. He was 92.

Chris Conway is a journalism and political science major from Wilmington, N.C., in the Class of 2015 at UNC-Chapel Hill.