American History of Business Journalism

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In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments

Jeffrey Zaslow

By Michelle Neeley

Tucked in among the business and economic news of the day in The Wall Street Journal are light and quirky stories, a nod to the reader, showing that the Journal recognizes their humanity and their desire to see a side of life that is lighter than just bright financial futures.

The A-hed spot on the front page is coveted by Journal reporters, and for Jeffrey Zaslow, it was one of the reasons he began writing for the paper.

In 1983, the young reporter took a job with the Journal as a commodities reporter.

“He had a very, kind of geeky business beat writing about futures and stuff like that. From very early on, he had his sights set on the A-hed feature,” Zaslow’s colleague and future editor, Mike Miller, said.  “He was always trying to find ways to get into that slot, whether it was directly from his beat or something on the side that he would find. For years, that was his home.”

One of his A-hed features he was about a national contest to replace the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ann Landers, a nationally syndicated advice columnist that was leaving the Sun-Times for a job at the Chicago Tribune. As part of his approach to writing the story, he entered the contest and ended up winning.

Zaslow left the Journal for the Sun-Times in 1987, where he remained for 14 years as an advice columnist.

“He turned it into a completely different kind of column,” his wife Sherry Margolis said. “It was still an advice column, but he made it interactive. He made it funny and unorthodox and different—it was great.”

During his time with the Sun-Times, Zaslow also led many fundraising efforts. For 12 years, he put on an event called Zazz Bash, a pre-online dating era singles party, that raised money for homeless shelters and other charities. The Zazz Bashes resulted in 78 marriages.

After his position at the Sun-Times was eliminated, Zaslow returned to the Journal and began writing “Moving On,” a column in the Personal Journal section that focused on life transitions.

“In those columns his personality was so obvious because he wrote with such compassion and such sensitivity and such heart,” Margolis said.

As a father to three daughters, Zaslow was in tune with family matters and would incorporate personal experiences into his articles.

“He was very much aware of the issues that girls face. He was sensitive to that and he wrote about all these things that girls worry about like body image, dating and self esteem,” Margolis said.

His oldest daughter, Jordan Zaslow, reflected on a particular time when he was writing an article about the words ‘I love you.’

“Everywhere he went, he would ask people about how they felt, and it was fun to hear people’s responses. It was cute how invested he was in the story and the length he would take to get the story and get people’s opinions,” Jordan Zaslow said.

“He was a very special human being and those special qualities were reflected in his writing,” Margolis said.

Zaslow was able to write in such a way that the five million readers of the Journal would feel like he was talking to each one of them individually, Miller said.

“Even after he became a bestselling author and was juggling book projects, he very intensely wanted to maintain his connection with the Journal,” Miller said.

Zaslow began his career as an author with a book called The Last Lecture, inspired by a column that he wrote about a dying Carnegie Mellon professor.

While touring for his final book, The Magic Room, he was killed in a car crash in northern Michigan at the age of 53.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Zaslow was an ‘A-hed-like’ reporter. Filled with wit, charisma and compassion he was the type of person that was genuinely interested in others, Margolis said.

“The really remarkable thing is that he wrote for this financial newspaper,” Margolis said. “People read The Wall Street Journal to find out about who’s taking over what company and how their stocks are doing. His column took off because that was what people were hoping for.  Humans read that paper, and they are looking for more than just stock and financial information.”

And Zaslow delivered.

Michelle Neeley is a native of Tampa, Fla., and a business journalism major in the Class of 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments

Ben Schifman

By Olivia Lanier

Ben Schifman, longtime financial reporter and executive of The Kansas City Star, committed himself to raising the standards of business journalism.

Born in Kansas City on April 20, 1913, Schifman attended Humboldt and Manual Training High, quitting before graduation to help support his brothers and sisters when the nation fell on hard times.

He later attended night school at the Kansas City Junior College, law school, and the American Institute of Banking.

Schifman wed Mary Lapin in 1937, and their marriage would last 61 years until he passed away on Sept. 23, 1998.

Schifman’s son, Bill, said that as a young child, his dad sold newspapers for pocket change.

“It gets very cold in Kansas City in the winter and my dad didn’t have gloves, so his fingers would stick to the coins when he placed his hands in his pockets.”

For this reason, Schifman never carried coins, even when he grew older and became the largest stockholder of The Kansas City Star.

Schifman began working at The Star in 1934 as a temp, reporting on produce, livestock, and grain and moved on to the banking and corporate reporting end in 1935.  With the help of willing mentors, he became financial editor in 1954.

In 1936, Schifman started The Star’s first daily financial column.

“I believe the daily financial column, ‘On the Financial Front,’ is what made my father unique,” Bill said.  “It wasn’t like today with the internet.  For 47 years, my father would walk downtown to the financial district in search of articles.  He would go from business to business, meeting all the owners and would write stories on them.”

Janet Meyer-Miller, a longtime coworker and eventual successor to Schifman, shared his daily routine in an obituary.  She said he would read The Wall Street Journal, smoke a cigar and make phone calls before trudging off in search of a story.

“I think that was my dad’s signature,” Bill said. “The way he handled the local Kansas City business.”

The problem for financial reporters at the time Schifman began his journalism career was the lack of laws governing the disclosure of financial information by publicly held companies.

Schifman became one of few reporters in the country who could establish approximate earnings and figures for various banking firms by figuring the differences in capital account numbers and bonuses paid.

Worried that his estimates were too low, firms decided to disclose their actual numbers.  This discovery made Schifman’s column well known for its detailed coverage of corporate finance.

In 1962, Schifman received the Gerald Loeb Award for predicting the crash of the stock market earlier that year.  He was named an “outstanding financial writer for his contribution to better understanding and appreciation of the American Free Enterprise system.”

Schifman also placed his efforts into buying the paper’s stock.

“My dad believed that because he was on the financial end of the paper, he could see what was a very good investment, so he was always trying to buy stock,” Bill said. “My mom always used to say, ‘Ben, I want to take a trip,’ but my dad would always say we couldn’t afford it, but mom knew this was because he kept buying Star stock.”

As the company’s leading shareholder, Schifman negotiated the sale of the newspaper to Capital Cities Communications Inc. in 1977.

Aside from the reporting end of the paper, Schifman also became involved in a number of executive roles.  He became investment editor in 1961, and in the following year, assistant treasurer. In 1968, he was elected treasurer and in 1971, financial vice-president.

He also played an instrumental role in the creation of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, serving as its second president from 1966-1967.

Schifman’s nephew, Edward, said that his uncle was known for his disheveled look.

“Regardless of what he had going on that day, an interview, meeting, etc., he’d always looked like he’d slept in his suit.  He didn’t care about impressing people, whether or not his tie was on properly, or his suits were neatly pressed.”

Schifman presented his financial stories similar to the way he presented himself.  He wasn’t concerned with reporting good or bad stocks; he didn’t try to make the market, that wasn’t his job.  His job was to report the market the way it stood, and that’s what he did.

“The legacy he left behind was integrity,” said Bill. “Over 47 years of reporting, he was never accused of doing anything illegal, having insider information.  He was a man of his word, and he always instilled in his kids that the only thing you really have is your name, so make sure you have a good one.”

Olivia Lanier is a native of Jacksonville, N.C., and a business journalism major in the class of 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In: Lives 08 Mar 2014 0 comments

Dan Hinson 2By Sarah Chaney

Hardly anyone in business journalism knew his name, but when he announced retirement, The Wall Street Journal’s managing editor pled, “But, but — we can’t do it without you.”

Dan Hinson remained invisible to most of The Journal’s news department and readership. During his 37 years with the paper, he never reported, never had a byline published or a big blockbuster story to puff up his ego.

But he liked it that way. It was part of his humility, said Judy Hinson, Dan Hinson’s wife of 55 years.

Dan Hinson’s behind-the-scenes role as a copy editor and later as an assisting managing editor for The Journal left a hidden imprint on one of the most widely read financial newspapers.

His core job as assistant managing editor was to get the newspaper out and serve as the key liaison between the advertising and news departments.

By the time of his retirement in 1997, The Journal had expanded from a one-section to a three-section newspaper with the establishment of European and Asian editions — expansions executed under the trudging, unseen work of the well-regarded editor.

Born in Yonkers, N.Y., Dan Hinson grew up in New Jersey towns. Dan Hinson’s father was a research analyst for one of the largest brokerage firms in New York, which sparked his interest in business.

Dan Hinson attended the University of Iowa, where he earned a degree in journalism and gained experience as the editor of his campus newspaper, propelling him in the direction of management from a young age.

“That’s where he really began his interest in that facet of the newspaper. He never had an interest in writing; he was always more interested in the managing aspect,” Judy Hinson said.

After one year of reporting for The Cedar Rapids Gazette, the only reporting job during his journalism career, he began his career at The Journal and held positions in news production in New York, Cleveland and White Oak, Md.

Dan Hinson and his wife moved back to New Jersey when he became a national news production manager in New York.

Equipped with sharp antennae for young talent, he recruited college journalists and was an avid recruiter of women to join the newsroom.

Dan Hinson died on Feb. 18, 2013, when he was 77 years old.

John Prestbo, former editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes, said Dan Hinson would primarily be remembered for his establishment of the European and Asian editions — for transforming an idea into a tangible thing.

“All that took a great deal of attention to detail, negotiating with people who had different agendas and making it work smoothly in the end,” Prestbo said.

At The Journal there was no link between the news and advertising departments with two exceptions. One was the publisher to whom both departments reported, and the other was Dan Hinson who worked closely with an advertising counterpart, Bob Higgins.

“It was a bit liking doing a daily jigsaw puzzle complicated by the fact that certain news columns had to run in certain places while certain ads required certain prepaid positions,” said Peter Kann, former CEO of Dow Jones & Co.

His ability to adapt to the fast-changing news environment was notable, said Jim Pensiero, a deputy managing editor for The Journal.

During his tenure at The Journal, Dan Hinson oversaw drastic changes in The Journal’s news production, which shifted from hot-metal composing to desktop publishing.

“He had to bridge those technologies,” Pensiero said. “He had to help us as a news organization. That’s always a battle — you can have the world’s greatest story, but if you don’t get it on a page, you don’t get it out.”

Prestbo said Dan Hinson took these technological changes in stride.

“I thought that for someone who was on the back half of his career, he was embracing of new things,” Prestbo said. “It all had to be integrated into this daily rush of stuff that all had to be settled into.”

Under the daily pressure of coordinating efforts between the advertising and news departments, Dan Hinson never lost his composure.

“He was always very nice, very accommodating, always pushing for that resolution,” Prestbo said. “I learned from Dan keep your cool. It may be urgent and important, and the clock may be ticking, but don’t lose your cool.”

But even though he was calm, cool and collected, Dan Hinson’s managerial duties necessitated bluntness at times.

“I wanted to get new dictionaries because ours were really out of date and beat,” Pensiero said.

“The guy who ran the numbers said, ‘we’re not going to do that.’ Dan chews this guy out and says, ‘what business do you think we’re in, buddy?’”

Dan Hinson was not afraid to confront coworkers when they violated his vision of collaboration at The Journal, Pensiero said.

“He would remind more egocentric people in the newsroom,” Pensiero said. “He would say, ‘you know what, you’re not as important as you think you are.’ And for some of those people, they really needed to hear that.

“I’ll tell you, Dan stood for something. He stood for The Wall Street Journal.”

Sarah Chaney is a native of Charlotte, N.C., and a business journalism and French major in the Class of 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.