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