Marketwatch editor: Most stories will now be less than 400 words
Jeremy Olshan was named the editor in chief of Marketwatch.com in May, and he raised eyebrows earlier this month when he banned photos of Wall Street traders on the stock market floor from the website.
Before becoming editor, Olshan was MarketWatch’s personal finance editor and had been responsible for the site’s fastest-growing coverage area and many of its most popular stories.
A 10-year veteran of News Corp., he worked for MarketWatch and SmartMoney.com following a seven-year stint at the New York Post, where his scoops included a construction worker’s effort to curse the new Yankee Stadium and the NYPD’s $1 million contract for new typewriters.
Before that he covered city hall for the Press of Atlantic City, and was the editor of the Queens Tribune. He’s a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia’s graduate school of journalism.
Olshan spoke by email with Talking Biz News about his job and about business journalism. What follows is an edited transcript.
What attracted you to becoming editor of MarketWatch?
Well, it was either this or obituaries. I’m not joking. In the strangest career crossroads of my life, an editor at the Wall Street Journal offered me the chance to write profiles of the departed along the lines of The Economist’s superb obits. But as I considered the opportunity, wondering what it would take to approach the sublime genius of, say, an Ann Wroe or Robert McG, the second, even more amazing offer came. So, did I want Gerry Baker to give me an editorship or give me death? It was a pretty much a no-brainer.
Who is the primary target audience for MarketWatch?
Everyone. Well, anyone who wants to make more informed decisions with their money, which I’d like to think is everyone. Our core readership remains the active investors who keep the MarketWatch home page open all day long to check in on data, their portfolios, and our real-time news feed. But we’ve seen our biggest growth this past year among topics such as personal finance, travel, and retirement.
How does MarketWatch differentiate itself from the other Dow Jones properties in Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal?
We are much freer than the WSJ – and by that I don’t just mean our lack of paywall. Digital-only since our founding nearly 17 years ago, we are also free of print. MarketWatch may never match WSJ in terms of scoops or the depth – and breadth — of its reporting, but we’re smaller, scrappier, and it’s easier for us to sling spaghetti at the wall.
We’re also freer in terms of attitude, voice, and personality. And we approach our stories through a different lens, filtering the news of the day through a single question: “What does this mean for individuals and their money?”
You’re a personal finance guy. What’s the best personal finance coverage out there today?
Well, aside from MarketWatch’s superb personal finance team, I think everyone should be reading WSJ’s Jason Zweig, New York Time’s Ron Lieber, and CNBC’s Kelli Grant (a MarketWatch alum). And for extra credit: Helaine Olen’s book “Pound Foolish,” which is just the kind of policing of bullshit we should all aspire to. That said, much of the best personal financial advice never changes — and we might all be better off reading 19th century novels.
What are your goals for MarketWatch going forward?
We need to reshape how markets and financial stories are told to better reflect how they are consumed. What do I mean by that? Like most news sites, MarketWatch still leans too heavily on the 750-word story — a legacy of print newspapers that has outlived its usefulness. We want to go shorter – and longer.
The majority of our stories will soon be under 400 words — breaking everything down into short bursts of news and insight that cut straight to what is most important to readers, without all the empty calories and filler journalists love to stuff in the sausage . We will also do longer, deep dives on important stories that warrant such treatment. This is the way the digital news is going: tall and venti, no more grande.
After five months on the job, what has surprised you about MarketWatch and its coverage?
I’m continually amazed by and feel privileged to work in a newsroom so full of talent and so devoid of jerks.
How does MarketWatch stand out among financial news websites?
It’s important to routinely ask the Passover question: Why is this site different from all other sites? We stand out by always remaining cognizant of the fact that people aren’t reading about financial news purely for academic edification: they want to know what it means for them and their money. We’re also fairly unique with our mix of real-time data, analysis at wire-service speed, the blend of news and commentary, and the goal of providing insight on every financial decision big and small.
Where are the areas that you’d like to increase or improve coverage?
I think we need to do a better job explaining how the market functions, to give a more honest picture to retail investors what they’re up against. The ban on trading-floor photos was a small step in that direction. There’s also much more to do on the student-loan crisis, and its ripple effects. We’re also experimenting with a better way to cover earnings seasons and the sometimes questionable pronouncements of CEOs, which will be a kind of corporate Politifact.
What have been some of the best stories on MarketWatch this year?
Some of my favorites: We had a nice interactive that really crunched the numbers on the GM recalls. A fantastic profile of a convicted murder turned stock picker. And a really great look at the future prospects of Atlantic City.
What are you looking for when you hire someone to work at MarketWatch?
Someone to fetch me bagels. Allow me to explain.
My years at the New York Post taught me how to tell stories with a sledgehammer, how to find that one detail that ends up a kind of shorthand for anyone talking about the whole affair. When New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook was busted in 2010 on the usual corruption charges, for instance, we focused on one of the seemingly minor offenses: He fudged his expenses to charge taxpayers $177 for a single bagel. Whenever Seabrook is mentioned now the sentence almost always contains the word bagel.
I am looking for reporters who can find the bagel in every story. Tweets are now the atomic unit of journalism. When quizzing reporters on their stories, editors used to say, “So what’s the headline here?” Now we ask, “what’s the tweet?”