Repeating yourself over and over in a way editors and readers won’t notice
Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal and author of “The Devil’s Financial Dictionary” talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about finance, financial journalism and Zweig’s new book.
Here is an excerpt:
Russ: So, what would you say your philosophy of financial journalism is? At one point in a recent article you note that there is a repetitive aspect, when you write about personal finance. What is that aspect, and what’s your philosophy of how to deal with that.
Jason Zweig: Yeah, well, I’ll tell a quick anecdote, Russ. Some years ago – many years ago, in fact: it was probably in the late 1990s – I was at a financial journalism conference and a question came from the floor. I was on a panel discussion and the questioner asked each of the panelists: ‘Don’t tell us what it says on your resume; don’t tell us what it says on your business card. What do you do for a living?’ And I think the person said, ‘In 30 words or less.’ And I think there were 4 other people on the panel; and 20 minutes later I finally got a chance to give my answer. So, I did have some time to think about it. Aside from the fact that none of the other panelists had honored the last stricture. But – and what I said was, ‘It’s my job to repeat myself 50 to 100 times a year so that neither my editors nor my readers will notice I’m doing it.’ And there’s a reason for that. I mean, I’m in the advice business – much more so than I’m in the news business. Although, obviously, I do both. And there have been any number of times I’ve been fortunate enough to break news in my columns. And that’s very exciting, when I’m able to do it. But, for the most part, I give people advice about what to do with their portfolios. And for people who are saving for retirement or to put their kid through college, the real test is: Can you provide sensible advice that simply improves the probability that people can meet their financial goals? And if that’s what you are trying to do, there just are not that many novel, innovative things you can tell people that are good for them. Almost every exciting, new investment idea sooner or later will turn out to be bad for people. So, really, all I’m trying to do is answer the question: Is this tactic, approach, product, strategy, fund, trading technique good or bad for the people who will use it? I’m not trying to answer the question of whether it’s good for Wall Street or the financial industry. I’m just trying to ask whether investors themselves can benefit from it. And sometimes the answer is Yes. And that’s great. But quite a few times the answer is No. And then people need to hear that.
Listen to, or read, the interview here.