Welcome to the 25th Media Movers column! [Editor’s Note: Yeeeeeaaaaahhhh!] This project started with a simple mission: Interview a journalist each week. Initially, only my friends would participate (something other friends enjoyed pointing out). But it now has a following and I’m grateful that participation is an easy sell. That tells me that Media Movers has officially arrived. [Editor’s Second Note: Amen.]
The people I interview don’t have to be high-profile or from a top-tier publication: They just have to be interesting. Yet this mile-marker column features a special journalist who is all three: I chatted with Brian Sozzi, the executive editor of Yahoo! Finance, a highly visible publication that has long been ahead of the digital curve. As a bonus, he is truly witty.
I chatted with Brian about how his sentimental parents led to a career change; the surprising person he considers competition; and how he relies on mentoring from the founder of Panera: yes, the eatery of cinnamon-bagel crunch fame.
Dawn Wotapka: Tell me about your role at Yahoo! Finance (43 million unique visitors per month, per Muck Rack). Who do you consider your audience?
Brian Sozzi: Yahoo! Finance has one core mission: to help grow the wealth of investors. That is no small-core mission, and not something we take lightly. Investors have so much coming at them each and every day: experts offering up free stock picks in various forums; newsletters suggesting you must only know these five things in markets; pros pontificating about stocks on social media. Now investors must even deal with AI tools writing investing stories and building portfolios.
It could be a lot for people to take in and even if they take it all in successfully, there is a sense of the system being stacked against them — meaning the corporate insiders only get the best information, always.
I have spent darn near every waking moment of the past 20 years of my life (my family can back up my claims!) – first as a stock analyst and then as a business news journalist – trying to knock down these barriers and help investors big and small. That’s why I have long loved Yahoo! Finance, and jumped at the chance to join the company in the editor-at-large and anchor role more than four years ago. Across a live TV network to text to millions of social media followers, this platform lends me the opportunity to continue knocking down these investing barriers and have a hell of a good time doing so with a killer team.
Now as Yahoo! Finance’s new Executive Editor, I can work deeper with our teams across the company to further etch this helping DNA into the organization. And at the same, I can still go back and interview the biggest names in global business – such as at the upcoming Milken conference and Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting – to offer an added layer of help to investors and our newsroom.
We have a ton of exciting things on tap here at Yahoo! Finance. I am pumped to show them off very soon.
Dawn: How does Yahoo! Finance stay relevant in an increasingly complex digital media landscape?
Brian: Yahoo! Finance has always been about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in investing and business news. We may be known for being the largest business and finance platform on the internet by an extremely wide margin. We may also be well known for our ticker pages, stats and very helpful portfolio-building tools.
But at our core, we are creators here and are always testing, learning and doing it all over again in order to help build the wealth of our community. By that very nature you not only stay relevant, you stay at the leading edge of your field.
That’s not some canned line: It’s our mindset each and every day. And you can see it in the amazing daily live programming we put out on Yahoo! Finance Live. You see it in our thoughtful in-depth, on-camera interviews with everyone from Microsoft founder Bill Gates to General Motors CEO Mary Barra. You see it on our social media accounts where we have millions of followers across Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook. You see it in our best-in-class graphics whipped up by our amazing graphics department. You see it in our location shoots at big events like the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Milken conference.
Dawn: Have your reporters come back to the office?
Brian: We have a hybrid work policy. But a large number of reporters, editors, producers and anchors are back at our home base in New York City.
Dawn: How are they handling source meetings in a post-COVID world?
Brian: We are still very mindful that the world has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and ways of doing journalism have also changed. Our newsroom is doing what they do best: producing amazing journalism for our community fueled by constant dialogue with sources. Those conversations are happening in the best way possible: video calls, in-person meetings, or the good old-fashioned smartphone.
Dawn: Thinking of the bigger picture, what is your vision for Yahoo! Finance in five years? 10?
Brian: It will be the same vision I have today: do my part to make Yahoo! Finance the only place on the internet you need to go daily to build your wealth. How that is presented to people may change of course, especially given new advances in AI, streaming and other graphics capabilities coming down the pike.
Dawn: Competition is fierce in journalism. Who do you consider your competitors?
Brian: First, Yahoo! Finance. And second, the person looking back at me in the mirror.
Dawn: A lot of PR professionals read this column. How can they best pitch you and your team?
Brian: The best way to reach us is to drop a line directly to our reporters provided the story aligns with their coverage area. My email is email@example.com – drop me a line to say hello or offer some breaking news or a hot tip. I will be on the lookout for that email! Love me some scoops.
Dawn: Let’s talk about you. What kept you in the field?
Brian: The endless opportunities and fast-paced nature of the field. One day you wake up ready to interview the Transportation Secretary, and by the end of the day you will have done that interview; [done] another interview with Ford’s CEO; plotted out coverage for a ginormous business news platform; lined up your next 15 interviews; and penned a 500-word newsletter. So there is all of that. Maybe you even got to eat a sandwich in between, but very often not. And that’s just fine.
But also the ability to mentor people and learn from top leaders has also kept me locked and loaded in this field. There is nothing more rewarding than to see the growth in the next generation of talent right in front of you. But also, see your own growth in part driven by your own mentors giving you new tools to succeed.
I find it all very exciting, right along with the constantly changing nature of markets.
Dawn: Who mentored you along the way?
Brian: Careers are often broken down into chapters, or at least mine is. And as I reflect here a bit, I can tell you one of the biggest advantages I have been afforded is to be mentored by really awesome people.
I started fresh out of a no-name college as a stock analyst at Wall Street Strategies, founded by CEO Charles Payne, who is also a long-time Fox Business anchor. I spent many long weekends studying financial statements with Charles and little known to him, studying his approach to going on TV to talk about stocks and markets. He works tirelessly at his craft. I owe a lot to Charles. He gave me my start, and it’s something I will never forget and am forever grateful for.
Chapter two for me is, in fact, the start of my business journalism career, which kicked off at TheStreet. I owe Jim Cramer a lot as well – to be able to work alongside him was just wow. Jim is a life force like I had never seen before – his markets knowledge and ability to write in large quantities is all mind-blowing. He also knows everyone. I just studied his every movement and played sponge, while also giving him cool content to populate TheStreet with.
Over time, I was appointed Executive Editor at TheStreet, then a publicly traded company. My two mentors there in that role were heavyweights in the field of business journalism and media: MarketWatch founder Larry Kramer, who was our chairman, and former USA Today editor-in-chief David Callaway, who was our CEO. These two gave me my initial executive, C-suite polish and also believed in me in that I could run and elevate a newsroom. I am forever grateful to them both for elevating me to that role and encouraging me every step of the way.
Now in my third chapter here at Yahoo! Finance, I have had several mentors. Business news titan Andy Serwer, who hired me and is our former editor-in-chief. Our current fearless leaders Tapan Bhat and John Marcom are teaching me so much every day, I am running out of space in my various docs. Grateful for all of them, and also our current video chief Julie Iannuzzi. I worked with Julie at TheStreet – she is a true pioneer in our field, and has definitely served as a mentor to me for years.
From public company world, I would say Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich is a long-time mentor. Whenever I am in search of next-level career advice from a trusted person who has seen and done it all, Ron is my first text.
Dawn: What advice would you give to someone entering the field today?
Brian: Two things. First, you either go all in – or you go all out… in another field. Business news is a super competitive field, just like other areas of journalism. Nothing will be given to you, ever. You have to go out and claw away a piece of turf every single day. If you think you have figured it all out, you haven’t – believe me.
And this brings me to the second part of my advice: to study the greats in business journalism. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? How can you do it better? If a top name in your beat breaks news, ask yourself why you didn’t break it … and how can you change that in the days and months ahead. Want to be an anchor? Understand the steps it took to become an anchor – hustling your ass off on assignments, developing sources, taking meetings with contents, saying yes to many different story opportunities.
Bottom line: Don’t get complacent, understand the playing field and stay hungry.
Dawn: I noticed that you were a columnist for Men’s Health. That’s interesting! What did you learn in that role?
Brian: Good job on searching that LinkedIn profile, my friend! Yes, I was the “Million Dollar Man” online columnist for Men’s Health. I loved every minute of that. I was able to bring my world of business and finance to a mainstream audience in a super fun and approachable way.
I was reminded that leaders do, in fact, have a life outside of business and that could influence how they approach their business life. Oh, and that getting a workout and meditation in pre-5 a.m. is what most successful leaders do – so I should do the same (and often still do).
Dawn: You also spent time in financial services. Why did you leave that field?
Brian: Writing and storytelling has always been integral to my life. It’s something that I took a strong liking to as a kid, and really never left it … except for a little when I spent close to ten years as a stock analyst. Sure, I was writing analyst notes and market commentary for clients but it wasn’t the same as crafting a creative story on paper (yes, paper).
Believe it or not, there was a eureka moment – that moment when I realized I had to make a career change. Early on in high school, I was asked to write a story from the perspective of being a pencil. Yes, a pencil. So I wrote this thing as if I was a pencil. Got an A, all was well. I didn’t realize my parents had saved that story. Around when I turned 30 my parents were cleaning out some stuff, came across the story and gave it to me. As soon as I read it, I knew it was time to head off in a different direction.
So, I thought deeply on the skills I had in finance, who I was as a person (high energy) and where I could apply these things along with my creative writing skills. Enter business journalism, and enter my first round of columns for Jim Cramer’s TheStreet. It was a pivotal moment in my career and life, and I was incredibly grateful Jim gave an opportunity to a hungry young upstart who watched him religiously on TV for years. Jim is the Babe Ruth of business journalism and there was no better way for me to learn the craft of business journalism, with an edge and flair than submitting columns to Jim Cramer’s TheStreet.
Dawn: What lessons did you learn as a chief equities analyst that are helpful today?
Brian: The lessons in this role came pretty much every day seeing as the stock market opens and closes five days a week. A stock’s one-day movement always taught me something. I will say this though in terms of lessons learned, and maybe this will be helpful to investors out there as well as business journalists. Question every single number, understand the motives of the decision-makers, and know whom to trust and why. If you can consistently execute on these three things, chances are you will find success in your career and life.
Dawn: I’m sure that you have a life outside of the news business. What do you do for fun?
Brian: Don’t be so sure of that, Dawn. (Laughs.). I long ago told myself “I am going for it” in this field – as I only have one opportunity to get it right. Max overdrive, every single day – no matter what. That’s just how I am built. So with that approach you do miss out on a lot of stuff. It’s totally all good, though.
But when I am not dreaming of stocks, thinking deeply on ways to help Yahoo! Finance or talking to sources, I enjoy being an uncle to four young nieces and nephews. They are super adorable. I wish I still had their extreme energy, I could probably crank out even more investing content.
I am also a classic car guy, so you will catch me reading a book or two at a car show. And before you follow up, yes I realize these answers suggest I need a vacation. Back to you on that in 2027.
Dawn: OK, I’ll check back with you then!
Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who loves to read and write. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner and an avid Peloton user. To submit tips for her Media Movers column, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn.