Media Moves

Lewis, SABEW winner, finds stories in markets

March 28, 2014

Everything is a market to best-selling author Michael Lewis.

From the story of football player Michael Oher in “The Blind Side” to the drafting process of the Oakland A’s in “Moneyball,” Lewis said he writes about markets, not business.

Lewis answered questions from “Wizard of Lies” author Diana Henriques on Friday afternoon at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference, which is being held this weekend at Arizona State University. Lewis received SABEW’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.

His next book, “Flash Boys,” is coming out Monday — but the plot has been embargoed until a “60 Minutes” special Sunday night. The story will be centered around high-frequency trading, a subject Lewis came across when he was writing an article about a computer programmer who was jailed for stealing code from Goldman Sachs.

The popular novel-turned-film “Moneyball” also evolved from an article, but Lewis realized he had to make it a book the first time he saw the Oakland A’s players naked.

He told the team’s general manager Billy Beane and other officials that he saw the players naked and that it was unappealing — the players didn’t look like professional athletes.

But that was the point, the team’s officials said. When they draft players, they look for people who don’t look like the typical baseball player, because the handsome players with the good bodies are typically overvalued.

The book gathered traction in the business world.

“A lot of business is boring,” Lewis said. “Even people who do it don’t really know how to make it interesting to their families, and if they can find a sports analogy, then it solves the boringness.”

Lewis said he won’t write a sequel to “Moneyball,” but he had the idea for another baseball book while writing “Moneyball” that never materialized. It would have been called “Underdogs,” and it would have followed the players who go through the minor leagues.

“It was cursed by ‘Moneyball,’” he said. “’Moneyball’ was so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think.”

Through his books, Lewis has made financial journalism cool, said outgoing SABEW President Kevin Hall.

The trick, Lewis said, is to tell a story well and be passionate.

“If I was a boss, if I sensed genuine enthusiasm and passion for an unrelated piece of work, I’d say go do it,” Lewis said. “The reader picks up on what the writer is enthusiastic about. You can’t fake it.”

Maddy Will is a senior business journalism student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship

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