OLD Media Moves

A rite of passage at most business sections — and writers

January 11, 2006

Andrew Cassel, who writes about the economy for the Philadelphia Inquirer, sums up what probably happened on a lot of business desks earlier this week:

“We used to have a kind of ritual in the newsroom: Whenever the Dow Jones industrial average hit some number that ended in three zeros, a top editor would emerge wide-eyed from his glass cage, steam over to the business-news department, and demand to know what this meant – financially, politically, cosmically – in less than 800 words, by deadline.

“Whoever drew the short straw would cast about madly for an hour or so, seeking wisdom from assorted stockbrokers, money managers and academics.

“Much would be made of the ‘psychological’ significance of passing that particular milestone (3,000, 4,000, 8,000, whatever), although there was universal agreement that (a) the Dow Jones index is at best a crude reflection of the overall stock market; and (b) no magic exists in round numbers, per se.

“I pulled this duty often enough to consider it a sort of sub-specialty. But it’s been quite a while, so I confess to being caught off-guard on Monday, when the Dow’s odometer rolled over 11,000.”

Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember writing the above-mentioned story when the Dow hit 3,000 back in 1991.

Read the entire column here. It’s nicely done.

To see a list of closing milestones for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, go here.

Some little-known DJIA factoids to stick into your story the next time you get stuck writing this piece:

In 1884, Charles Dow compiled a list of nine railroad and two industrial stocks (among the companies were Western Union, the Union Pacific, the New York Central and the Louisville & Nashville railroads) and divided their prices by 11 to produce a stock market average. The average was first published on July 3, 1884. Dow received complaints that the average was not representative of the overall market, so he refined his list, in 1885, 1886 and again in 1894.

In 1896, The Journal published the first industrial stock average of 12 stocks, including General Electric, American Tobacco and American Sugar. The list would later be expanded to 20 stocks in 1916 and 30 stocks in 1928. The Dow Jones Industrial Average remains the best-known barometer of the market’s performance, and today it also includes non-industrial companies.

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