OLD Media Moves

Business journalism was a tough trade

October 11, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

The Economist remembers former Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who died last week at the age of 86. Michaels was editor of the magazine from 1961 to 1999.

Jim MichaelsThe Economist wrote, “Tiny though he was, he was terrifying. Business journalism, for him, was a tough trade. When writers joined they were given a tape recorder for phone calls, to give them crucial backing when they were hauled into court. They were hustled to get better stories than the competition, different ones, and sooner; covers were scrapped and copies pulped if a piece had appeared elsewhere. ‘No guts, no story’, ran a Forbes ad in his time. His journalists had to be brave, and one way to show their pluck was to survive working with Jim.

“‘Curmudgeon’ was too soft a word for him. When editing, he was a man of shrill explosions and unmasked savagery. ‘EITHER FIX THIS OR DUMP IT,’ ran his capitals, rampaging through the piece. ‘THAT ALL VERY TOUCHING BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN’. ‘CAN WQE SPEAK ENGLISH HOWARD AND STOP THIS STTINKING JARHGON!!!!!!!!.’ Shorter was always better; he could cut 15%, he said, from any piece, and was rumoured to be able to get the Lord’s Prayer down to six choice words. A reporter once wrote a euphoric story about Nepal, ending with the plaintive line: ‘I don’t know why they would ever want to leave such a beautiful spot.’ ‘Ya dont. did you ever go hungry or jobless????’ came the furiously typed reply.

“The journalists who came, trembling, through his boot camp—many of them moving on to high perches at the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, the New York Times and even The Economist—clipped his comments and kept them. Some took his edits home, unpicking them at leisure, as they licked their wounds, to try to see exactly how their copy had been so improved.”

Read more here

Subscribe to TBN

Receive updates about new stories in the industry daily or weekly.

Subscribe to TBN

Receive updates about new stories in the industry.