OLD Media Moves

Newsweek's Allan Sloan talks business

October 3, 2005

If you don’t know who Allan Sloan is, then you’re not serious about business journalism. As the Wall Street editor for Newsweek, Sloan is one of the most readable and entertaining journalists when it comes to writing about business, the economy and personal finance. He writes in a style even the average person can understand, and he writes about topics and issues that have an effect on the business world. Here is his most-recent column.

I had an opportunity to talk with Allan this morning by telephone from his home office in New Jersey, where he was working today because of the Rosh Hashana holiday that begins at sundown. Working at home allows him to work right up to sundown.

And Allan had some great insights, as usual. He got thrown into business journalism like so many of us and had to find his way around the beat. But he always focused on what affected people, and that’s what has made him a four-time Loeb winner.

Here are some of his better points:

1. Sloan was highly critical of business journalists today who like to be pseudo-investment analyst: “I just hope in the end business journalism doesn’t turn into just an advertising vehicle and lose site of what it’s supposed to do. We’re supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Too many people are acting out there like junior stock pickers. If we were really good at picking stocks and making investments, we should be on Wall Street instead of selling our picks for 50 cents a paper.

“The idea that they can tell people what stocks to buy and what investment strategies to take is ludicrous. It’s very, very dangerous, and we saw this during the stock bubble. I was out there saying no all the time, and a lot of people didn’t want to hear it. Publishing that stuff was not the right thing to do. Being the skunk at the garden party is not a lot of fun, but if the Federal Reserve won’t do it, then I will.”

2. His writing style was borrowed from The Wall Street Journal leaders that he read in the late 1960s and early 1970s: “I would take apart their leader stories and learn the technique. I would say, ‘This is great. These are stories you could really read.’ They were putting tons of opinions in there with funny expressions. I just swiped them all, and put some of my own in there. It admit it, whereas others haven’t. But the Journal had great influence on a lot of writers.”

3. He still enjoys writing about business, even though its been his career for 36 years now: “When I hit it right, I get to tell several million people who read The Washington Post and Newsweek what is happening and influence what is happening. That’s sort of neat. Forty years ago, the best I could do was multiple two-digit numbers in my head and budget my checkbook. Now, look at who I work for and the influence I have. That’s what I like. I like influencing events and helping out the readers and training the new generation.”

4. He still takes pride in stories he wrote more than 30 years ago at the Charlotte Observer: “In Charlotte, because I was the real estate reporter and nobody would talk to me, I ended up stumbling across a major scandal involving Duke Power where it turned out that Duke had done all sorts of land transactions and somehow the rate payers had ended up with the costs but the stock holders ended up with the profits. At that point, the person who was the largest homebuilder in the South had agreed to build all electric apartments. That was good for Duke, but not so good for the natural gas company in town. It happened to come out about the same time Duke Power was asking for a rate increase. It created a whole lot of uproar in Raleigh that ended up reducing their rates. I would have been even prouder if I had known what I was writing about, but the story made all the difference.”

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