OLD Media Moves

Newsweek's Jane Bryant Quinn

October 4, 2005

I moved one office over today from Allan Sloan’s and talked to Jane Bryant Quinn, arguably the most visible and most important personal finance journalist in the field today. Like most women who wanted to be journalists in the 1960s, she struggled to overcome gender discrimination in the newsroom. Like Sylvia Porter before her, she used her initials as her byline because personal finance advice was something that editors felt readers wouldn’t respect if it came from a woman.

Quinn is a big fan of Kiplinger’s personal finance magazine, and she also likes the writing of Jean Sherman Chatzky, who writes for Money magazine.

Here are some of her other comments about personal finance reporting:

1. Most business and personal finance magazines went overboard with their investing advice in the 1990s: “I used to call it “financial pornography.â€? I think I was the first person to use that term. I do think that I was helpful in getting the magazines to run updates on their recommendations. It was Smart Money and Money that went back and looked at how they did. It wasn’t done before I started writing about it. I think it’s very important. Accountability is a problem when you’re running a magazine because people want to see 10 stocks to buy now because all you really need is an index fund. Investing is a game of odds, and those are the best odds. 10 stocks to buy now is a waste of my time. But when I was kid doing the Business Week newsletter, I called up mutual fund managers and they would explain to me about this stock or that stock. But you spend a couple of years looking at the results, and you say there’s something a little off. You can’t play individual stocks.”

2. Personal finance reporting is about to become more important in the media: “It will be more important than ever with the boomers retiring. The boomers who have run my life and everybody else’s life, we’ve been going through the accumulation phase, and the bulk still are in the accumulation phase. But the first boomers are starting to look at the maintenance phase and the drawing down phase. When you’re 65 or 70 and you have a fixed pot, and you have to figure out how to make the money last, that’s hard. If you make a mistake like putting your stock in WorldCom, you’re facing a whole different kind of world. It’s going to be bigger than ever.”

3. She is a slow writer who agonizes over each sentence so that what she writes is clear to her readers: “That’s what I work the hardest at. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I don’t just sit down and write it. I’m a very slow writer, and I squeeze out the words. I will pull back a sentence and ask myself if it’s clear. There’s a lot of blood behind the keyboard before you see the finished work. You’re not doing all of the details that would confuse the readers, but you’re including the salient details. And you’re using enough explanation to make the experts happy. It’s a very fine line. You’re talking 900 words for my Newsweek column, so you also have to get the structure right.”

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