NY Times biz editor Pollock’s comments at Loeb Awards
New York Times business editor Ellen Pollock made the following comments on Thursday after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Gerald Loeb Awards ceremony:
Thank you so much for this wonderful award.
I’m going to start with a confession. I’ve worked with some of the previous winners of this award ― Paul Steiger, Norm Pearlstine, Barney Calame, Dan Hertzberg. I can tell you — and they can tell you — that I’m not quite in their class.
Also, I’m probably the only Loeb winner who has never written an earnings story.
And, I’d like to apologize for stealing the flower centerpieces at a decade of Loeb ceremonies.
My first exposure to big-time journalism was reading the wedding announcements in The New York Times. Even as a kid I knew I looked terrible in white. I read those pages because my parents were teachers and I had no idea what people did for a living. I didn’t know a thing about business or money. My parents didn’t have credit cards. In their 70s their car crapped out in Maine and Hertz wouldn’t take their personal check. They took a seven-hour bus ride home to New Jersey.
When I got to the American Lawyer and we ranked law firms, I didn’t know the difference between revenue and profit. Once I figured out what a profit margin was I had to call my Dad, a professor of physics, so he could teach me how to calculate percentages.
By the time I got to The Wall Street Journal, I had acquired $14,000 in savings and a miscreant boyfriend who taught me about mutual funds. With his help I invested in a fund with above average fees and below average tax efficiency.
You get the picture.
That is why I love business journalism. The reporting part I nailed. Eventually I figured out the writing and editing stuff too. Over time I realized that showing readers how business and money work is as much a service as covering a presidential election.
When I was young I was terribly ageist. Now that I’m old I’m sure I know everything. And one thing I know is that when it comes to business reporting, getting the story behind the story, and telling it through real people is journalism magic, whether you are writing about private equity and taxes or Ozy or Dollar Tree.
You can’t do that without great editors and there aren’t enough of them. Editors have too many reporters, they are writing too many SEO headlines.They need more time to sit over a beer and fries with a reporter and pull out the stuff hidden in notebooks that turn into great stories.
Editing is a service job. Years ago, when I was a page one editor at the Journal, I used to tuck my toddler into bed and return to the office where former Minard winner Dan Kelly was still at his desk. For some reason, the lights on the ninth floor always turned off at 12:47 and we would work in the dark. It was a little odd. But I was always struck that with every keystroke Dan broke down complexity for readers and made reporters look their best.
I am in awe of my editors in the biz department at The Times. In the last 18 months they have worked in isolation, schooled their kids at home and worried over vulnerable parents. But at every moment they had the needs of readers and reporters at heart.
Newsrooms everywhere are grappling with diversity and inclusion. Business journalism often lags behind. I don’t think I have to lecture the people in this virtual room that opportunity should be for everybody. But for all the talk about being open, there is still too much talking about fitting in. And what’s so good about fitting in anyway?
When I got to the WSJ in 1989 my first thoughts were I don’t belong here and I gotta get out. I stayed for 18 years but it took a long time before I felt comfortable enough to joke to the wonderful Paul Steiger that I couldn’t sit down to write a leder without putting on lipstick first and that the guys should try it too,
There should be multiple roads to success in journalism. I was the first woman editor in chief of Businessweek. And I was the first woman editor in chief to be fired from Businessweek. And here I am.
A couple years ago a Times editor was sitting in a greenroom at MSNBC and ran into a former “Timesman.” He told my colleague that he could tell Times business coverage was being run by a woman. I thought: Sounds good to me.
OK, I want to thank a few people. Dean Baquet, Joe Kahn, Matt Purdy and Rebecca Blumenstein made me feel at home at The Times from the moment I walked into 620 Eighth Avenue. They have been so supportive of business journalism at The New York Times and I can’t thank them enough. When I got to The TImes, I could not have asked for better partners than Adrienne Carter and Ashwin Seshagiri. Rich Barbieri, Pui-Wing Tam and everyone on the biz staff at the NYT, I am your biggest fan.
Earlier in my career Stephen Adler taught me to “stand above the material.” Steven Brill hired, fired and rehired me. Josh Tyrangiel taught me that there is no such thing as an embarrassing idea.
I have been lucky enough to work with and be inspired by a ton of incredible women. Denise Martin, Kristin Powers, Ann Podd, Teri Agins, Carrie Dolan, Carol Hymowitz, and Jill Abramson, my friend of now 40 years — I love you all.
Finally, I want to thank my sister, Rachel Pollock and husband Barry Meier, who knows a little something about journalism himself. And a special thanks to my daughter, Lily. We fed you Milano cookies for breakfast and cardboard chicken nuggets for dinner but you turned out to be a wonderful young woman — and the light of our lives.