OLD Media Moves

Q&A with new SABEW president Dave Kansas

May 12, 2006

Earlier today, I conducted an e-mail Q&A with new Society of American Business Editors and Writers President Dave Kansas. Dave is editor of the The Wall Street Journal’s Money & Investing section. He oversees coverage of Wall Street, banking, markets, investing and personal finance. He also manages the day-to-day operations of the section.

In addition, he occasionally writes stories for the Journal and is a guest on radio and television programs, commenting on the financial markets and investing. Kansas began his journalism career in 1987 as an engineer and a reporter at the NBC Radio Network. He later worked for New York Newsday as a reporter. He originally joined the Wall Street Journal in 1991 after completing a summer internship on the monitor desk.

Dave KansasHe was editor in chief of TheStreet.com and then rejoined the Journal in December 2001 as deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Online at WSJ.com. In January 2001, Kansas’s book “TheStreet.com Guide to Investing in the Internet Era,� was published by Doubleday and was an Amazon No. 1 seller.

What follows are answers to the questions:

1. Why did you get involved in SABEW?

When I was at TheStreet.com in 1996, 1997, we were eager to affiliate our operation with organizations that had high standards, and SABEW fit that bill. At that time, the view of online journalism varied widely, and it took a lot of work to convince people that doing journalism online wasn’t somehow wrong. Getting tied into SABEW gave us a chance to show a lot of respected journalists that online journalism could be practiced with the same rigor as print journalism. I’ve stayed involved because SABEW is made up of a lot of fine business journalists who really care deeply about their craft.

2. Why should a business journalist belong to SABEW?

There are several reasons to belong. Our programming at the annual conference and the fall workshop provides business writers and editors with lots of practical training and teaching. In addition, it gives business journalists a chance to see a lot of newsmakers in one place. In the Twin Cities, for instance, we had SEC chief Chris Cox addressing a broad range of issues, including the touchy issue of issuing journalist subpoenas. We also had Bill McGuire, head of UnitedHealth Group, addressing SABEW members as he and his company grapple with an inquiry into possible backdating of stock option grants. Finally, SABEW provides members with the chance to talk with other members about how they’re dealing with thorny issues, such as online-print convergence and budget pressures.

3. What do you hope to accomplish as SABEW’s president?

A president only has one year, so it’s best to focus on a few things. One, I want to expand our membership base to include a broader array of business journalists, especially in the magazine, television and online areas. Two, I want to work hard on development, raising money to support SABEW’s mission and give the organization an even firmer financial footing. Three, I want to strengthen our training efforts. We have a few other things we’re working on too, such as improving the web site. I’m looking forward to helping SABEW tackle all these issues.

4. What are the biggest issues facing business journalists today?

Our jobs are as important as they’ve ever been. And the companies and people we cover have gotten increasingly sophisticated in the way they “handle� journalists. We need to do a better job breaking through the barriers so that we can explain what companies are doing. Also, we need to own complicated stories, such as globalization and energy issues, in a way that effectively serves our readers or viewers. The world is changing very rapidly, and most of that change is taking place in the world we cover. It’s imperative that we explore and explain all these issues in a lively and accessible way.

5. What are your feelings about newspapers cutting stock listings?

It’s the wave of the future as more and more folks get this information online. I think some papers have gotten too aggressive on this front, driven primarily by high newsprint costs. But I imagine that five years from now printed stock listings will be either all gone or just a weekly affair. My big concern is that some papers will use the elimination of stock listings to justify eliminating the business section altogether. Business and investing play a huge role in our society, and curtailing coverage of those issues would be a disservice to readers. SABEW will need to play a role in ensuring that publishers fully understand the value of their business sections.

6. How do you respond to those who allege that some business journalists are working with short sellers to drive down the prices of stocks?

Good business journalists dig for facts and report them without fear or favor. I think the idea that there’s some conspiracy among journalists and short sellers is slightly kooky. At the same time, business journalists talk to shorts, longs and other participants in the marketplace all the time as they report out stories. Just about everyone we talk to has some sort of agenda, usually aimed at making money. Our job is to gather up the facts and report out stories and disclose to readers where our sources are coming from. So, if we quote someone who is very excited about Amazon’s prospects, we should disclose if that person has a financial interest in seeing Amazon succeed. The same disclosure rigor should apply to both longs and shorts. There are bad actors in the marketplace, both longs and shorts, and good journalists need to be careful about getting snookered by bad actors. That concept applies to all journalism, not just business journalism.

7. Your paper has one of the biggest paid news Web sites in the world. What does that mean for the future of business journalism?

There’s a lot of debate about paid vs. free online, and most people seem to believe that free is the way to go. We at the WSJ believe otherwise, and that philosophy has worked well for us. In terms of the future of business journalism, people will pay for information — in print, online, elsewhere — that gives them value. And business news is often the most valuable, since when it’s done well it does provide readers with measurable value. And that’s a positive for business news.

8. There are fewer and fewer reporters and editors from the weekly business newspapers who attend the SABEW conference. How do we get them back?

We need to reach out to them with programming and training that appeals to them. We cater to a wide range of business journalists — weekly, daily, print, online, wire services, magazines, television, etc. — and we need to do a better job showing how we can provide value to the entire membership.

9. What can SABEW do to entice writers and editors from the business magazines such as Forbes, Fortune and BusinessWeek?

I think it’s a matter of reaching out to them and showing them what kind of value we provide. We are the largest group of business journalists, but we haven’t always done a good job at outreach. Being in New York, I am in a position to reach out to these organizations. Also, having the fall workshop in New York will provide us with a chance to get these magazines involved. Over the years, participation from larger newspapers has increased, and I think it will be a natural evolution for magazines and other journalistic outfits to get more involved. But we need to reach out to them.

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