For much of its recent history, BusinessWeek has been an incubator for talented writers and reporters. Under editors Steve Shepard, Steve Adler and now Josh Tyrangiel, the place has been a literary hotbed. Many BW staffers couldn’t limit themselves to the glossy pages, but had to break into books. The remake into Bloomberg Businessweek, with its traumatic turnover in staff, stoked that flame for some, as a recent outpouring of work shows. The trend continues.
Here, in its splendid variety, is a collection of recent (and not so recent) work by this talented bunch:
Brad Stone offers the inside skinny on Bezos, with little help from the subject, in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. “… the meticulously reported book has plenty of gems for anyone who cares about Amazon, Jeff Bezos, entrepreneurship, leadership or just the lunacy it took to build a company in less than two decades that now employs almost 90,000 people and sold $61 billion worth of, well, almost everything last year.” — BETHANY McLEAN, WASHINGTON POST “For people seeking to understand what can be an enigmatic company, the book does a great service in explaining the psychology of Amazon, and the company’s role as an extension of Bezos’ brain.” — GEEKWIRE “Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book,” MACKENZIE BEZOS (Jeff’s wife), AMAZON.COM
Leslie Helm is making an impressive mark with this memoir. “Yokohama Yankee is a marvelous and eloquent work of family history. What makes it more remarkable is this family’s history also sheds light on the political, economic, cultural, and racial interactions and tensions between Japan and the United States for more than a century and a half, right up to the present day. This is a humane and insightful book that will be read many years from now.” — JAMES FALLOWS of The Atlantic. “Like a sword cleaving a bittersweet fruit, Leslie Helm’s saga of his mixed-blood family in Japan cuts to the inescapable isolation of being white in a country where blood still means so much. Yokohama Yankee is a painfully intimate story that spans more than a century and brings the wrenching history of modern Japan into a focus that is both razor sharp and deeply human.” — BLAINE HARDEN, former Tokyo bureau chief of The Washington Post
Stacy Perman clocks in anew with a timely effort. “A unique competition between two scions of the Gilded Age is the driver for this fresh look at the mores of the rich and powerful. The aim of the competition was to acquire the world’s most complicated timepieces. She effectively combines these different strands, providing a compelling social history…A masterful approach to composition combines with a fascinating plot and makes its subject entertaining as well as compelling.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS (Starred Review ) “Lively” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Bruce Nussbaum wields his keen mind. “Bruce Nussbaum demystifies one of the most important initiatives of our time — unlocking the creativity within ourselves and our organizations.” — DAVID KELLEY, founder of IDEO and the Stanford d.school “An intriguing mixture of challenging ideas and Utopian solutions to the broader issues regarding social welfare currently under debate.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS “Creative Intelligence lays out the forces that will drive us toward a prosperous future. Read this book if you want to be inspired and provoked to lead the way.” — RICHARD FLORIDA, Univ. of Toronto; Senior Editor, The Atlantic
Charles Dubow roars out of the gate with his first effort. “An epic novel of friendship, betrayal and undying love … outstanding” — KIRKUS REVIEWS (Starred Review) “A smart, sensuous, and moving debut. … Delicious. … The characters exude a Jazz Age glamour.” — O MAGAZINE
Steve Shepard, guru to us all, lays it all out in this memoir. “This is a personal and insightful book about one of the most important questions of our time: how will journalism make the transition to the digital age? Steve Shepard made that leap bravely when he went from being a great magazine editor to the first dean of the City University of New York journalism school. His tale is filled with great lessons for us all.” — WALTER ISAACSON “An insightful and convivial account of a bright, bountiful life dedicated to words, information and wonder.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS (Starred Review)
Peter Galuszka digs deep into the world of coal-mining. “A fascinating—and infuriating—account of the deadliest industry on earth. Deadly for its workers and the people unfortunate enough to live near its mines, but deadlier still for the planet. You can’t understand our moment in time without understanding the coal industry.” — BILL McKIBBEN, author. “Appalachia may be blessed with the ‘world’s best metallurgical coal,’ but as journalist Galuszka’s powerful book shows, this coal is both ‘a curse and a prize…’ He convincingly excoriates the safety record of Massey Energy and its controversial former CEO, Don Blankenship… Drawing on his personal experience of Appalachia, Galuszka offers a sympathetic but unsentimental portrait of the region’s people and their struggles.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Natural gas, renewables, and efficiency are positioned to be the sources of America’s energy expansion, while coal represents the nation’s past. Galuszka’s Thunder on the Mountain highlights the disturbing and often deadly impacts of this highly polluting energy source and why Big Coal might just be losing its power.”– RON PERNICK, managing director of Clean Edge, Inc.
John N. Frank shares insights about life in the job market. He includes a chapter about his time at BW that he says alums might find intriguing.
Julia Lichtblau gives Woody Allen a run for his money. Her story in this collection is “Désolée, Monsieur.” She has work forthcoming in The Florida Review — the story “Foreign Service” — and in Temenos — “May, 1968″ — and has been published in Ploughshares blog, Narrative,The Common Online, Pindelbox, and Tertulia.
Fran Hawthorne takes aim at some longtime faves. “Fran Hawthorne’s illuminating book will delight fans of ‘corporate social responsibility’—and enrage its critics. Her descriptions of Apple, for example, at once beloved and much criticized by the CSR crowd, aptly captures the essence of the debate.”—ADAM LASHINSKY, author. “In assessing corporate performance on social responsibility, Fran Hawthorne digs beneath the surface of some of America’s most beloved companies…. Bravo to Ethical Chic for helping to illuminate which companies are on the right track.”—DANIEL C. ESTY, author. “Hawthorne goes beyond the usual categories of ‘social responsibility’ to offer a remarkably clear-eyed view of what we should really expect from companies—and what we shouldn’t.” —MICHAEL BLANDING, author.
Jennifer Merritt helps the career-minded. “Are you looking for a mere job–the kind where you do virtually the same thing day after day, year after year, and spend the hours counting down the minutes until the clock hits five p.m.? Or are you looking for a “career”–the kind that engages your interests and passions, constantly presents new and exciting opportunities and challenges, and allows you to grow personally and professionally? If you chose the latter, this is the book for you.” — CROWN BUSINESS
Gary Weiss goes for jugular of the Tea Party movement. “Ayn Rand Nation is a fascinating exploration of one of the fastest-growing and most powerful coalitions in American politics….If you want to understand the men and women whose vehement voices are reshaping American government, you must read this book.”—KURT EICHENWALD “The timing of this book couldn’t be better for Americans who are trying to understand where in the hell the far-out right’s anti-worker, anti-egalitarian extremism is coming from. Ayn Rand Nation introduces us to the godmother of such Tea Party craziness as destroying Social Security and eliminating Wall Street regulation.”—JIM HIGHTOWER, author. “Think Ayn Rand is marginal? Think again! Gary Weiss’s powerful new history inscribes the libertarian firebrand at the very center of the American story of the past three decades.”—DAVID FRUM, author
Diane Brady tells an inspiring tale. “Holy Cross, Black Power, and the Sixties could have been an unholy mix. A bold Jesuit priest made it a holy one. The story of Father John Brooks, Clarence Thomas, Ted Wells, and the others rings with power, pride, and human feeling. Fraternity and the saga it retells adds honor to my college.”—CHRIS MATTHEWS, anchor, MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews “Diane Brady’s book brilliantly shows how the attention and concern of one man changed not only the course of these individual lives but the course of history.”—WES MOORE, author
Julia Flynn Siler immerses us in some of the ugly history of Paradise. “A sweeping tale of tragedy, greed, betrayal, and imperialism… The depth of her research shines through the narrative, and the lush prose and quick pace make for engaging reading… absorbing.”– LIBRARY JOURNAL “Richly…sourced… [Siler is] able to color in many figures who had heretofore existed largely in outline or black and white… a solidly researched account of an important chapter in our national history, one that most Americans don’t know but should… an 1893 New York Times headline called [the annexation] ‘the political crime of the century.’”– NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Arms and the man, redux. “Paul Barrett’s Glock is a fascinating and bizarre tale of an entrepreneur, a weapon, and a nation’s love affair with guns.” — JEFFREY TOOBIN, staff writer, The New Yorker. “This book—from a top-notch reporter—will enlighten you about both gun culture and business culture. It’s fascinating, even-handed, and packs considerable punch!” —BILL McKIBBEN, author. Paul has talked about the subject, too.
Sandra Dallas brings it home again. In a novel based on true events, New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas delivers the story of four women—seeking the promise of salvation and prosperity in a new land—who come together on a harrowing journey.
Sandra Dallas tries her fine hand at Young Adult fiction. “Period details, engaging characters and clever plot twists will entice even the most discerning fans of historical fiction. Populated with brave and intelligent women, Dallas story is as much about Emmy s journey toward womanhood as their journey toward the West. Solid writing and a close attention to details make this story more than the sum of its parts.” — KIRKUS
Giles Blunt lands it again. “[Giles Blunt's novels] stand as landmarks in what we might think of as the new Canadian crime wave. . . . John Cardinal is the quintessential modern Canadian crime fiction hero–the northern lawman reimagined.” — THE WALRUS “Blunt writes with the flashing grace of an ice skater skimming over a frozen pond.” — NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Ellen Neuborne and Orly Sade took on financial literacy for young folks. “Along the way, Ella learns about key business concepts, such as market research, competitive analysis, word-of-mouth marketing, guerilla marketing, costs, revenue, profits, loss, leadership, partnerships… and the list goes on. She also learns about the many types of financial products, including stocks, bonds and loans.” – ERICA SWALLOW “My husband read this to our 9-year-old son, and they both enjoyed the story. My husband is an entrepreneur, and he felt the financial concepts in this book were sound.” – JYOTSNA SREENIVASAN
“Chester Dawson is a Japanese-speaking investigative reporter who has got the inside story of Lexus and made it come alive. – EZRA F. VOGEL, Harvard University. “This is a tale of invention, innovation, consumer insight, dedication and resolve.” – MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN, The Boston Consulting Group “This is a must-read not only for car buffs, but for any manager or executive who wants to understand any manager or executive who wants to understand how to create, sustain and expand an elite brand.” – MICHELINE MAYNARD, author
“In World Changers, John Byrne has assembled a fascinating cast of characters from Oprah Winfrey to Steve Jobs. Through excerpts from their published interviews and Byrne’s own one-on-one interviews with these entrepreneurs, Byrne pieces together not just a readable volume of personal narratives but a collection of insights into what it takes to change the world. The stories are diverse, but taken as a whole, they are inspirational and educational.”– JOHN COLEMAN “If you loved Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut, you’ll need to read this new book about how entrepreneurs drive change with passion and vision. Few people have enjoyed a seat at the table with extraordinary entrepreneurs as John has …” — MARK THOMPSON
Larry Light sallied forth against the forces of darkness. “… [P]erfect summer reading fare. The author, a financial reporter and editor, is a skilled storyteller. In this book he explores a range of investment strategies and instruments, traces their development, and in the process profiles some of the best-known investors and academics.” BRENDA JUBIN, Seeking Alpha
Dori Jones Yang waxed historical. “Yang has done an excellent job describing 14th century Mongolia, and by including the familiar character of Marco Polo she has a seamless way to weave all of the amazing facts about this setting into the narrative while rarely dragging down the story. A refreshing change of pace from a lot of the historical fiction/romance out there today! (And a brief aside: a book with a wonderful cover! After the whitewashing controversies of the last few years, 2011 is shaping up to be an amazing year for proudly putting the faces of characters of color on covers!)” BOOKISH BLATHER “The language is believable, and the descriptions of customs, foods, and places during that time period are vivid and engaging…. History is brought alive in this novel, and I enjoyed getting a glimpse of Chinese and Mongolian history mixed with a bit of adventure.” SQUEAKY CLEAN READS
Dori Jones Yang also remained a scribe. “The oral histories in this book provide valuable primary-source material about the so-called ‘lost generation’ of Chinese Americans, those who came as students in the 1940s through 1960s. This book fills a gap in our knowledge and will enrich the studies of academic researchers analyzing the experience of the Chinese diaspora.”EVELYN HU-DEHART, Brown University. “Academics and researchers will find this book of oral history an indispensable resource to study a long overlooked group of Chinese immigrants in America.” PETER KWONG, Hunter College
Celine Keatings’s new novel is piling up the praise: “Céline Keating‘s deftly plotted novel takes readers on a gripping journey along the underground railroad of post-’60s radicalism. . . . Every adult has to reinterpret the story of her childhood. Keating beautifully demonstrates the courage it takes for each of us to face that bittersweet truth.” LARRY DARK, Director of The Story Prize “A beautiful book–at once nostalgic and fresh–that will go straight to your heart and lodge there.” ALETHEA BLACK, author of I Knew You’d Be Lovely “[An] emotional page-turner. Layla’s coming to terms with her parents’ dangerous activism is heart wrenching due to Keating’s delightfully drawn characters. This novel also serves as a compelling lesson in our values and how drastically they’ve changed. It serves as a better history than any essay or screed.” SUSAN BRAUDY, author of Family Circle. Intriguing trailer, too.
So, too, is Amy Cortese‘s new effort in nonfiction. “If Michael Pollan changed the way you think about food, let Amy Cortese change the way you think about finance.” JAY LEE “Locavesting uses great storytelling to present a structured analysis of how and why to invest where you live and in the (mostly) small businesses there. Each aspect of Locavesting is brought to life by sketches of real people who impress, amuse, and intrigue.” CLIFFORD J. REEVES “This is one of the best books I have ever read on the topic of financing small business growth.” RODNEY LOGES
As is the effort by Stanley Reed and Alison Fitzgerald. “…the latest, and probably the best, of what one might call the “private sector” books about the BP spill…by a pair of talented and experienced Bloomberg reporters.” FINANCIAL TIMES “The two journalists make a logical team, and their book is often enlightening about the corporate-political nexus that placed enrichment of the already rich and aggrandizement of the already influential above the common good.” USA TODAY
Stephen Baker‘s takeout on the advance of the computer into the game-show realm proved intriguing. “Like Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine (1981), Baker’s book finds us at the dawn of a singularity. It’s an excellent case study, and does good double duty as a Philip K. Dick scenario, too.” KIRKUS REVIEWS “Final Jeopardy not only holds the answers to my … questions, but really delves into the man vs. machine thought. How do we as humans learn a language? How do we measure perception? And then once we know all of this, how do we teach it to a machine? If you are even the slightest bit interested in artificial intelligence this book is for you. At the same time, it is not so down in the computery depths that someone who knows little of data-mining algorithms won’t be able to understand. I think it is a very accessible book.” Julia, THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH
Steve Hamm, with a couple coauthors, weighed in about machines, too. “IBM doesn’t just THINK, it thinks big. The story of these big ideas illustrates how 100 years of innovation have shaped the way we live and work today.” KENNETH CHENAULT, American Express. “Making the World Work Better convincingly documents IBM’s enormous impact on business and the world. Its history provides vital lessons for organizations of all sizes, and IBM’s future promises to continue to innovate the way we work, and even think.” HENRY CHESBROUGH, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley “Innovation, resilience, and great leadership are the key ingredients of the IBM story. Making the World Work Better tells that story exceptionally well. Ultimately, it reveals that IBM is not simply a technology company; it is a company of ideas and the future those ideas have created.” JOHN HOLLAR, Computer History Museum
William J. Holstein takes a look at what ails us. “[A] timely prescription for what our country must do to regain its financial fortitude and reinvigorate our national economy. While many believe that America faces an inevitable decline and loss of global leadership to emerging Asian economies as we exhaust our ability to innovate and compete, Holstein offers a more optimistic assessment of American industry and its ability to rise to the challenge.” PETER G. BALBUS, Pragmaxis LLC “If wishful thinking were dollars, this book would be a gold mine. As it is, Holstein provides an optimistic but not necessarily candy-colored view of a resurgent American economy.” KIRKUS REVIEWS
Alethea Black is winning lots of fans with her fiction. “This debut reads like a dream, with nary a false note…” KIRKUS REVIEWS. “A sense of vulnerable restlessness is betrayed by the otherwise pragmatic characters of Black’s strong debut collection.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Alethea Black is downright brilliant at capturing the restless striving for a self that we all are feeling in this parlous and unsettling age. I Knew You’d Be Lovely is a splendidly resonant debut by an important young writer.” ROBERT OLEN BUTLER, author of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
Chris Roush created a must-have text for budding business journalists and updated it nicely with this new edition. I use it in my classes. There can be no stronger endorsement! This is a keeper.
Sandra Dallas extended her long run. “[A] winning combination of solid historical fiction,vivid enduring characters,and an interesting story that pulls the reader right in. Sandra Dallas is at the top of her game with THE BRIDE’S HOUSE…an excellent read.” BOOKREPORTER.COM
zealously sought out silence … [but it] eluded him: underwater in his bathtub the roaring metropolis was amplified by the denser medium of water; in Paris’s catacombs a distant hum persisted among the stacked skulls and bones; and in his family home on Cape Cod the absence of excessive sound, rather than soothing him, made him conscious of the absence of his recently deceased mother. Yet in a Minneapolis anechoic chamber, he felt rested, relaxed, and triumphant, becoming the first person to stay in the dark and silent chamber alone for 45 minutes. The author’s quixotic quest is quirky, inventive, and alluring …” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Foy’s thinking about quietude began where it never exists: the New York City subway. With an audiometer, he measured the decibels of its deafening cacophony in addition to levels in his apartment, the street, and the former mansion of Joseph Pulitzer, who hated noise…. Foy’s is an adventurous and perceptively ruminative investigation of acoustical annoyances.” — GILBERT TAYLOR, BOOKLIST
Fran Hawthorne explains how real simple is anything but. “With a welcome mixture of facts and humor, Fran Hawthorne highlights the dilemmas of living an environmentally virtuous, healthy life in a fiercely consumption-oriented culture.—MICHAEL F. JACOBSON, Center for Science in the Public Interest “People are quickly learning that living a simple, low-impact life actually isn’t so simple. Thankfully, there’s much-needed relief to be found in Fran Hawthorne’s funny, poignant, and often eye-opening way of sorting through the dilemmas-and solutions—facing socially and environmentally minded consumers.”—GREG MELVILLE, author
Chris Roush, with a colleague, offered a helpful tutorial. “The book is an invaluable guide to helping you get business right, understand it, and explain it. Which is, of course, what we all should be trying to do.” ALLAN SLOAN, Fortune magazine “An essential interpretive guide for business journalists striving to make the arcane clear to readers. Very practical references for today’s changing business climate.” PATRICK SCOTT, Charlotte Observer “A comprehensive reference tool for virtually every phrase a business or economics reporter or editor needs to know. An indispensable guide both for specialists and especially for those who get thrust into covering business or economic stories.” GREG DAVID, Crain’s New York Business
Sandra Dallas kept them coming. “Dallas presents another historical novel about the hardscrabble mining communities of Colorado, set just down the road from her best-selling Prayers for Sale (2009), creating a patchwork of individuals whose lives had not intersected until this singular, transformative event. Readers may find the abrupt transitions and preponderance of flashbacks confusing and distancing. Dallas is well known for her storytelling abilities, but this reads more like a valediction of a time and place faded from memory than her usual vibrant, visceral tale. Still, Dallas is a magnet.” LYNNE WELCH, Booklist
Another standout from Hardy Green. “Taking in textile, coal, oil, lumber and appliance-manufacturing towns, Mr. Green’s survey is a useful one…. [T]he company towns overseen by Milton Hershey, Francis Cabot Lowell and even Charlie Cannon were communities enlivened by quirks and passions and idiosyncratic visions. Edens? Hardly. But they had soul, and you can neither buy nor sell that at the company store.” WALL STREET JOURNAL “Mr. Green sprints – at times breathlessly – through all kinds of company towns, mostly past but some present…. He uses these accounts, in tandem with a clean, engaging voice, to tell story upon story…. Mr. Green has amassed a collection of important, well-told stories about the contradictions, inequities and possibilities of American capitalism.” NEW YORK TIMES “[A] delightful book.” THE ECONOMIST
Andrew Park weighed in on matters of faith. “He discusses his parents’ religious upbringing and the impact it had on him. His father, for instance, was raised in the Church of Scotland, the forebear of Presbyterianism, which left him with unpleasant memories that he passed on to Park; meanwhile, Park’s older brother converted to modern Evangelical Christianity. Whether writing about his family or Rick Warren’s Saddleback megachurch, Park remains a father trying to delicately balance the responsibilities of parenthood and being true to himself. A lovely read.” JUNE SAWYERS, Booklist “Park puts on his journalist’s hat to explore the sociological backdrop of periods in America when religion experienced growth and upheaval. He examines his own inconstant feelings and discovers he has pragmatic reasons to be drawn to faith, including the community it provides. Ultimately his investigations bring Park back where he started, but with new insight. He attends a seminar about how to raise ethical children without religion and seems to have found his own holy grail: It’s OK to be a doubting dad.” MICHELLE BOORSTEIN, Washington Post.
Arlene Weintraub has made some marketers nervous. “Weintraub, a former senior writer for BusinessWeek, portrays the hormone replacement sector as a cesspool of unproven claims, unacknowledged side-effects, and marketing scams. It’s also a zoo of colorful quacks, presided over by actress Suzanne Somers, author of best-selling alternative medicine treatises. Weintraub mixes acute reportage with a censorious tone; she deplores the notion that old age is a disease.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Wrinkles, fat, and low libido start to sound pretty good after reading this unnerving exposé by journalist Arlene Weintraub. Her elixir of deep research and smooth storytelling delivers a sometimes-gag-inducing dose of reality…” FAST COMPANY “Weintraub generates plenty of feverish prose and cautionary tales to highlight this powerfully seductive syllogism of the “anti-aging industry…” AARP Magazine
Chris Farrell caught the sense of the times. “Chris Farrell provides practical guidance about how to manage personal finances. In a nutshell, which is a great disservice to the author, Farrell — who hosts a radio show on NPR– advocates implementing a margin of safety in investing and a return to the frugality that many of us grew up with…the world would be a better place if more people followed his common sense advice.” NEWARK STAR LEDGER “The title of this book hooked me from the start. What am I writing about at The Simple Dollar if I’m not writing about “the new frugality” Chris Farrell, the author of the book, is a name I’m familiar with having been a long-time faithful listener of Marketplace Money (and it’s other Marketplace brethren) on NPR. I expected a well-written book that offered lots of insightful thoughts on the “new frugality” along with some practical tips. That’s precisely what I got. Let’s dig in.” CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR “[The New Frugality] will help you spend less and save more…This book is filled with anecdotes, historical insights, resources and common sense, all of which are designed to teach you how to wisely spend your money while saving for the future.” THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
Giles Blunt added to a shelf groaning with work. “As distinctively Canadian as a Tom Thomson painting. . . . Crime Machine is as good as Canadian crime fiction gets.” MARGARET CANNON, The Globe and Mail “A marvelously controlled writer, equally confident with characters and narrative.” TORONTO STAR “First-rate series. . . .You can hear the crunch of snowshoes through the bush, smell the buckshot mingling with fresh blood.” NOW (Toronto) “Another winner from one of Canada’s leading crime writers.” THE PETERBOROUGH EXAMINER
Joan Hamilton came to Meg Whitman’s aid. “Meg Whitman doesn’t just talk about important values such as integrity, accountability, authenticity and courage, she lives them…. In this engaging and honest book, Meg shares these values and how she applied them to pioneering a new model for managing a twenty-first-century company. This book only deepens my admiration for Meg’s leadership.” A.G. LAFLEY, Procter & Gamble. “As an eBay board member, I saw firsthand Meg Whitman’s determination to live and manage by the answer to the question ‘What is the right thing to do?’ as she helped eBay develop its character as a company. This book explores the values she brought to eBay and the values she nurtured at eBay – values that ultimately helped her create a remarkable success story and a powerful consumer brand.” HOWARD SCHULTZ, Starbucks “Meg Whitman makes a compelling connection between achieving success and holding firm to high standards of integrity and personal values. It’s clear and effective advice for motivating people to do their very best.” W. JAMES MCNERNEY, JR., Boeing
Anthony Bianco plunged into Silicon Valley. “[A] gripping, well-sourced and illuminating book, “The Big Lie” [is] a gossipy and at times vulgar account of the battle of wills between Dunn and Tom Perkins, one of California’s wealthiest venture capitalists. Think Tyra Banks meets “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell in a televised food fight… A splendid account of the very flawed stars of HP’s sideshow.” SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE “An authoritative account.” NEW YORK TIMES “Bianco’s reporting (and he’s done plenty of it at BusinessWeek) is complete, nasty, with plenty of villains, no heroes, and perhaps one victim… Read this alongside Jeffrey Pfeffer’s recent book, Power, and you will understand much of the dysfunction of Fortune 500 capitalism.” NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
Jay Greene cast a designing eye. “A series of case studies of attractive and efficient design, from journalist Greene, makes a persuasive case for regarding design as an essential component of the development process of any product, which must be attended to at all stages, not just at the end….Through case studies of design-savvy companies like Porsche, Nike, LEGO, OXO, Clif bars, and Virgin Atlantic, Greene discusses the brands’ origins and presses home the point that successful companies turn their customers into cultists of a sort, admirers of both the form and function of the products they’re using.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Greene provides valuable information and insight for companies in all businesses as he explains the importance of design thinking. He quotes Apple’s Steve Jobs in discussing the iPod, ‘It’s design’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’” MARY WHALEY, Booklist
Suzanne Robitaille checked out cutting-edge tech. “Suzanne’s book combines research and personal insight to help even the most novice user make better, more informed choices about assistive technology.” FRANCIS W. WEST, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center “This comprehensive, practical, and detailed guide gives you all the information you need to choose the right options for you or your loved one.” KIM DORITY, Vice President, Disaboom “Using a lively narrative style, Suzanne Robitaille takes the reader on a fascinating tour of the latest and best in assistive technology…” NICK LaROCCA, National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Evan Schwartz surprises with his Oz tale.”Author and former business journalist Schwartz (The Last Lone Inventor) presents the life story of L. Frank Baum, focusing on the invention and development of his classic 1900 children’s tale, The Wizard of Oz. Schwartz reveals how Baum’s early interest in theatre, tall tales, and entertaining an audience led the restless young man through a string of doomed careers, including actor, playwright, castor oil salesman, and shop owner (trading in knickknacks and toys)…. A dad himself, Schwartz tells Baum’s story with understanding and wit, perfect for anyone with fond memories from over the rainbow.–PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Joan Hamilton also offered sage counsel to a lawyer. “Well written and engaging, this book opens a door into big city crime and how to address it. A must-read for any would-be prosecutor and urban resident, in particular. It dispels myths about the impact of crimes with a balanced eye on the one wronged, the perpetrator and law enforcement, and should make any California resident comfortable–and hopeful–about seeing Harris in higher office. Hamilton does an excellent job of capturing the prosecutor’s perspective without letting this drift into hagiography. M. DUNKERLY, Texas attorney “This book, so clearly and well written, describes a comprehensive and sensible approach for actually reducing crime. Kamala Harris is a no-nonsense prosecutor who has thought about how to address the actual causes of crime, as well as appropriate punishments. Everyone who is concerned about the safety of our neighborhoods, now and in the future, needs to read this book and ask our friends in law enforcement and the judiciary to carefully consider her proposals for reform of the criminal justice system.” JANE HICKIE, Stephenville, Texas
Check out Linda Himelstein‘s much-praised work. “…a colorful chronicle of the rise of a business. Ms. Himelstein, a veteran journalist, keeps her narrative moving neatly along, distilling complex matters of commerce into a clear and readable form.” JOSEPH TARTAKOVSKY, The Wall Street Journal. “Himelstein makes Russian history and even current politics come alive through an unlikely narrative thread — the creation of a fortune and the eventual demise of a vodka-producing family.” STEVE WEINBERG, USA Today “The book is an impressive feat of research, told swiftly and enthusiastically, and brings depth and substance to a product that is otherwise bereft.” JORDAN MACKAY, San Francisco Chronicle
Giles Blunt hit again. “An utterly vivid, completely disturbing account of how thugs with authority unrestrained by the rule of law and untempered by the quality of mercy can go about the physical, mental and emotional destruction of a person.” THE GAZETTE “Giles Blunt writes with uncommon grace, style and compassion and he plots like a demon.” JONATHAN KELLERMAN, author “A tour de force, sorrowing and direct, sharp as a knife blade, beautifully written — an unforgettable window into the human capacity for cruelty and courage.” THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Howard Gleckman, long a pillar of the D.C. bureau, was moved to write about his elders. “Compelling personal stories, helpful information about where to turn for assistance, and ideas for ways to strengthen the safety net that too often fails families facing crisis.” JOHN ROTHER, AARP “Howard Gleckman knows first hand about caring for his elderly parents. In his illuminating Caring for Our Parents, Gleckman shines a spotlight on the financial and physical price we pay to help our loved ones in a fractured and inadequate network of long-term care services. As he profiles families who meet those challenges with love, determination, and grace, he raises important questions about how our nation will cope as the enormous Baby Boomer generation ages. Caring for our Parents is a wake-up call to a graying nation.” MARY BETH FRANKLIN, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance “By telling his personal story and those of others, Howard Gleckman helps us understand why caring for our parents is such a challenge. This is a must read for every Baby Boomer.” SUZANNE MINTZ, National Family Caregivers Association
Count Stacy Perman in, too. “Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: [A] chronicle of how a family-run California hamburger joint went on to become an American pop culture icon…. If you’ve never had an In-N-Out burger, Perman’s book just might inspire you to find a good reason to get yourself to Southern California and seek out an off-the-menu 3×3 with a side of Animal Style fries.” BRAD THOMAS PARSONS Intriguing video of Stacy, too.
Sandra Dallas wowed ‘em. “In her charming new novel, Dallas (The Persian Pickle Club; Tallgrass; etc.) offers up the unconventional friendship between Hennie Comfort, a natural storyteller entering the twilight of her life, and Nit Spindle, a naïve young newlywed, forged in the isolated mining town of Middle Swan, Colo., in 1936…. This satisfying novel will immediately draw readers into Hennie and Nit’s lives, and the unexpected twists will keep them hooked through to the bittersweet denouement.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “*Starred Review* Like the lives narrated, this novel, by the author of Tallgrass (2007), runs the gamut of heartache, hardship, and happiness as Dallas skillfully weaves past into present and surprises everyone at the end. Fans of Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies, 1988), Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees, 2002), and Kaye Gibbons (Charms for the Easy Life, 2003), will love this book.” JEN BAKER, Booklist
Sandra Dallas nailed another. “An ugly murder is central to this compelling historical, but the focus is on one appealing family, the Strouds, in the backwater town of Ellis, Colo. Soon after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up all the Japanese residents of the West Coast and shipped them off to “internment camps” for the duration of the war. One of the camps is Tallgrass, based on an actual Colorado camp, as Dallas (The Chili Queen) explains in her acknowledgments. The major discomforts and petty indignities these (mostly) American citizens had to endure are viewed through the clear eyes of a young girl who lives on a nearby farm, Rennie Stroud…. Dallas’s terrific characters, unerring ear for regional dialects and ability to evoke the sights and sounds of the 1940s make this a special treat.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Dallas has made a major contribution to a growing body of literature about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Based on the one camp in Colorado (named Amache, and renamed Tallgrass by the author), the story focuses on the impact it had on the local farmers and townspeople….Part mystery, part historical fiction, part coming-of-age story, Tallgrass has all the elements of a tale well told: complex characters, intriguing plot, atmospheric detail, pathos, humor, and memorable turns of phrase. But most of all, the book offers a fresh look at a theme that can never be ignored: the interplay of good and evil within society and within people.” ROBERT SAUNDERSON,Berkeley Public Library, CA, School Library Journal
Alex Beam has made quite a mark, too. “Alex Beam’s colourful history narrates how this extraordinary project got off the ground at the University of Chicago, under the stewardship of chalk-and-cheese duo Robert Hutchins (who, a friend said, “made homosexuals of us all”) and Mortimer Adler (who “often added his own works to Great Books reading lists for courses he taught”).” STEVEN POOLE, Guardian “Boston Globe columnist Beam looks at how and why this multi-year project took shape, what it managed to accomplish (or not), and the lasting effects it had on college curricula (in the familiar form of Dead White Males). Beam (Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital) describes meetings endured by the selection committee, and countless debates … but tells it like it is regarding the Syntopicon they devised-at “3,000 subtopics and 163,000 separate entries, not exactly a user-friendly compendium”-and the resulting volumes, labeling them “icons of unreadability-32,000 pages of tiny, double-column, eye-straining type.” By lauding the intent and intelligently critiquing the outcome, Beam offers an insightful, accessible and fair narrative on the Great Books, its time, and its surprisingly significant legacy.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Steve Hamm pursued the ideal. “This is a really remarkable book! Covering past, present, and-most excitingly-the future of mobiles, it brings back extremely vivid memories to me and puts in context the many challenges and great opportunities still out there.” JOHN ELLENBY, creator of the GRiD Compass, the first laptop computer “If you have a couple of mobile devices in your pocket and wonder why there isn’t a perfect single device, this book is for you.” ROBERT SCOBLE, the Scobleizer blog and former chief blogger for Microsoft
Giles Blunt ventured into the youth market. “Blunt presents readers with a well-crafted plot and lovable, eccentric characters who are magnetizing from page one. Teens will fall in love with this handsome, insightful 18-year-old and his questionable girlfriend, and will be charmed by this quirky, fast-paced tale.” ELLEN BELL, Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA
Steve Baker did some close counting on this one. “In this captivating exploration of digital nosiness, business reporter Baker spotlights a new breed of entrepreneurial mathematicians (the numerati) engaged in harnessing the avalanche of private data individuals provide when they use a credit card, donate to a cause, surf the Internet—or even make a phone call…. An intriguing but disquieting look at a not too distant future when our thoughts will remain private, but computers will disclose our tastes, opinions, habits and quirks to curious parties, not all of whom have our best interests at heart.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “This is a fascinating outing of the hidden yet exploding world of digital surveillance and stealthy intrusions into our decision-making processes as we buy food, make a date, or vote for president. Yet, as Baker assures us, we are not helpless. For one thing, machines still can’t process sarcasm. Read and resist.” DONNA SEAMAN, Booklist
Michael Mandel waxed academic. Another text I use in my biz-econ journalism class. Need you know more?
Fran Hawthorne shares retirement worries. “Will retirement security be an oxymoron for most Americans? Fran Hawthorne’s Pension Dumping offers a clear-eyed, provocative look at the critically important world of pensions.”
—BARBARA RUDOLPH, author. “Having lived through the S&L crisis, I can’t help but wonder what policy makers might have done had they been presented with a concise, cogent description of the gathering of the perfect storm before events unfolded. Fran Hawthorne has written such a book for pension policy makers.”—OLENA BERG LACY, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration. “With clarity and even humor at times, Hawthorne examines a complicated, multifaceted, and often troubling phenomenon with broad current and future implications for companies, workers, retirees, taxpayers, and society as a whole.”—PHYLLIS C. BORZI, former Counsel for Employee Benefits, U.S. House of Representatives
Tony Bianco went shopping. “[The Bully of Bentonville]…is filled with direct quotations from current and former Wal-Mart employees, paraphrased anecdotes from Wal-Mart lore, Sam Walton legends, data from government documents and studies from academic researchers such as Basker. Not a single page…is boring, whether the reader is a Wal-Mart lover, Wal-Mart hater, or a conflicted in-between sometimes shopper.” THE KANSAS CITY STAR “In The Bully of Bentonville Bianco produces the most penetrating examination of Wal-Mart’s business practices and their ripple effects in American society that has been published since Wal-Mart watching became a serious pursuit of the business press and academia.” THE STAR TELEGRAM
Ann Therese Palmer, a devoted grad of Notre Dame, showed her fealty to alma mater. “This book is a great read. It includes letter from early Notre Dame female grads along with other famous ND folks who were there when coeducation began. Included are letters from sports coaches and the first female ND undergraduate.” PAUL BLILEY JR. “This book is amazing! Reading all the stories and experiences of Notre Dame women pioneers, famous Notre Dame graduates, and various administrators is inspiring! Read the book, it’s wonderful!” R. O’CONNOR, BingoBooks
Paul Barrett wrapped this one up on Steve Adler‘s watch at BW. “Paul M. Barrett has written a rich book full of insights into a religion many Americans don’t know enough about.” CHICAGO TRIBUNE “A thoughtful exploration that is both comforting and alarming . . . American Islam reveals the variety of Muslim experience in the U.S., as well as profound aspects of Islam that are underappreciated in this country.” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL “Well wrought and engaging . . . A welcome antidote to the wide spread Islamophobia that has infected so many Americans over the last five years . . . The book makes a compelling argument that the greatest tool in America’s arsenal in the ‘war on terror’ may be its own thriving and thoroughly assimilated Muslim community.” THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
Julia Flynn Siler knows a bit about wine, it seems. “Call it Greek tragedy or Shakespearean drama, Biblical strife, Freudian acting out or even soap opera. You wouldn’t be exaggerating, and you wouldn’t be wrong….” ERIC ASIMOV, The New York Times “[A] lesson in business, family, greed and hubris that reads like a thriller novel. You will never look at a glass of wine the same way again.” GEOFF OLDFATHER, Treasure Coast Palm “With stellar reporting and clear, enjoyable writing Julia Flynn Siler… describes the long rise and sharp descent of California’s most iconic vintner … her research is simply outstanding. She captures the scope of Mondavi’s story, which amounts to King Lear in wine country.” W. BLAKE GRAY, Vinography
Larry Light and his bride, Meredith Anthony, proved versatile in fiction. “Ladykiller is an intriguing, compelling and suspenseful crime novel packed with enticing twists and turns to keep you on the edge. The authors have created a powerful thriller that tantalizes with a sense of suspense and a steady flow of action. The characters are believable, finely developed and engaging. Ladykiller is superbly crafted with vivid detail that draws you into the story.” TERRY SOUTH, Quality Reviews
Janet Rae-Dupree and Pat DuPree got physical with this one. “I’m a middle age woman who returned to college and needed help with my Anatomy class this book was a very big help. I couldn’t have passed the class without this book.” — CHRISTY BURKE “I am starting my first year of nursing school and needed some brushing up on my A&P. This book breaks everything down for you. It is simple enough to easily understand but doesn’t become so easy that you are actually learning nothing. I would totally recommend it!” — LILMISSNURSE
Under the pseudonym G.F. Michelsen [George Michelsen Foy] “pits a commercial sea captain against a broken ship and an insubordinate crew in his disappointing new novel. Lorenzo Fuller captains the Pacific Debenture, a grain freighter, off the coast of southeast Africa and tries to get the wayward and ailing ship back on track. But the memories of the woman he has loved and lost haunt him…. Fans of nautical tales will enjoy the climactic scene, but anyone not enamored of salty dog stories will have a tough time getting their sea legs here.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Michelsen has written deftly about men struggling with their jobs, their marriages, and society in general, and his latest novel addresses similar themes…. Michelsen’s strong characterizations of Lorenzo, his son, and several crew members inject heightened pathos into the climactic, though not unexpected, conclusion.” — DEBORAH DONOVAN, BOOKLIST
Larry Light addressed timeless topics. “Light brings back intrepid reporter Karen Glick, feature writer for Profit magazine, for a second outing (following Too Rich to Live) with largely satisfying results. The three Reiner sisters, Linda, Ginny and Flo, have created a computer program called Goldring that accurately predicts the stock market, and have used it to make themselves incredibly wealthy. But the digital goose that lays the golden eggs proves deadly…. Light is skillful setting the multiple and complicated plots spinning, and despite the body count he manages to keep the tone light and quick; however, the story—nicely tied up though it is—relies heavily on coincidence and overly talky characters, and much of the supporting cast feel stock. That said, Glick remains a strong, witty heroine; her latest adventure should please fans of Wall Street thrillers.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Giles Blunt chilled ‘em with this. “Set in remote Algonquin Bay, Ontario, Blunt’s compelling fourth crime novel to feature John Cardinal (after Blackfly Season) finds the police detective mourning the death of his wife, an apparent suicide. Then Cardinal starts receiving cold, hate-filled notes gloating over his loss…. An unexpected yet utterly realistic twist lifts this novel into extremely interesting (and entertaining) territory. Sharp dialogue, complex characters and a satisfying conclusion should help Blunt, who has won Britain’s Silver Dagger and Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, win new readers in the U.S. PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “The fourth crime novel featuring Detective John Cardinal may give acclaimed Canadian author Blunt the popular recognition he is due.” ALLISON BLOCK, Booklist
Steve Hamm rode the tiger. “Business Week senior writer Hamm, who has focused on the emergence of India and China as global economic powers, chose to profile Wipro to tell the story of India’s rising technology industry. Founder Azim Premji built the company from a failing vegetable oil company into a high-tech engineering lab serving clients such as Aviva and Texas Instruments. Premji (who has been called the Bill Gates of India) pioneered the “Wipro Way,” which, much like the famed HP Way, emphasizes ethical values, process excellence, and a central focus on customer relations. On track to become the Wal-Mart of IT services, Wipro is already a fierce global competitor and will be a company to keep an eye on. DAVID SIEGFRIED, Booklist
Gary Weiss found the fraudsters — again. “Never mind Enron—corruption, fraud and towering incompetence are Wall Street’s daily bread and butter, insists this lively j’accuse. Ex-BusinessWeek reporter Weiss (Born to Steal: When the Mafia Hit Wall Street) details the myriad ways the financial industry preys on small investors… He also pillories the industry’s toothless watchdogs—the New York Stock Exchange, a business media addicted to hype and puffery, and a do-nothing Securities and Exchange Commission.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “If you’re like half of America, and you own stocks, either directly or through mutual funds, IRAs, or 401(k)s, you may not want to hear what Weiss has to say about the industry–but you’d better read it anyway, for your own good. Weiss, an award-winning investigative journalist, formerly with Business Week, refuses to toe the party line. He describes practices we thought were confined to the fringe dark side of The Street, such as boiler room fraud; overpaid, uncaring fund managers; ineffectual SEC regulations; and Wild West-style hedge funds. The wall that is supposed to separate CEOs, analysts, underwriters, and the media has long disappeared, according to Weiss, as these forces cozy up to form a coalition designed to separate you from your money.” DAVID SIEGFRIED, Booklist
Sandra Dallas struck a chord. “Old fans will recognize Dallas’ trademark leisurely pace in a new setting, a gothic-tinted South instead of the wide-open Midwest, and be pleasantly surprised. The languid pacing will not keep readers from eagerly turning pages to discover why Amalia was murdered and the reasons behind Nora’s failed marriage. Dallas has crafted a honey-and-Spanish-moss-tinged tale certain to please gentle fiction readers who don’t mind a little mystery.” KAITE MEDIATORE, Booklist
Giles Blunt stung. “Silver Dagger–winner Blunt spins a highly disturbing but truly memorable tale about a Canadian cult’s murder spree…. Based on a true crime, the pulsing, tightly plotted narrative again shows why Blunt (Forty Words for Sorrow) should be considered among the new practitioners of crime drama’s elite.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “His characters, even to the lonely guy sitting by himself at the end of the bar, are wonderfully realistic; his pacing never flags; his knowledge of police procedure is accurate without being show-offy; and he leaves the reader not so much with a story as with a glimpse into a perfectly realized world. First-rate.” CONNIE FLETCHER, Booklist
Sheridan Prasso made a mark early with this effort. “Prasso’s ambitious agenda focuses on both Asian women and our perceptions of them, exploring the historical and pop cultural roots of the ‘Asian Mystique’ and ending with a ‘reality tour of Asia.’ Her stories about the lives of Asian women from diverse cultures and socio-economic backgrounds are compelling.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “… Prasso explains the symbiotic nature of Western fantasy and Asian fulfillment–often to great profit–of that fantasy, the roles that Asian women play and defy in the West, even the dangerous implications of this still-active fantasy upon global politics. Especially interesting are her observations on the emasculated role of Asian men in Western media–picture, for instance, Jackie Chan even kissing a Western woman.” ALAN MOORES, Booklist
Paul Raeburn shared some tough material. “Raeburn fully discloses the daily struggles he faces with his children — one bipolar, the other chronically depressed — but what emerges is less about them than about him. He is the center of the narrative — a pragmatic journalist with an anger problem and a failed marriage who wants what’s best for his children, but like most parents is groping in the dark for what that is…. Raeburn’s greatest gift is his brave honesty. He challenges all parents to take responsibility and claim their part in their children’s pain.” PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Larry Light took readers inside. “Light draws us into a Wall Street world full of well-chosen and telling details that only someone who’s had inside access would know. TOO RICH TO LIVE melds humor and suspense in this entertaining mystery that explores the heady worlds of some very rich men from the point of view of one feisty investigative journalist.”CARROLL JOHNSON, Reviewing the Evidence.
“A clear-eyed, thoughtful look at an agency that regulates a quarter of the U.S. economy and, more than any other, has the safety of the American public in its hands. Inside the FDA makes plain how powerful and controversial the Food and Drug Administration has become.”—ELIZABETH MACBRIDE,former managing editor of Crain’s New York Business. “Controversy lives on the FDA’s doorstep, and it knocks loudly— as it did recently with Vioxx—when a drug it approves is involved in consumer deaths. Fran Hawthorne has written a vivid and compelling account of the pressures from politicians, industry, and consumers; the scientific uncertainties; the risk-reward compromises; and the constantly changing legal landscape that influences the agency’s life-and-death decisions.”—CLEM MORGELLO, former senior editor and columnist at Newsweek, former senior editor at Dun’s Review
Flouting convention has its uses. An outrageous image can provoke debate, prompt action or, at a minimum, win attention. And all those things are vital to any media organization in our infoglutted age. When so many magazines vie for notice, after all, it takes a lot to grab a reader’s eye on a crowded newsstand, stand out in a towering mail pile or merit a crucial split-second’s notice on a computer screen.
But does that mean sacrificing taste? Sure, Penthouse gets a second glance every time. But will that translate into lasting buzz or just a dismissive, “ah, there they go again?” Does a magazine want to be known as smart and sassy or as juvenile and sassy? What happens to the “smart” when a puerile cover image sullies the book’s impact?
So this brings us to Bloomberg Businessweek. There’s no question the magazine has done impressive work since 2009, when McGraw-Hill sold BusinessWeek after thinning its journalism ranks over several financially troubled years. One would expect no less than excellence from Bloomberg, the preeminent business-news operation of the day. A friend who toils abroad for the news service points out that BB won the 2012 National Magazine Award for General Excellence – the magazine world’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize — something the magazine hadn’t done since 1996, an earlier time of superb journalism at BW.
But one must wonder whether BB has won despite some of its new approaches, rather than because of them. Much of the reporting and writing remains superb – its economic coverage, for instance, has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and I know from serving as a judge that the work was best in class. Some of BB’s contrarian ideas, fleshed out well in text that intelligently challenges conventional wisdom, are compelling. At its best, its work is as good as the best material BW was known for over decades, work that won 10 National Magazine Awards in various categories from 1973-2008, all before the latest general excellence prize. BW and its staffers won a slew of other prizes for foreign and domestic work over those years, too.
The risk for BB is that its drive to be edgy, particularly in its cover imagery, could easily thrust it over a cliff’s edge. It could all too easily slip from provocative to prurient, as it has at times already. Disturbingly, the distance from smart to smartass is not all that great.
Already, the editors have had to apologize for the art in a cover piece. They ran a smart housing story, only to have its impact undercut by racial insensitivity in the cover art. At best, the drawing seemed goofy anyway.
BB today, like BW before it, does have to distinguish itself both in its journalism and in the artwork it uses to make its points. And, as my friend from Bloomberg points out, the magazine has been recognized for its design successes by such outfits as Britain’s Design and Art Direction. Apparently, though, what caught the eye of folks at D&AD was one of the more elegant covers, which used a stark and simple photo of Steve Jobs. This seems a case of BB earning recognition for being classy rather than déclassé. That’s something any editor should feel proud of.
BB has had some impressive successes. It has held onto 4.7 million readers worldwide when so many others have lost the readership battle. It can draw on the work of 2,300 journalists in 72 countries, a couple thousand more journalists and support staffers than BW ever had. If it is to keep up its record of success in readership and influence, the book should work to be known for top-flight economic and business coverage and high-quality artwork that makes the coverage come alive. This is its inheritance, its bloodline. The editors shouldn’t be weighed down by the magazine’s stellar list of alumni and their work as they sort out what to put in the book each week, what imagery to adorn its cover with. But, if they do pause for a second to consider the book’s distinguished history, they might feel a useful nudge in the right direction.
What do the editors, staffers and art folks want the book to be known for anyway? What do they want their legacy to be? Flout convention, sure. Be provocative. Kick up dust. But do it with style and intelligence. A little grace can carry you a lot farther than an adolescent smirk or an unwelcome dollop of snark.
What words come to mind when you look at the image from the latest cover of Bloomberg Businessweek?
For my Reporting 1 students at the University of Nebraska, the words include “amusing,” “comical,” “creative,” “clever,” and “intriguing.” Most of the 30 students in the two sections of the course liked the image and thought it just fine for the book. They would agree with the folks at The Atlantic who suggested it was “edgy.”
The enthusiasts offered other terms, too. “Fun,” “simple,” “funny,” “different,” “unique,” “surprising” and “attention-getting” were among them. Some said it would encourage them to buy the magazine if they saw it on the newsstand – which, of course, is what a cover should do.
“I love this cover,” said one student, who at 23 is a couple years older than most of the others. “If I saw the magazine, I’d grab it. I love the tie-in. It’s definitely an attention-grabber.”
Another concurred, adding a thought about the cover language. “If the title was about a merger, there’s no way I would pick it up. This I would pick up,” she said.
Many found it funny. “It’s fun. I like the design. It’s a mature joke,” she said.
Of course, opinion wasn’t unanimous. A solid minority, including some who found the image entertaining, thought it “inappropriate” for a national business magazine. Some even worried about kids seeing it on the dining-room table or newsstand. Two found it “distasteful.” While saying she found it “slightly inappropriate,” one hurried to add that she was not offended.
And some were just perplexed. “It’s just a couple airplanes,” said one. “Airplanes can’t have sex.” Another said he couldn’t get the image at first, since it looked like a couple planes colliding or flying in tandem. And one, blushing, said the word that came to mind was “sexual,” and she added that the idea was “disconnected.” She asked, “why refer to two plane companies as sexual?”
While most students in this sophomore-level class thought the image was a winner, some faculty thought it, well, sophomoric. Echoing the blusher, one sixtysomething prof puzzled over the idea that everything nowadays seems to be cast in sexual terms, especially among folks south of 25 (or, I’d add, south of 40). A longtime newspaper photo editor-turned-teacher argued that manipulating photos just isn’t kosher even if it’s dubbed a photo-illustration (which this wasn’t) because the technology makes the images too believable.
Some, by contrast, thought the image just fine — so long as it suited the target audience. One, who led the art designers at New York Newsday and The New York Times before returning to Nebraska to teach, was reminded of provocative covers Newsday would run to pop off the stands next to the New York Post and the Daily News. And another, a veteran of the New York bureau of the Miami Herald, thought this would, indeed, help the magazine stand out, adding that images of humping animals are not uncommon, so why not?
Outside of school, a friend at National Journal volunteered this (sans capitals, in a Facebook exchange: “it’s funny, it’s original, it makes the point instantly, it’s not actually icky (planes don’t really have sex, people!), and it makes me much more inclined to pick up the magazine than photo of a white dude in a suit or a photo of an airport. sometimes the worthiest stories on the most important topics are really hard to coverize, and i’m sure the writer is glad they found a solution. i wish i had more ideas like this for national journal.”
When I argued that the image might fit The Onion but not BB (or BW, as we veterans prefer), he added that we might see such an image on New York, Slate or The Economist. He might be right about that, since The Economist proved even more edgy, with camels — back in 1994. Of course, that was before the British pub became the force to beat in business magazines and, maybe, had less to lose.
So, gentle reader, what say you? Does an image of jets in flagrante suggest witty, smart, authoritative and sophisticated? Or is it just a ripoff of The Colbert Report and The Daily Show that offers sass instead of style? Does it suggest hip or, rather, desperation to look hip? In the end, do boinging Boeings reflect well on a national business magazine?
Electoral politics and rising gas prices are a combustible mix. But President Obama, disappointingly, is all too happy to use the $4-a-gallon-plus prices to his advantage by, again, demonizing players in the financial markets. Feeling pinched at the pump? It’s all the fault of those mysterious gnomes at the New York Mercantile Exchange who gamble on price moves.
Forget the plunging dollar, Middle Eastern tumult and fiscal deadlock in Washington. The president would instead pillory the sharpies in the oddly colored jackets at NYMEX. That’s why he created a financial fraud enforcement working group to look into “the role of traders and speculators.” Guided by Attorney General Eric Holder, Cabinet department officials, federal regulators and the National Association of Attorneys General will unleash their wrath on those bad boys.
Even before the group puts a single trader under the hot lights, Obama has made it clear that he won’t stand for the supposed abuses and manipulation anymore. At a renewable energy plant in Reno, Nev., on April 21, the president declared, “we are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain.”
The line, ready made for a president disturbingly fond of using class warfare to rally his base, will play well with the faithful. And his probe, virtually guaranteed to go nowhere, will no doubt be popular among the ill-informed.
But the sad part is that this bright man should know better. Surely, this Chicagoan has been schooled by the folks at CME Group, owners of NYMEX. Leaders there, who have played host to him at times and even contributed to his campaigns, must have given him some insights into the workings of the futures world. Indeed, his former chief of staff, now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, served on the board at CME.
If Obama hasn’t asked for a tutorial, he should have. The president, a former teacher who often lapses into lecture mode, should then take what he learns and educate the American public. Gas prices, he could say, reflect a host of factors – including demand rising in a recovering economy – as well as the latest financial ineptitude in Washington.
As Chicago Sun-Times financial columnist and CME director Terry Savage has told CNN, the sinking dollar alone drives up prices of everything from gold to oil simply because such commodities are priced in dollars. Sure, people might try to game the prices, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist John Parsons told The Huffington Post. “But it wouldn’t be central to the price movement,” he added.
Yes, the president could tell the public, there are traders who do make money on price rises. Some also lose on rises. That’s the way the markets work.
If he really wanted to shed some light on gas prices, he should tell voters that traders are like the oil world’s pilot fish. Such brightly colored little fish hang around sharks and dine on parasites that pester the bigger host creatures. Do they manipulate, steer or direct the sharks? No. But some of them do profit by the relationship. And the sharks do well by it, too.
If the president believes the pabulum that he is offering up, though, he seems mesmerized by the fish. All those bright colors at the NYMEX have blinded him. And that’s troubling for a Harvard-educated University of Chicago classroom veteran who has a vast array of smart people in Washington at his disposal. Is there no one with the cojones to tell him how things work? Where is Austan Goolsbee, the Chicago business school economist who leads his Council of Economic Advisers?
Sadly, though, this is all too familiar. When gas prices climbed in 2006, President Bush acted much the same way as Obama. He ordered Justice and Energy department officials to probe price manipulation and speculation. He sent letters to state attorneys general urging them to move against “anticompetitive anticonsumer conduct in the petroleum industry.” The villain then was Big Oil.
Nobody from ExxonMobil or Shell went to jail as a result of the Bush folderol. It’s doubtful anyone will as a result of Obama’s efforts, which are being roundly slammed by economists. “This is a transparently political fishing expedition that insinuates that fraud or manipulation is distorting oil prices without providing even the flimsiest factual basis for such a suspicion,” University of Houston finance professor Craig Pirrong told Fox News.
Like any arena where there is big money to be made, where uncertainty reigns and where transparency is rare, the oil markets are prey to skulduggery of all sorts. And there will be people who profit while others struggle. Those folks are more likely to be lucky than evil, though. Surely this president is smart enough to know the difference.
Here are a few surprising things about life in the academy. Grading is nearly a fulltime job, distraction is the steady state of things, and knowing whether your students have learned anything is a lot easier than proving it.
On the first point, there’s never enough time during the work week to do a good job of grading and critiquing student work. Now I know why elementary-school teachers spend good chunks of their weekends cozying up to student papers.
It’s a matter of adjusting your calendar. I’ve taken to giving my kids deadlines at 5 p.m. on Fridays. That way I figure I may get their work back to them in timely fashion. I’m not whining about this (though it taxes my wife’s patience). But few folks outside the academy understand this. All they see are summers off and a few lectures a week. Would that it were only so!
Grading, by the way, may be the most challenging part of the job. In journalism instruction this amounts to editing a lot of stories every week. That means finding holes, looking for the great quotes, checking for the sound structure, the seductive lede, solid nut graf, good kicker, etc., even as you suggest — but avoid dictating — rewrites. By comparison, my editing buds at Bloomberg Businessweek work intensely on two or three pieces a week – including takeouts – which now sounds like a day at the beach.
Many of the papers, moreover, are the work of, um, loving little hands that have a long way to go. They’re novices and that’s why they’re in school. Our job is to be tough but encouraging, which is a challenging balancing act. I had to give a 22 to a piece the other day and offer a detailed criticism to explain the poor grade. But will that student come back with something better or shrug it off as a blown assignment? So far, on her first rewrite, she’s done mostly the latter. That led to me kicking the piece back to her and suggesting she take a closer look at all those margin notes I made. We’ll see how it turns out soon.
Taking a hard line with students isn’t easy. Some of my colleagues make Marine drill sergeants look like pushovers. One started a basic reporting class this semester with a full classroom of students and is down to nine. The kids who couldn’t handle the tough grading washed out; they must hope they’ll take the class again with someone they expect will go easier or they’re just leaving journalism. Another colleague who has taught for a couple decades can count those he failed on one hand with several fingers to spare. The Gentleman’s C was a saving grace for many, I suspect.
I figure there’s got to be a middle-ground, a golden mean. Sure, most of our kids aren’t ready yet to handle the growling city editors and magazine section editors I ran across. And some never will be. But I figure part of my job is to make them ready for that. And I don’t have to be an SOB to get them ready for SOBs. I just have to point out the flaws in their work and grade them accordingly, showing them how to make fixes. They’ll learn whether journalism is for them even without a high washout rate, I figure.
Indeed, some of the work that the kids do can make your day. I live for those moments when a piece comes in that almost ready for prime time. One fellow this week did a story comparing drinking-related crime in Lincoln with other places, quoting the local police chief and making it all timely by talking about a recent expansion of the drinking day to 2 a.m., an hour more than before. Good stats, disturbing records of car accidents with booze involved. The piece is solid.
Other students have done pieces that surprise and delight. One looked into a Northwestern University study that showed that religious people tend toward obesity. She looked at local churches and how they’re trying to foster fitness among their members. Another student looked at a new gender gap, the imbalance between women and men in high school graduation rates and college attendance (57% girls on campus nationally and in Nebraska). Such intriguing efforts can make grading far more palatable, even on weekends.
Part of the reason there are not enough hours in the work week for the grade book is that every day is a laundry list of distractions. Some days, this is great. It reminds me of John Lennon’s line from “Beautiful Boy” that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. There are, for instance, the kids who walk in to talk about their schoolwork (a pause that refreshes because it’s fun to help them iron out assignments and ideas). Our policy at Nebraska’s J School is no set office hours, but an open door whenever we’re not in class. That can mean many surprise visits.
Then there’s email, that modern scourge. The damn computer delivers something else to deal with every few minutes, it seems. And each note requires a prompt response, of course. I do respond quickly to the dean’s notes, I must say. My wife and kids, too, get priority. For others, it’s a challenge.
It reminds me of a high school history teacher who taught us time-management long before Day-Timers made a bundle on the concept. Make a to-do list early in the week, update it often and hope you’ll have checks next to most items by week’s end. Works pretty well, though mine seems to expand every day. I have found that I can’t abide unchecked items, which means a good many-mile run each morning to work off the self-imposed pressure. I hope my kids do something similar and figure the ones who meet deadlines must be doing so.
Finally, there’s another area of academics that is a real challenge. It’s the proof of success. “Assessment,” a term of little endearment, isn’t easy.
Let me spell that out. Take my biz-econ journalism students, for instance. I know they are learning something. They knew nothing about publicly traded companies, earnings, Form 10Ks and 10Qs, etc. They couldn’t write about a company’s quarterly results before spending a couple weeks on the topic (indeed, developing a grasp of income statements, balance sheets, stock market performances, etc.) Hell, they didn’t know the difference between Nasdaq and the NYSE, or the many different animals in the stock and commodities exchange worlds, before we dealt with all that. It’s clear they’ve learned something.
But how much did they learn? What will they take away? How can I prove to outsiders, especially tenure-review committee members, that the kids have moved from Point A to Point B? Even defining those points, as well as measuring the gap between them, is a challenge. Lots of documents. Lots of rubrics and graphs.
Fortunately, at Nebraska some of us have help. A group of us – mostly tenure-track newbies – are working on a peer-teaching experience this semester that is aimed at getting at such answers. We met on Saturday this weekend (no time during the work week for such things) to draft a preliminary version of a statement aimed at measuring our progress.
I picked three students – one star, one middler and one challenged student. I monitor their progress via reporting and writing assignments and tests. Will it become clear that these kids have grown between January and May? Don’t know. Certainly, they’ve learned something, but quantifying and demonstrating their achievement isn’t as simple as recording how they’ve done on an end-of-term test – it doesn’t work that way in journalism or other writing fields.
For folks in the teaching game for most of their careers, a lot of this is workaday stuff. It’s routine. For me, it’s all new. I’d like to think I’m doing A work. But between the grading challenges, the many distractions and the challenge of measuring it all, it’s damn hard to prove that. There are many days when it makes running a national correspondent system for a magazine look easy.
Let’s get to know him a bit. Some 30 years ago, John cut his teeth in journalism at the El Paso Herald-Post. While there he wrote a lede that proved memorable enough to be included in Mel Mencher’s Reporting and Writing textbook, one a lot of us grew up on. The lede went like this:
In less than three miles, Joseph L. Jody III ran six stop signs, changed lanes improperly four times, ran one red light, and drove 60 mph in a 30 mph zone all without a driver’s license. Two days later, he again drove without a driver’s license.
This time he ran a stop sign and drove 80 mph in a 45 mph zone. For his 16 moving violations Jody was fined $1,795.
He never paid. Police say that Jody has moved to Houston. Of the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 outstanding traffic warrants in police files, Jody owes the largest single amount.
Still, Jody’s fines account for a small part of at least $500,000 owed to the city in unpaid traffic warrants.
In February, Mayor Jonathan Rogers began a crackdown on scofflaws in order to retrieve some $838,000 in unpaid war¬rants. As of mid March, some $368,465 had been paid.
Clever, eh? It’s a classic example of the delayed lede, one that teases the reader a bit before getting to the point, or nut graf, of the story. Today, however, I suspect that such a lede would suffer a swift death in an editor’s keyboard. Even John, in his new life as a Web journalist, would likely spike it as ill-suited to our impatient, get-to-the-point times.
Nowadays, John’s prose goes more like this:
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced today that his office has filed a lawsuit against Western Sky Financial, a South Dakota-based online lender, and its principal, Martin A. Webb, for making unlicensed, high-interest loans to Colorado consumers.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, the company made more than 200 loans to Colorado consumers since at least March 2010, during which time it was not licensed with the state. The loans to ranged in value from $400 to $2,600 and had terms ranging from seven months to 36 months. The loans’ annual percentage rates ranged from 140 percent to 300 percent.
John’s reporting today can’t dally or tease. He gets to the point in part because he’s not writing for a newspaper any longer, but rather for his own blog, the pleasantly green-logoed Inside Real Estate News: Colorado’s Real Estate News Source.
John’s readers, like Net readers generally, have little patience for cleverness or meandering. They want the news at the top, so they can move on quickly if it doesn’t grab them. They don’t graze languidly, but rather rush to pull out the news that is relevant to their business. They take what they need and dash off to the next meeting.
John, who worked at the Rocky Mountain News for some 26 years until it folded in 2009, is an example of a new kind of journalist. It’s not just his prose that makes him interesting. It’s his business.
When the Rocky died, John took his expertise as the paper’s longtime real estate editor and created his Net product. It’s a vehicle for and about players and projects in the real estate industry in Colorado. He has a few sponsors who pay for ads on his site and, he says, help him make a living (albeit not quite as cushy a living as when he was a veteran editor at the Rocky.)
As Inside Real Estate News grows, however, John expects that the returns will grow, too. He’s so confident in it that he recently turned down a job at a local weekly in Denver. He likes being his own boss, he says.
Lots of journalists may wind up running their own shows in coming years. Online reading is surging as traditional print newspapers struggle. And the fate of outfits such as The Huffington Post, recently sold to AOL for $315 million, suggest that the appetite for well-devised Web products is hefty. (John, would you settle for 1/315th of that?)
Of course, would-be Web journalists do have to bear a few things in mind, and John’s experience underscores them. First, he offers content that is in high demand, at least in certain circles. Much of what he does is specialized and it isn’t commodity news readily available in lots of other places. What’s more, he works fast, getting his news out ahead of the pack.
Finally, John is able to handle the business side of his operation, taking time to market his services to advertisers even as he stays on top of the news. He stays on top of the growth of the Net, too, putting out the word about his blog on Facebook.
John’s grinning punim isn’t the only look of journalism in the future. TV, magazines, and other vehicles will likely have a place, alongside some newspapers – on the Web or not. But take a close look at him anyway. Whether in textbooks or on the Net, he has plenty to teach us.
Career choices used to be simple. Go to school to be, say, a doctor, lawyer or reporter. Get your degree, apprentice as an intern, an associate or a budding Jimmy Olsen, and then ply your trade. In medicine or law you would make a lot of money and learn golf for when you retired at 55. But for growing numbers of us life rarely moves from point A to B anymore. Instead, we follow a long and winding road with some fascinating forks.
Consider Lynde McCormick, a colleague at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver in the 1980s. While working as a business reporter, Lynde wielded a deft touch with words. He had a sharp eye for big, broad stories and wrote weekly takeouts for a supplement we called Business Tuesday, doing packages the rest of us all wanted to do. Later, he rose to business editor, where — among other things — he waged war on adverbs. If it ended in an “ly,” he’d say, kill it. A Californian, he also had a weakness for fast cars and from time to time turned his hand to new car reviews.
Lynde’s career has taken some stunning turns since then. He left the Rocky for the bright lights at a TV channel the Christian Science Monitor experimented with and then joined Monitor Radio. An adventurer, he landed a job with CNBC in Hong Kong, a spot he loved. When CNBC pulled the plug in ’96 on its Hong Kong operation and merged with Dow Jones TV in Singapore, Lynde says, he moved back to Boston to serve as business editor at the Monitor’s newspaper. Meantime, his equally adventurous wife, Andrea, started a company that imported Chinese antique furniture.
Then things got interesting. After a couple of years, he joined her business. The pair drove around the country, towing a trailer and doing antiques shows, as many as three each month. Eight years ago, they opened a gallery in Manhattan, The Han Horse on Lexington Avenue, to market furniture from the late Qing Dynasty (1700-1900) and pottery artifacts from as long ago as 206 BC. They continue to run it, even though the antiques business has been a tough go in recent years.
By something of a back door, the McCormicks also got into the restaurant business. They backed a friend who opened a spot in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn and wound up running it when he ran into personal problems. The Brooklyn Label serves espresso drinks that Lynde says are “amazingly good.” It’s gotten some good notices from, for instance, New York Magazine.
As his career has unfolded, Lynde’s reporting skills have come in handy. “I have constantly tried to gather as much information as possible, going to expert sources, listening to what they had to say, and then using the parts that made sense for our restaurant,” he says. “It’s a lot like writing a story – you gather the best information possible and then use your own judgment and intelligence to figure out how to use it.”
He also has developed a good sense of marketing and customer service — which might be helpful for journalists. “With both businesses, our philosophy has been that when someone walks through the door, the goal is not to sell them something but to make them want to come back,” Lynde says. “The result is that people, generally, like us… which has a lot to do with why we are still in business.”
Today, the Rocky is no more, a victim of the Internet and the great newspaper consolidation wave. The Monitor serves up its news coverage mostly online, a route many news outfits may wind up taking. And CNBC soldiers on. But the skills Lynde mastered at such places are helping him in ways he likely never imagined. I expect he has few regrets for the time he spent learning them.
For many journalists and journalism students, the road won’t be straight. But the views can make it damn interesting.
Corporate culture may be like pornography. Defining it is tough, but you know it when you see it.
It has rules, ways for people to behave toward one another and the outside world. It has a purpose, perhaps helping a group of people to rally around the company mission. It has history and, indeed, is the legacy of people who’ve created it and pass it on to newcomers. In the end, it’s a means for preserving the tribe and indoctrinating the young.
Corporate culture is also perishable. It can be damaged or destroyed by new managers. Or it can be used by them to help organizations adapt to changing times.
Take BusinessWeek, my employer of 22 years. It was a place whose culture so infused many of us that at times we felt like our first names were “BusinessWeek reporter.” Many of us came to identify so closely with BW that it changed our worldviews. We looked at business, even at life, in different ways, thanks to the values we absorbed, the way we worked and the things we learned at the feet of our elders.
Even now, as I teach journalism students, I share the values I learned at BW. “No story is ever 100% positive or 100% negative,” I tell them, echoing a mantra I learned from a Corporation department editor. Magazine stories are all about point of view, which is what makes them different from most newspaper accounts, I say, echoing longtime editor Steve Shepard. As you take a stance, he’d add, you must give room to dissenting views, even if minimizing them. There’s no such thing as objectivity; there’s only fairness. And — something I learned from my first BW boss, Todd Mason — when at press conferences, keep your mouth shut and ask your questions of sources privately (why share your ideas with rivals?). Finally, you must be analytical, since you’re not being paid to be a stenographer.
There’s much more, of course. I use a guide to writing that longtime correspondent Stewart Toy put together to teach students how to write. It’s wonderful for teaching about anecdotal ledes, nut grafs, developing a theme and balancing it with skepticism, and employing the art of the kicker. It’s the kind of thing I wish I had when in college and grad school so many eons ago. And it reflects some of the corporate culture BW developed over the decades since its founding in 1929.
Bloomberg Businessweek, as it is now called, is a very different place now than when I left 18 months ago. Since then, Bloomberg bought the book, installed new management, changed much of the staff and set up a system in which its 2,300-reporter global network feeds content into the magazine. That’s one heckuva of larger and more potent reporting base that we could have ever hoped to tap, even with a bureau system that boasted some top talent around the world.
Bloomberg has also infused the outfit with its culture. It has brought to bear a sense of egalitarianism, for instance, in which private offices don’t exist and people work cheek by jowl in rows of modest desks in the New York headquarters. Editor Josh Tyrangiel’s desk seems to boast just one perk, proximity to a window, but many others in the organization have the same perk. This culture is well-described in a recent issue of American Journalism Review by Jodi Enda, who coincidentally is a former colleague from a prior employer.
I’m reminded of all this because of an odd dream that awoke me before dawn today. A longtime staffer at BW had died in the dream and another staffer wanted to pay tribute to her. I wound up contacting Keith Felcyn, the longtime chief of correspondents for BW who had hired me, and we talked about how to make this happen. A podcast maybe, I thought. We didn’t use that term, of course, since podcasts didn’t exist when Keith reigned.
Odd as it was, the dream left me feeling warm and fuzzy. I suppose everyone who has left a cherished outfit may feel the same at times. “Back in my day …” and all that.
Nostalgia is only part of the reason former BW staffers stay in touch. There’s an annual reunion (which, sadly, I’ve been unable to attend because of school obligations). There’s a Web site through Linked In. And ex-BW folks — at outfits such as Reuters, Yahoo!, McKinsey, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or teaching at various universities — often are in contact. Colleagues such as Chris Roush at UNC and SMU’s Mark Vamos have been invaluable to me as I learn the ropes in teaching. And just next week, Lauren Young of Reuters will graciously speak to a class at Nebraska. Peter Coy and Ron Grover, both still on staff at the book, have similarly done so.
Some of us bump into one another, unexpectedly at times. A few months ago, Rick Dunham of Hearst, Jane Sasseen of Yahoo! and Frank Comes of McKinsey were among several BW vets who wound up joining another veteran, Joyce Barnathan, at a dinner in D.C. for her organization, the International Center for Journalists. The ICFJ sent one of our former BW colleagues, Bob Dowling, to teach in China for a couple years. I’ll be going there under its auspices in the fall.
As I shared a drink with my buds at the D.C. gathering, it was hard to avoid getting choked up and mourning the passing of the culture that had brought us all together – and changed many of us. I suppose such sentimentality underlays my dream about the passing of former colleagues. The place mattered a lot to us all.
Today, networking and helping one another along is part of the reason for maintaining ties, of course. Some of my students will be joining my former colleagues as interns and I hope many more will over time.
But we also keep the lines intact because we have a lot in common. Like Marines or others who live and work in insular or idiosyncratic outfits, we know the rules — at least as they used to be. We were part of something special, a place where talent and mutual respect were held high, and we know what to expect of one another. What’s more, thanks in part to how BW shaped us, a lot of us just like one another. A healthy corporate culture can make that happen.
Looking for ways to make business journalism come alive for students? How about creating scavenger hunts for juicy tidbits in corporate government filings? What about mock press conferences that play PR and journalism students against one another? Then there are some sure bets – awarding $50 gift cards to local bars for mock stock-portfolio performances and showing students how to find the homes and salaries of university officials and other professors – including yourself — on the Net.
These were among the ideas savvy veteran instructors offered at the Business Journalism Professors Seminar last week at Arizona State University. The program, offered by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, brought together as fellows 15 profs from such universities as Columbia, Kansas State, Duquesne and Troy, as well as a couple schools in Beijing, the Central University of Finance & Economics and the University of International Business and Economics. I was privileged to be among those talented folks for the week.
We bandied about ideas for getting 20-year-olds (as well as fellow faculty and deans) excited about business journalism in the first place. The main answer was, of course, jobs. If they’d like good careers in journalism that pay well, offer lots of room to grow and that can be as challenging at age 45 as at 20, there really are few spots in the field to match. These days, with so much contraction in the field, business and economic coverage is one of the few bright spots, with opportunity rich at places such as Reuters, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones and the many Net places popping up.
The key, of course, is to persuade kids crazy for sports and entertainment that biz-econ coverage can be fun. The challenge is that many of them likely have never picked up the Wall Street Journal or done more than pass over the local rag’s biz page. The best counsel, offered by folks such as UNC Prof. Chris Roush, Ohio University’s Mark W. Tatge, Washington & Lee’s Pamela K. Luecke and Reynolds Center president Andrew Leckey, was to make the classes engaging, involve students through smart classroom techniques and thus build a following. Some folks, such as the University of Kansas’ James K. Gentry, even suggest sneaking economics and (shudder) math in by building in novel exercises with balance sheets and income statements.
– discuss stories on people the students can relate to, such as the recent Time cover on Mark Zuckerberg or the May 2003 piece in Fortune on Sheryl Crow and Steve Jobs, and make sure to flash them on the screen (at the risk of offending the more conservative kids, I might add the seminude photo BW ran of Richard Branson in 1998)
– scavenger hunts. Find nuggets of intriguing stuff in 10Ks or quarterly filings by local companies or familiar outfits such as Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, Buffalo Wild Wings, Hot Topic, The Buckle, Kellogg, etc., and craft a quiz of 20 or so questions to which the students must find the answers
– run contests in class to see who can guess a forthcoming unemployment rate, corporate quarterly EPS figure or inflation rate
– compare a local CEO’s pay with that of university professors, presidents or coaches, using proxy statements and Guidestar filings to find figures
– conduct field trips to local brokerage firm offices, businesses or, if possible, Fed facilities
– have student invest in mock stock portfolios and present a valuable prize at the end, such as a gift certificate or a subscription to The Economist (a bar gift card might be a bit more exciting to undergrads, I’d wager)
– have students interview regular working people about their lives on the job
– discuss ethical problems that concern business reporters, using transgressors such as R. Foster Winans as examples. Other topics for ethical discussions might include questions about taking a thank-you bouquet of flowers from a CEO or traveling on company-paid trips, as well dating sources or questions about who pays for lunch
– discuss business journalism celebs, such as Lou Dobbs and Dan Dorfman
– discuss scandals such as the Chiquita International scandal (Cincinnati Enquirer paid $10 m and fired a reporter after he used stolen voicemails)
– use short clips from various films to foster discussions of how businesses operate. Good example: “The Corporation”
– team up with PR instructors to stage a mock news conference competition pitting company execs in a crisis against journalism students. Great opportunity for both sides to strut their stuff.
We also heard helpful suggestions from employers, particularly Jodi Schneider of Bloomberg News and Ilana Lowery of the Phoenix Business Journal, along with handy ideas from Leckey and Reynolds executive director Linda Austin, a former business editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. My biggest takeaway: run some mock job interviews with students and teach them to send handwritten thank-you notes.
And we were treated to some smart presentations by journalists Diana B. Henriques of the New York Times about the art of investigative work (look for her new Madoff book), the University of Nevada’s Alan Deutschman about the peculiar psychologies of CEOs (narcissists and psychopaths are not uncommon), the University of Missouri’s Randall Smith’s view of the future for business journalists (it’s raining everywhere but less on business areas). We got some fresh takes on computer-aided reporting, too, by Steve Doig of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as well as on social media by the Reynolds Center’s Robin J. Phillips.
For anyone interested in journalism, especially biz journalism, it was a great week. As I take the lessons from ASU to heart, my students will be better off. My thanks to the folks there.
Andrew Jackson, the country’s seventh president, was famous for railing against the financiers of the early 1800s. They speculated on “the breadstuffs of the country,” he warned. “Should I let you go on, you will ruin 50,000 families and that will be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves. I intend to rout you out and by the eternal God, I will rout you out.”
The quote, a favorite of bloggers who fret about plots to establish a new world order and such, would be at home today in the superheated arguments over high-frequency trading. The latest diatribe, I’m sad to say, comes from a dear friend and former colleague at Bloomberg Businessweek. Peter Coy writes, “The bigger the financial sector, the more dangerous it becomes.” He bemoans the flood of smart people going into the business, noting that a quarter of Harvard’s brainiacs in the early 2000s were drawn into investment banking and like fields. And he complains about banks “cranking up their trading operations in a way that imperils the financial system once again.”
His indictment, based on the May 6 flash crash, is headlined “What’s the Rush?” And his subhed warns “The American financial system is erratic and voracious, and keeps score in milliseconds. Here’s how to rein in the beast.” Among his prescriptions: a transactions tax of a few cents per $100 to “throw sand into the gears of high-frequency trading,” higher margin and collateral requirements, and steps such as new taxes to reduce corporate debt (on the idea that we’re being assailed by waves of “debt-fueled speculation.”)
Oh, come now, Peter. Let’s dial it down a bit. First, while the Great Recession was in part the fault of Wall Street, it was not a high-frequency phenomenon. Rather, we can blame bad securitization practices, flawed housing policies in Washington, poor market oversight and a raft of other well-documented problems. Superfast trading may have helped stocks crater, but it was not the force that drove them down.
Yes, one must admit that May 6 was not a good day for the high-frequency set. No matter how short-lived, the $800 billion plunge in the value of U.S. stocks that day was worrisome. Stocks such as Accenture slipped to a penny from $40 (before bouncing back) in trading patches as short as eight seconds. Clearly, something was amiss in the superfast computers at the likes of Getco.
But let’s keep a few things in perspective. First, after going haywire the market did correct itself. Prices came back, in most cases rapidly. The Dow lost 1,138.69 points from its high in crazed intraday trading on May 6, but closed just 341.9 points down, and regained all that and then some by May 10. Erratic? No doubt. Voracious. Okay, but when have traders been anything but?
Let’s concede that there’s something bizarre about high-frequency trading. Its relationship to real value in stocks is remote at best. So, too, is its connection to fundamentals such as corporate strategy, earnings power, savvy management. All that good stuff that financial journalists, MBAs and CEOs – and maybe even the odd stockbroker — prize is a few solar systems away from the zippy stock-swapping at Hard Eight Futures, Quantlab Financial and such. Those guys, snapping to the beat of their own algorithms, don’t give a hoot about such things. It’s all numbers, bro.
Let’s concede, too, that the liquidity the HFT pack supposedly brings is an illusion. It is most likely gone when most needed. The simile Peter uses – “like a swimming pool that dries up just as you jump off the high dive” – is apt (hat’s off to his wordsmithing). It’s hard to see just what value the high-freqs bring to anyone but themselves.
But, so what? Speculators, those oft-reviled folks who put the zing in stock markets, have always been in the game for the gamble. They see Wall Street as a massive roulette wheel and believe that any way they can tilt the spin to their favor – legally – is fair play. In an odd way, they are cousins to technical analysts who have long played markets free of the burden of fundamentals. Are we to ban the technical folk because their charts are more like astrology than investment? They, too, are an odd subculture of market players whose powers over stock movements one could decry.
Surely, there needs to be policing to make sure high-freqs don’t misuse the power they have to move markets. They do swap millions of shares in ridiculously short periods of times, all but blind to fundamental values. At times, they account for disturbingly high amounts of volume. If they intentionally – or through glitches – knock stocks down to absurd levels to profiteer in some market-cornering way, they need to be rapped hard for that. Fines, perhaps, or suspensions of trading privileges could be used to rein them in.
But imposing transactions taxes or worse seems like overkill. Such steps would penalize all players for the perfidy of a few. Let’s use the scalpel instead of the meat-axe and target the bad boys, not just the folks looking for an edge of a few milliseconds on the next guy.
By the way, it’s passably ironic that Peter’s employer, Bloomberg, as well as Dow Jones and other data-providers are tripping over themselves to serve up market data ever more quickly to the high-freq bunch. Some go so far as to rent space to traders — at premium prices — so they can house their computers cheek-by-jowl with providers’ machines and save milliseconds of transmission time. What these providers know, just as traders do, is that timely information is still everything in this game.
Every technological advance that changes the playing field makes folks nervous. Luddism is a natural reaction. Moreover, the markets have long been the playground of innovators and, as a consequence, the targets of critics. In 1887 the head of the Chicago Board of Trade forcibly removed telegraph gear from the floor of the CBOT because he couldn’t abide the electronic links to notorious Chicago bucket shops, as recounted by Rutgers historian David Hochfelder. One NYSE broker in 1889 complained that the “indiscriminate distribution of stock quotations to every liquor-saloon and other places has done much to interfere with business.”
We may not like the high-speed folks. We may deride them as little more than turbocharged gamblers, as Rain Man-like idiot savants unfairly using their powers to enrich themselves while adding nothing to the game. But they will be players so long as there’s money to be made. We can take the profit out if they don’t play by the rules (and, by the way, maybe some of those smart Harvard types in finance can cook up better rules to keep market ripples from becoming tsunamis). Let’s not, however, make life onerous for everyone in the process.