Monthly Archives: June 2006
by Adam Levy
Rocky Mountain News business editor Rob Reuteman wrote about reporter John Accola, who died this past weekend of a heart attack, in his Friday column.
Reuteman wrote, “As someone who runs a team of business journalists, one of the aspects I appreciated most about John was how he rubbed off on those around him. Rocky entertainment reporter Erika Gonzalez started her work here in the business section, seated next to him. ‘I soon realized that sitting next to John was the best thing that could happen to a young reporter,’ she wrote this week. ‘He was so diligent and so dedicated, you could learn something just from listening to John conduct a phone interview. He taught me the importance of exhaustive research and reporting.’
“Some of Accola’s phone interviews, easily overheard by those around him, are legendary. Deputy business editor Gil Rudawsky recalled listening to him on the phone with money manager Will Hoover, well before he was convicted and jailed for bilking clients. Rudawsky recalls hearing Accola say, ‘I’m reading through this report, and it looks like you’re a crook.’ Rudawsky expected an abrupt end to that interview, but an hour later Accola was still on the phone with Hoover, typing out a lengthy explanation of his innocence.
“Indeed, John had an incredible knack for saying something to someone that would completely disarm them. I remember a couple years ago when John and I were at a Christmas party at the home of our friends Mort and Edie Marks. Gov. Owens was there, too, and John and I went to engage him in conversation. John opened with, ‘Bill (not governor, as I would have begun), you look fantastic. Have you had work done?’ For a split second I could see the lack of decorum register in Owens’ eyes. Just as quickly, I saw that decorum shatter. Owens burst out laughing and chatted with us for a good 20 minutes.”
Read more here.
Viewers of Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” show on CNBC know that he has been belittling Vonage, even going as far as to bring a toy dog onto the set and have a barking sound, implying that the company is not a good stock.
Now, Vonage is retaliating against Cramer, according to this story.
Marguerite Reardon of CNET News wrote, “The public berating from the media, especially Cramer, likely didn’t help Vonage’s stock price either. Cramer even brought a puppy on his show last week and hung a sign around its neck that said ‘Vonage.’ If that weren’t enough, he then hit a button that played a barking dog sound.
“Despite these public floggings, [CEO Mike] Snyder said Cramer doesn’t worry him.
“‘I don’t think Jim Cramer has had an effect on our stock,’ he said. ‘Nobody here at the company is looking at this as anything other than noise…The stock is down. We’d like it to be up, but the whole market is down. It’s out of our control.’”
Kate Herman has been named publisher of the Nashville Business Journal, according to a story posted on the paper’s Web site. She replaces Bill McMeekin, who has resigned.
Herman has been with The Milwaukee Business Journal for 12 years, serving as an advertising account representative for six years and ad director for another six years. Both papers are owned by Charlotte, N.C.-based American City Business Journals Inc.
Herman, 36, grew up in Hartford, Wis., a small town 45 minutes outside of Milwaukee. She attended the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse and majored in Elementary Education. She and her husband, Matthew, have three children, ages 11, 9 and 7. Her promotion is effective July 1.
Marketwatch columnist Herb Greenberg responded to a reader on his blog who wanted to know how he conducts his reporting on a day-to-say basis.
Specifically, the reader wanted to know whether Greenberg takes the time to try to contact a company when he is presenting a veiwpoint about that company gleaned from a short seller, and whether he tries to contact someone who is bullish on the stock as well.
Greenberg responded, “With critical stories, I do talk to people who are short stocks. On those same stories, I generally don’t try to talk to people who are ‘long’ stocks in lieu of management because I believe the company is the company. The bears are the bears; the company is the ultimate bull. I do not assume a company that fails to answer my questions is guilty of anything more than failing to answer my questions. As Allan Sloan of Newsweek once said, if a company does not respond, ‘More space for me, less for them.’
“The bull case, in most of these companies, is readily available by a simply doing a Google search or scan of any Yahoo message board.
“My column is labeled as ‘commentary,’ which means it tends to have an angle. That angle is mostly looking for red flags, but on occasion does fly green flags. In either case, if I do hear from the company following the publication of my column — I will always give the company fair and equal treatment with equal time. (Do a search of my recent columns on True Religion; you’ll see what I mean.)
“As for being an advocate for someone’s investment decisions: I am only an advocate for stories I believe are worth being written. While I get plenty of tips and leads, in the end I personally do the reporting (even if it is re-reporting what someone may have told me) on every story I write. Sometimes that is simply finding disclosures in SEC filings; other times it is interviewing former employees, competitors and suppliers to a company. Still, other times it is verifying the validity of documents I may have received. It really runs the gamut.”
Read more here.
Gary Weiss, the author of Wall Stret versus America, complains mightily on his blog tonight about how the CJR Daily web site makes some unfounded complaints about a Wall Street Journal article focusing on Warren Buffett‘s gift of $37 billion on Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Gates Foundation.
Weiss noted that the story from the Journal was a “Heard on the Street” column that focused on the impact of Berkshire’s stock price. Yet, the CJR Daily, a blog about journalism run by the Columbia Journalism Review, failed in the most basic understanding of how business journalism works.
The CJR Daily’s critique was this: “Is it because the Journal’s sources actually stand to profit from the very fluctuations they claim to fear (and profit even more if they can whip up some market hysteria with an article in a prominent business newspaper)? We can only speculate, but there is no doubt that there is a deeply cynical strain of business reporting that has come to reduce everything to numbers, seemingly blind to the reality that business affects people — real lives that are either trampled or uplifted depending on the decisions of market players like Buffett.”
And Weiss replied: “Jumping butterballs! What is wrong with these people? There is absolutely nothing in the article suggesting that dark, nefarious market players were feeding info to the Journal, hoping to ‘profit’ from ‘market hysteria.’ Besides, it is beyond me how a story like this, a story so non-earthshaking, could whip up ‘hysteria’ for a stock as large as Berkshire.
“But that’s not what I find bizarre. The obvious answer to the ‘why write it’ was that an editor assigned it or that a reporter thought, with good reason, that it was a good story. For the CJR website to allege, without evidence, that a couple of Journal reporters (this was a joint byline) were manipulated by market players is just… it’s just… yecch. (Oh, and full disclosure: I have never met either Journal reporter.)
“The CJR Daily piece concludes with this sanctimonious cheap shot: ‘Maybe one day the folks on Wall Street will come to realize that good deeds add value, and maybe the journalists who cover that beat will report on the perfect negative correlation between the rise in Berkshire’s stock and the demand for tasteless fortresses and marble statuary in Greenwich, CT.’
“There are plenty of reasons to find fault with financial journalism. I criticize the media severely in my book for touting investment managers and being overly deferential to hedge funds, among other things. But this kind of snarky article seems only to prove that the folks at CJR Daily are having a hard time filling space.”
Read more here. Weiss makes a good argument.
Today’s hearings on short selling should be interesting for business journalists in the wake of recent allegations that some reporters have been in cahoots with hedge funds and others who short stocks to drive down the price of shares.
Former BusinessWeek reporter Gary Weiss has a couple of nice postings about the hearings and notes that there are a couple of interesting witnesses who have been called to testify. One is a former employee of Gradient Analytics, which is being sued by Overstock.com. If you have been following the issue, Overstock’s leader, Patrick Byrne, has gone toe to toe with business journalists such as Marketwatch’s Herb Greenberg.
Weiss also notes the lack of fact-checking by the Columbia Journalism Review’s Daily blog on the issue. It is recommending readers check out a letter from a witness posted on the SanityCheck.com web site, when a more reputable web site for the letter would be The Wall Street Journal.
Writes Weiss: “Odd, don’t you think, that a journalism review — a site presumably devoted to advocating tough journalism — would link to the financial world’s leading enemy of tough journalism? Particularly since CJR could have linked to the place where ‘sanitycheck’ got the letter — the Wall Street Journal’s website? As you can see, the Aguirre material is available there, at no charge, to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike.”
Read more here.
Orange County Register columnist Jon Lansner, a former SABEW president, notes in his real estate blog that government statistics are notoriously bad, yet many business and economics journalists continue to report them as if they were the truth.
He uses the new home sales statistics as an example:
“News flash! New homes sales nationwide were up a surprising 4.6% from April to May! Or was it actually up 17.7%? Or, were they really down 8.5%?
“The confusion comes from the government’s sampling error — standard in all polling efforts — in creating this estimate. Here’s the nut of the Census Dept.’s report:
“Sales of new one-family houses in May 2006 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,234,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.6 percent (plus or minus 13.1%) above the revised April rate of 1,180,000, but is 5.9 percent (plus or minus 10.8%) below the May 2005 estimate of 1,311,000.”
Note the margin of error is so high that the positive numbers could actually be declines.
Read more here.
Stephanie Stoughton, a business writer for The Associated Press in Richmond, Va., was been named news editor of the AP’s Mid-Atlantic bureau on Tuesday, according to this AP story.
Stoughton, 38, will be responsible for overseeing the AP’s general news and sports coverage of the District of Columbia and its Maryland and northern Virginia suburbs, and will direct a staff of 10 reporters and a photographer. Coverage of the federal government and national politics remains the responsibility of the AP’s Washington bureau.
Stoughton, who has covered business news for the AP in Virginia since 2003, began her career in the AP’s Richmond bureau in 1991. She joined The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., in 1993, and won several awards for her business coverage. She also covered business issues at The Washington Post and The Boston Globe before rejoining the AP as a business writer.
Stoughton, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 1991 with a degree in journalism, is a native of Washington and grew up in suburban Maryland
Harry Jaffe, national editor of the Washingtonian, notes that some of the reporters and editors who took a buyout offer from the Washington Post have accepted jobs working at other media outlets.
Jaffe reported that political ace Charles Babcock will edit for Bloomberg News, while foreign correspondent Daniel Williams will write for Bloomberg.
In addition, Jaffe asked Post writers and editors to pick their favorite writers at the paper now that some of the older writers have gone. For the business desk, these bylines were named: Neil Irwin, Yuki Noguchi, Annys Shin, Carrie Johnson. David Hilzenrath was a boy wonder 20 years ago and still is.
Read more here.
John Dinkel will be the new publisher of the Baltimore Business Journal, according to a story on the weekly newspaper’s Web site.
Dinkel, currently the publication’s advertising director, will succeed James Breiner, who is retiring next month after 11 years at the helm of the weekly newspaper, wrote reporter Robert J. Terry.
Terry wrote, “Dinkel, 36, oversees the paper’s advertising sales. In an e-mail announcing the move, Ray Shaw, chairman of American City Business Journals — the BBJ’s Charlotte-based corporate parent — credited Dinkel with ‘building the BBJ’s solid revenue base and strong sales staff.’
“Dinkel will inherit a newspaper that has boosted circulation in recent years and has expanded its marketing efforts to build the Baltimore Business Journal as a brand for business news and analysis. In an interview Tuesday, Dinkel said his top priority would be “to continue to deliver timely and compelling business news that helps our readers grow personally and professionally.”
“Dinkel also said he wants to increase the BBJ’s exposure and play a leadership role in the local business community. Dinkel, who lives in Myersville, is married and has two sons.”
Read more here.