Tag Archives: Obituaries

Business journalism was a tough trade


The Economist remembers former Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who died last week at the age of 86. Michaels was editor of the magazine from 1961 to 1999.

Jim MichaelsThe Economist wrote, “Tiny though he was, he was terrifying. Business journalism, for him, was a tough trade. When writers joined they were given a tape recorder for phone calls, to give them crucial backing when they were hauled into court. They were hustled to get better stories than the competition, different ones, and sooner; covers were scrapped and copies pulped if a piece had appeared elsewhere. ‘No guts, no story’, ran a Forbes ad in his time. His journalists had to be brave, and one way to show their pluck was to survive working with Jim.

“‘Curmudgeon’ was too soft a word for him. When editing, he was a man of shrill explosions and unmasked savagery. ‘EITHER FIX THIS OR DUMP IT,’ ran his capitals, rampaging through the piece. ‘THAT ALL VERY TOUCHING BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN’. ‘CAN WQE SPEAK ENGLISH HOWARD AND STOP THIS STTINKING JARHGON!!!!!!!!.’ Shorter was always better; he could cut 15%, he said, from any piece, and was rumoured to be able to get the Lord’s Prayer down to six choice words. A reporter once wrote a euphoric story about Nepal, ending with the plaintive line: ‘I don’t know why they would ever want to leave such a beautiful spot.’ ‘Ya dont. did you ever go hungry or jobless????’ came the furiously typed reply.

“The journalists who came, trembling, through his boot camp—many of them moving on to high perches at the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, the New York Times and even The Economist—clipped his comments and kept them. Some took his edits home, unpicking them at leisure, as they licked their wounds, to try to see exactly how their copy had been so improved.”

Read more here. 

Michaels made Malcolm Forbes possible


Alex Ben Block of Hollywood Today writes about his two tours of duty at Forbes under former editor Jim Michaels, who died last week and, Block writes, made the success of Malcolm Forbes possible.

Jim MichaelsBlock wrote, “His experience in India was not only a landmark in Michael’s career as a reporter; but it was also who he was. He was deeply affected by his years in Asia and on the Indian subcontinent, and brought what he had learned to business journalism in unique ways. That was his secret, he once told me. He had an eastern point of view about western business. He didn’t think like the rest of them. Michaels never looked at the parts alone; he also saw the bigger picture, how things operated as a kind of organism.

“To me he was like Yoda, a great wise friend always giving good advice and valuable counsel. He didn’t suffer fools but when he discovered I shared his interest in eastern philosophy; Michaels became a friend as well as my editor. Even when I no longer worked for Forbes, he would find time for dinners with me that provided me with education and insight.

“I wasn’t the only one he influenced. There are Jim Michaels ‘graduates’ all over the business and general media today, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week and Fortune. They have all been influenced by Michaels thinking and his innovations. They have been trained to turn a critical eye not just on the news, but also on the process that brought it about.”

Read more here.

Remembering Jim Michaels of Forbes


Stephen Miller of The Wall Street Journal takes a look back Saturday at the career of former Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who died Tuesday.

Jim MichaelsMiller wrote, “Mr. Michaels ran investigative features attacking trial lawyers and the National Education Association. Forbes began grading mutual funds and publishing lists of executive compensation and of the wealthiest Americans. One thing he taught was to buck conventional wisdom. In 1992, he published a prison-house interview with junk-bond king Michael Milken, at the time a reviled Wall Street figure. ‘Mike Milken is a chastened man,’ Mr. Michaels wrote. ‘He deserves a fresh hearing.’ The story ran 12,000 words.

“Nor did he hesitate sometimes to break the usual mold of business journalism: At an editorial meeting, Stewart Pinkerton, then deputy managing editor, proposed a story on the burgeoning business of country music. All he had was a one-sentence description, and Mr. Michaels was famed for skewering unprepared editors. Mr. Michaels said simply, ‘There’s our cover.’ So Garth Brooks showed up on the March 2, 1992, issue.

“Though Forbes’s ad campaigns called it the ‘capitalist tool,’ it was a tool that, if need be, could turn on big business. Mr. Michaels liked to refer to the magazine as the ‘drama critic’ of business. (He displayed on his office wall what he said was a quote from a rival editor: ‘Forbes: They’re Nasty, Venal People.’) In decennial anniversary issues, the magazine published lists of the decline of leading corporations of decades past. ‘It is always safe to take counter-cyclical positions in a cyclical world,’ Mr. Michaels told Ad Week in 1985.”

Read more here.

Michaels was a paradoxical, ruthless leader


Peter Brimelow of Marketwatch remembers Thursday what it was like to work for former Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who died Tuesday at the age of 86.

Peter BrimelowBrimelow wrote, “Michaels when I knew him in his last decades at Forbes came across as a nice little old man. But he was in fact ruthless to the point of cruelty and intellectually restless to the point of mania. The paradoxical result, a case study in leadership, was that the staffers he respected male and female, liberal and conservative, he was only concerned with results adored him, albeit always nervously.

“Forbes under Michaels had a peculiar political structure. There was an absentee owner, first Malcolm Forbes and then his son Steve. We never saw them on the editorial floor. There was the manager, Michaels. And then there were underlings, who all without exception were subject to Michaels’ merciless lash.

“Michaels was an instinctive proponent of Mao’s theory of permanent revolution. He once remarked to me that, if it were left to the staff, the cover of the magazine would be set three issues in advance, regardless of immediacy. Accordingly, his regular practice was to arrive back from vacation in the middle of the process of going to press, scrap the cover, kill stories, tear apart the layout and generally crush the egos and otherwise entertain the subordinate editors who had been left nominally in charge.”

Read more here.

Appreciating the career of Jim Michaels


Forbes has a nice review Wednesday evening of the career of former editor Jim Michaels and what made him a special business journalist.

Jim MichaelsThe non-bylined story stated, “After a stint at The Buffalo News, Michaels joined what was then a pure investment magazine. He wrote about mutual funds. Seeing a future in what was then an obscure corner of Wall Street, he flattered fund vendors by paying attention to them, but shocked them by scorecarding their performance.

“He played the same role as his turf expanded to corporations generally. Forbes, he declared, would be the drama critic of American business. And it wouldn’t use mincing words. If a chief executive was a nincompoop, the Forbes story would say so, provided the facts were there to prove the point.

“If Michaels’ Forbes was no booster of business, it was a believer in free-market capitalism. Such a stance is not rare today, but for most of Michaels’ tenure as editor, it was quite at odds with the prejudices of mainstream journalists.”

Read more here.

Sloan remembers Michaels as a great editor


Fortune senior editor at large Allan Sloan remembers Wednesday what former Forbes editor Jim Michaels – who died Tuesday at the age of 86 — taught him about business journalism during his two stints at the magazine.

Jim MichaelsSloan wrote, “Unlike many of his competitors, Michaels didn’t particularly lionize corporate chieftains. His focus was on representing small investors’ interests, throwing rocks and being irreverent. He knew that despite being journalists, we were in show business, and needed to produce stories that people would actually read and talk about, rather than writing stories designed to impress other journalists.

“Even though I last worked for him almost 20 years ago and we fought like cats and dogs — a cliché he’d edit out of this piece if he had a chance — both during and after my Forbes days, we stayed in touch. In our final lunch, last year, he was physically frail, but mentally robust, urging me to write how some 401(k) investors are getting ripped off because of investment choices foisted off on them by employers. I should have done it.

“Working for Jim was more than occasionally maddening, but he was the greatest editor I’ve ever seen or ever expect to see. He used to say he could cut at least 15% out of any story, no matter how tightly written. In his memory, I’m making this 15% shorter than my normal space. So maybe he’s gotten the last word after all.”

Read more here.

Former Forbes editor Michaels is dead


Former Forbes editor James Michaels, who ran the business magazine for nearly four decades, has died at the age of 86 from pneumonia, according to a story on the magazine’s web site.

James MichaelsThe story, written by Steve, Bob, Kip and Tim Forbes, said, “When he took the helm of Forbes in 1961–he had joined the company in 1954–he brilliantly turned what was then a second-rate publication into not only the leader of the business category but also one of the best magazines both here and around the world.

“He virtually created modern business journalism. He saw Forbes as the ‘drama critic’ of business. Under his stewardship, Forbes became the definitive source of who was doing well, and who wasn’t, and why.

“While Forbes stories were full of statistics, Jim always made sure they focused on the people in charge. Business–which was once regarded as a dull area of dry statistics–became a fascinating stage of drama, triumphs and tragedies, thanks to Jim’s editorial flair and leadership.

“Jim was a relentless foe of verbosity; as one former editor quipped, ‘Jim could edit the Lord’s Prayer down to six words, and nobody would miss anything.’”

Read more here.

Arrests made in murder of PC World editor


Three men have been arrested in the killing of Rex Farrance, a senior technical editor for PC World in San Francisco, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Henry Lee wrote, “The men were each charged with two special circumstances that could result in the death penalty if they are convicted: murder in the commission of a robbery and murder in the commission of a burglary, said Contra Costa County prosecutor Harold Jewett.

“The men demanded money after bursting into Farrance’s home on Argosy Court, which was filled with a large quantity of marijuana, authorities said. Farrance turned 59 two days before he was killed. His wife, Lenore Vantosh-Farrance, was pistol-whipped, and the robbers made off with a safe with guns inside, police said.

“Hudson was allegedly armed with a .22-caliber revolver when he shot Farrance in the chest, said Pittsburg police Lt. Brian Addington. The weapon was recovered six days after the slaying following a car chase involving two half-brothers of Amos, Addington said.”

Read more here.

Former Wisconsin State Journal biz reporter dies


Roger Gribble, a longtime reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal who was a business reporter during the latter part of his career, has died of cancer, according to a story in the paper.

Roger GribbleWilliam Wineke wrote, “Even shortly before his death, he took telephone calls from friends wishing to say goodbye and dictated the words by which he wished to be remembered: ‘Tell people that I was a lucky man. In terms of family, friends and an interesting life, I ‘ve been more blessed than anyone could imagine.’

“A native of Rockford, Ill., Gribble earned a bachelor ‘s degree in journalism from UW-Madison in 1955 and a master ‘s degree, also in journalism, in 1964. He joined the State Journal staff in 1962 and spent much of his career as an education reporter. He won the Wisconsin Association of School Boards ‘ award for outstanding reporting in 1969 and the award of merit of the Wisconsin Vocational Association in 1985. In later years, he was a business reporter.

“He was a judge of the Madison Spelling Bee from 1978 through this year. He was also a judge for the Badger State Spelling Bee for many years.”

Read more here.

Remembering Chet Currier


Peter Schacknow of CNBC writes about his remembrances of former AP and Bloomberg reporter and columnist Chet Currier, who died earlier this week.

Chet CurrierSchacknow wrote, “I had the privilege of working with Chet for 7-1/2 years at Bloomberg News, and read his investment columns for years before that, when he worked for the Associated Press.

“Talking investments with him was like inviting your favorite uncle to dinner for a chat. He came on our radio show quite often, and no matter what subject he was addressing, you always walked away with several gems of advice and the feeling that your portfolio would be perfectly fine — if you just gave it an extra moment or two of thought.

“Chet could address any financial subject with the utmost intelligence, yet was incapable of making his audience feel that he was speaking over their heads.

“Spending time with Chet was always a great investment. We’ll miss him.”

Read more here.