Tag Archives: Personal finance coverage
Peter Kafka, who writes the Media Memo blog for the All Things Digital site, reports Tuesday that the personal finance Web site FiLife, a joint venture between IAC and Dow Jones & Co., has replaced president Dave Kansas.
Kafka writes, “The company has brought in Ezra Kucharz, formerly an executive at online games company Oberon Media and at NBCâ€™s iVillage, as president. He replaces Dave Kansas, a business news veteran. Kansas will stay on as an editor-at-large; he has a personal finance book due out in January.
“FiLife, which is supposed to be geared toward young folks who spend more time browsing the Web than looking at their 401(k), has had a short but troubled existence. It finally launched in June after more than a year of fits and starts. It was originally supposed to have lots of blog-like entries from professional writers, and eventually moved into a more service-oriented comparison shopping engine for financial products.
“You could argue that economic turmoil could make a site like this particularly valuable for its target audience, but that doesnâ€™t appear to be the case: Compare the performance of the site with Consumerist.com, a Gawker Media blog thatâ€™s now up for sale.”
The Deal executive editor Yvette Kantrow writes about how personal finance magazines have changed their tune with the current economic crisis.
Kantrow writes, “Clearly, these are not fun times for the personal finance press. Most people can’t even bear to open their 401(k) statements these days, so they are not all that interested in reading about 10 investments they should make right now! We saw this problem a few years ago after the tech bubble burst and personal finance mags like Smart Money morphed into pseudo-lifestyle pubs. But this time around, even that category is suspect; it’s hard to have much style in your life when you’re worried about losing your home or your job.
“Now, the personal finance buzzword is thrift. ‘The present crisis could actually be the ideal moment to make thrift cool again, because debt has rarely been in worse repute,’ Money Magazine’s sister Fortune recently intoned helpfully. OK, that makes sense. But what does that really mean for the legions of personal finance journalists out there? How do they write about ‘thrift’ without boring readers to tears or coming off like the latte police? Can thrift be ‘cool’? And can it make for interesting, helpful journalism?
“The Wall Street Journal, for one, seems to think so. It has launched a new column called Cheapskate in which reporter Neal Templin dishes about his thrifty ways. In one recent offering, Templin urged readers to ‘opt for the cheapest way to look acceptable’ and proudly revealed he was wearing $40 dress slacks and a $35 shirt. Good for him. Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal style columnist Christina Binkley last week told us ‘in a troubled economy, splurges seem shameful and cheap is cool.’ And in another recent personal finance offering, the WSJ presented ‘How to Make a Spending Plan.’ Its words of wisdom: ‘The goal of successful budgeting is learning to live within the bounds of your discretionary income.’”
Read more here.
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Like BusinessWeek, which is soliciting story ideas from its readers online, personal finance magazine SmartMoney is also tapping into its readers and their issues with the current market turmoil to guide its coverage.
SmartMoney.com editor Tom Weber tells Talking Biz News that the magazine recently set up an online financial crisis answer center for readers to share their questions about the current economic upheaval. There’s also a toll-free number for readers to call.
“Weâ€™ve found that the queries our readers submit shed a good deal of light on which issues are of greatest concern right now,” says Weber. “And what weâ€™re learning from readers is informing our future coverage decisions.”
Weber declined to discuss stories the magazine has in the pipeline, but he did provide some examples of past stories.
“One example is reader frustration,” says Weber. “I can tell you we got complaints about not being able to reach brokers during the hectic days in the market. That lead to a piece where we tested broker response times ourselves.
“More generally, we’ve also been struck by the level of detail in many of the questions and concerns from our reades. It’s not just ‘should I get out of the stock market?’ but ‘are money-market accounts or muni bonds really safe?’.
“It’s been a reminder that Americans have become incredibly sophisticated about their personal finances, more than you think. We’re adjusting to include even more detail in our stories.”
The Deal executive editorÂ Yvette Kantrow takes a look at how the business media are covering the new frugal ways of consumers.
Kantrow writes, “The demonization of the latte has been a pet peeve of this column, going back to 2006, when some financial-help gurus and their media enablers tried to convince unenlightened renters that all that stood between them and the American dream of home ownership was their penchant for froufrou coffee. (And a subprime mortgage, we suppose.) Now, of course, the message is different: Skip that latte and retire in style! ‘If invested, the savings from brewing coffee at home and ‘brown bagging’ lunch over the span of 25 years would be staggering,’ chirps a story in the Colorado Springs Business Journal.
“Interestingly, the big personal finance glossies aren’t the ones espousing the latte-less lifestyle. (The most recent issue of Money suggests charging a latte a month to a rarely used credit card to keep the account active.) This time, it’s more of a local newspaper phenomenon, with skip-the-latte pieces spotted in The Columbus Dispatch, the Allentown Morning Call and the Chicago Tribune. The trend is so ubiquitous and so annoying that we found at least two money-saving-tip stories — in USA Today and North Carolina’s The News & Observer — boasting that they are NOT suggesting forfeiture of the foamy fix. Instead, The News & Observer tells us to wear long underwear and ‘turn the dishwasher off when it gets to the drying cycle and open the door to add heat to the room.’ If only Bob Cratchit had thought of that.”
Read more here.
According to Nielsen NetRatings data, SmartMoney’s Web site ranked No. 18 among financial news and information sites, for September in terms of page views, with 19.6 million. CNNMoney, which is the home site for rival Money magazine, ranked No. 4 with 257 million page views for the month.
The average SmartMoney online reader spent 11 minutes and 40 seconds on the site, according to Nielson NetRatings daya, in September, compared to 18 minutes and 34 second for the average CNNMoney reader.
A note on the site states, “You’ll see that our homepage is now organized into three distinct sections. Our daily stockÂ market coverage, which includes our market story, breaking news section and popular portfolio tracking tool, are now all at the top of the page. A quick glance will tell you how the markets are doing â€“- and most importantly, how your portfolio is faring.
“Below that, we’ve divided our daily features into ‘spending’ and ‘investing’ categories, making it easier to find the type of content you’re looking for. Better navigation throughout the site also makes it much easier for you to hone in on specific topics of interest â€“ whether it’s the credit crisis or our popular 10 Things columns.
“And at the risk of sounding a bit Martha Stewart-ish, you’ll also note that we’ve spruced up the look and feel of the pages themselves, using softer colors and wider margins to make for easy online viewing.”
Read more here.
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers will hold a conference call Thursday on personal finance stories to write now during the Wall Street turmoil.
The call will be held at noon Eastern Standard Time.
Panelists on the call will be Gail MarksJarvis, the personal finance and markets columnist at the Chicago Tribune; John Wasik, the personal finance columnist for Bloomberg News; and Pamela Yip, the personal finance columnist at the Dallas Morning News.
Marty Steffens, the SABEW chair at the University of Missouri, will moderate the panel.
Those wishing to join the call should dial 1-218-936-7999. You will be prompted for the access code, which is 316748. In order for SABEW to estimate the number of callers, please send an e-mail to SABEW at email@example.com.
To send questions in advance or during the call, please e-mail Steffens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tampa Tribune and the Hartford Courant have begun running The Wall Street Journal Sunday content in its weekend papers, according to Dow Jones & Co.
The CourantÂ incorporated The Sunday Journal as part of a major redesign that debuted on Sept. 28. The Tribune, a Media General newspaper,Â began running Sunday Journal on Oct. 5 also part of a redesign initiative.
The additions to the Sunday Journal partnership line up also includes Naples Daily News, an E.W. Scripps Co. owned newspaper, which began publishing Sunday Journal in June.
“The Wall Street Journal Sunday extends the reach of the Journal brand to 7.6 million paid readers with late-breaking personal finance news and forward-looking analysis easily accessible in their local Sunday newspapers,” said Paul Bell, vice president of partner businesses atÂ Dow Jones. “The Sunday Journal pages also provide an efficient Sunday platform for national advertisers seeking to reach an engaged, educated and affluent audience in key markets across the U.S.”
Andrea Hopkins of Reuters explores the explosion of people seeking help from personal finance columnists and shows in the wake of the Wall Street upheaval.
Hopkins writes, “‘It is an avalanche. I’ve never seen anything like it, it’s crazy,’ said Tess Vigeland, host of a show called Marketplace Money, which runs on public radio stations around the United States. ‘Email has at least tripled, if not quadrupled.’
“With Washington and Wall Street gripped by the U.S. financial crisis and headlines screaming about bankrupt banks and insurers, financial advisers — especially those in the public eye — are being swamped.
“Teresa Dixon Murray, who writes a weekly column about personal finance at the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, said she hasn’t gotten so many calls and emails in her 10 years as a financial reporter.
“‘It’s been pretty much my life since late March, and as far as the last week and a half — I’ve definitely seen more worry and concern from consumers,’ said Murray. ‘There’s a feeling of helplessness that nobody seems to have the answers.’”
Read more here.
Trudy Lieberman writes in the latest Columbia Journalism Review how consumer reporting has evolved from advocating on behalf of consumers to providing advice on how to spend money.
Lieberman writes, “Some reporters still do aggressive consumer reporting. Last year, Christopher Neiger, a freelancer writing for AOL Autos, showed how lenders got away with charging exorbitant rates for car-title loans, which provide borrowers with a little quick cash secured by the title of a car thatâ€™s already paid for. Neiger noted that such lenders must disclose the interest rates in terms of the annual percentage rate, but they often just disclose a monthly rate. He warned borrowers that if they see a monthly rate of 25 percent, it is equivalent to a whopping 300 percent APR. How could lenders get away with this? We need more stories like Neigerâ€™s that delve into the reasons why the truth-in-lending law has been weakened so much that APRs donâ€™t mean much any more.
“Truly educating the public seems a pretty remote goal for journalism when consumerism reigns. Thereâ€™s no consumer movement to make news; there are no leaders to be newsmakers, and few local government agencies left dedicated solely to the consumer cause. Heads of regulatory agencies rarely are invited to appear on the Sunday morning news shows, as they once were. There are only advocacy groups, including what remains of the old Nader organization, that get quoted here and there but have little clout.
“Consumerism, fostered by the press through consumer advice stories, has helped lead people to focus on ‘me’ instead of ‘we’â€”the notion that a lot of little guys are in the same boat. Lenders have reinforced that sensibility, when, for example, they argue before Congress that their practices are necessary so that good credit risks donâ€™t pay for bad ones. But if your neighbors default and you donâ€™t, what happens to your property values on a street of empty houses? The mindset of ‘me’ makes it difficult to see solutions in terms of ‘we,’ or a collective frame that might benefit everyone.”
Read more here.
Doug Harbrecht is new media director for Kiplinger in Washington, D.C. Â He joined the 85-year-old organization in 2006, after a 20-year career in the Washington bureau of BusinessWeek magazine, where he covered Congress, the White House, politics, and international ecnomics and trade before moving to online side in 1996.
First as online news editor, then senior editor, and executive editor for BusinessWeek.com., he was part of a management team that helped guide the magazine’s Web site to six National Magazine Award nominations, including winning the 2000 award for general excellence in New Media. He was 1998 President of the National Press Club, and has served as chairman of the Congressional Gallery of Periodical Correspondents, which accredits journalists covering Capitol Hill.
Harbrecht, 57, who lives in Great Falls, Va., with his wife Diane, talked to Talking Biz News about Kiplinger and its online strategy. What follows is an edited transcript.
1. You covered politics for a long time at BusinessWeek. How hard was it to make the switch to personal finance?
Ah, you remember. Yes, I learned a lot covering Congress in the 1980s and the White House in the ’90s. Politics was my first love in journalism. I still blog along with others on our Politics ’08 blog. But I’ve worked in the Web world for 12 years now, first as a BW.com news editor, senior and then executive editor, and Kiplinger new media director since 2006.
At this point in my career, I think less in terms of politics versus personal finance and more in terms of what’s the most timely, compelling, smartest content we can get up there that will engage visitors, help them make sense of their world, protect their money and investments in times like these, and improve their lives. I’ve learned a few things working for two decades as a business journalist. Don’t forget that besides a personal finance magazine, Kiplinger also has a highly respected business forecasting team, journalists all who produce lots of analysis for both the Kiplinger Letter and Kiplinger.com. This is a good fit for me.
2. What are your goals for Kiplingerâ€™s Web site?
Editorial excellence, and rapid growth. So far, so good. Traffic, measured by Omniture, is up 50 percentÂ year over year in both monthly unique visitors (we’re averaging 1.7 million) and monthly page views (10.7 million average this year). And our online revenues have soared — up 130 percentÂ year over year. Advertisers and our content partners, along with visitors, seem happy with what they see. Kiplinger.com got an EPpy Award honorable mention this year for best magazine-affiliated Web site, and an honorable mention for best financial services site in the Webbies.
Plus we won the EPpy for best business web site with the Business Resource Center, our forecasting microsite, in the small-site category. This is very exciting and gratifying, for editorial trust, independence, and respect have been the hallmarks of the Kiplinger organization for 85 years.
3. Is the Web site trying to boost readership of the print publication, or vice versa? Can you give an example?
Yes, we have a Web table of contents in every issue of the magazine, guiding readers to original online content. And Kiplinger.com has an online magazine center where visitors can view all stories after the magazine is out on the newsstands. As with so many magazines, however, onlyÂ three toÂ four of every 10 visitors to our Web site are magazine subscribers. And this ratio never seems to budge. It’s a parallel universe.
Most of our online visitors have a demographic profile very similar to the magazine’s — only they aren’t subscribers. So our strategy is to grow traffic to the Web site, create an online community. And the larger that Kiplinger community becomes, the more opportunities for sales of Kiplinger products, everything from the magazine, to our Letters, to the Kiplinger Organizer, a money management software.
4. Is the Web a place where readers go to get personal finance information?
Oh heavens, yes. The key is to make the information timely, distinctive, and personally valuable to the reader. Exhibit A: Within days of President Bush signing the economic stimulus package into law last February, we had a tax rebate calculator up, which told you how much you could expect to receive by answering four questions. Easy to use, yes, but nothing easy about the expertise and knowledge behind it.
My boss, editorial director Kevin McCormally, has 30 years of experience in knowing how to present complicated tax information in terms all taxpayers can understand. It took the IRS more than a month to develop a very complicated questionnaire. With our simple calculator as a starting point, we built in related features — regular news updates on changing government timetables for sending out the checks, Q&As answering the most frequent reader questions, a reader comment area where people could discuss their rebate delays as well as ask questions.
Result: Our traffic surged during tax season, and we hit a record 13.8 million page views in May, as Americans waited for their rebates More recently, with the financial crisis, we are finding a big audience with interactive features such as our “How Safe Is Your Money?” quiz, explaining the ins and outs of Federal Deposit Insurance, and online articles such as “15 Things You Need to Know About the Panic of 2008,” which is one of the best explainers on the Web of how we got into this mess and how it likely will play out. (You don’t have to take my word for it. Consumerist.com complimented it today by pointing to it). Kiplinger-style journalism is intensely personal, it’s written as if we are talking directly to another person, and that’s a strength on Web, where people want what they want when they want it.
5. Is there anything about personal finance that theyâ€™d rather have in print?
Magazine cover stories and longer investigative stories still score higher in reader satisfaction when viewed in print than online. What we’ll do online is break up longer covers into more easily navigated sections, loaded with links to related content. This is a difference in user experience. With a magazine, you want to wade into its pages while sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee. It’s a relaxing experience. With online, people are looking for quality information fast. That’s not to say that the two experiences are mutual excludable — Our annual “Best of Everything” cover, for example, is usually as popular online as it is in print. But the user experience is decidedly different.
6. How has the traffic changed for the site in the past couple of years?
Well, our traffic has more than doubled since 2006, thanks largely to more online-original content, and more reader engagement and interactivity. Some 60 percent to 70 percentÂ of what we feature on the Web site now is created for online, up sharply over the past two years. Yes, we still feature most of our magazine stories over the course of a month. But more and more, along with newsy online only stories and analysis, we’re developing slideshows, quizzes, videos, and podcasts to enhance our storytelling.
For example, the annual Best Cities feature in the magazine this year was a single story, but on our online Best Cities Center, we created a Which City Is Best for You? quiz using the methodology and rankings we developed, plus video walking tour videos of all our best cities, an online contest where people could chose their best city, and a slideshow look at homes for sale in all the best cities. The package was a big traffic-driver online.
Second point: Virtually everything we put up now allows our visitors to comment and discuss. We just added a new discussion area for all our polls. We’re finding people love to ask Kiplinger writers and editors questions, and have their questions answered. It goes to personal service, another Kiplinger hallmark. (more…)