Tag Archives: Personal finance coverage
by Chris Roush
Emily Nelson, editor of Personal Journal, and Mike Miller, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, sent out the following announcement to the staff on Tuesday:
This week you’ll see a new look for Personal Journal, as we follow on the success of our Health & Wellness focus on Tuesday with new themes for Wednesday and Thursday. Our aim is to clarify the subjects each day will cover, giving readers a better sense of the rhythm and structure of the section, while keeping it a home for a wide range of unexpected and delightful news and feature stories. The section’s overall goal is to address readers as consumers, decoding what they see every day. We are very eager to have stories from all our bureaus around the world and hope you’ll send us lots of ideas!
Here is the lineup, with descriptions of some new recurring features:
Tuesdays: Health & Wellness. The focus remains on personal health, wellness, fitness, and diet. The What’s Your Workout feature profiles an executive explaining their workout, anything from a routine runner to a tree climber. This is a great outlet for beat reporters.
Wednesdays: Home & Digital.
- Our home coverage looks at design, and much more: the driveway, the daily commute, household questions such as who cleans the fridge, and new dramas such as what happens to the family dinner in the age of Twitter, plus Sue Shellenbarger’s Work and Family question.
- Our digital coverage will be anchored by Walt Mossberg’s Personal Technology column, moving to Wednesdays, and Katie Boehret’s Digital Solution column.
- Plus a selection of new features:
Makeover: We have lots of gadgets but life isn’t as efficient as it could be. In a mini-profile, a person describes what products they have, websites and apps they frequently use, and describes their life and their challenges. Then, an expert recommends what they should be doing instead.
Dream Home: In every home, there’s something the owner loves or perhaps splurged on. A photo showcases a room and break-out photos explain the trophy items and their personal stories. The marble bathtub she splurged on because she’s wanted one since seeing her grandmother’s as a child.
How I Spent My Allowance: An as-told-to interview with a child, explaining why they have coveted particular items and decided to spend their allowance on them, how much they get in allowance, what they must do to earn their allowance.
Multitaskers: What hidden talents does a product have? Problems it can solve that it wasn’t designed to? A wooden spoon opens wine bottle, white vinegar cleans a couch.
Thursdays: Style & Travel.
- Our style coverage looks at retail, fashion, how it affects readers’ daily lives, and how decisions get made behind the scenes, including Chris Binkley’s On Style column.
- Our travel coverage looks at all the tumultuous changes underway in travelling by plane, car and boat, and explains how a traveler can make intelligent decisions, featuring Scott McCartney’s Middle Seat column.
What’s Selling Where: How one product is selling in different cities or countries and what’s driving the differences in taste based on executive interviews. As items are now available globally, companies still alter them, even as small as changing the color, for local taste.
Going Rate: What a product or service costs in different spots across the globe. A baby sitter on a Saturday night in Los Angeles, NY, London, for example?
Just One Thing: An expert offers advice on what’s the item worth spending on, and where you can cut corners. Splurge on lipstick but cheap mascara is fine? One chef’s knife that makes all the difference but the frying pan doesn’t?
Decode a Marketing Message: An interview with an executive at a company or an advertising agency to explain what they’re aiming to achieve with a particular ad or package.
What’s In Your Bag?: Take someone and explain what’s in their purse, backpack, gym bag, carry-on bag, hiking pack. Photo of person with their bag plus lots of pull-out photos of its contents with blurbs.
by Chris Roush
Katherine Rosman, a technology reporter for The Wall Street Journal, writes about why she is stopping writing the paper’s Checks & Balances about family personal finance after one year.
Rosman writes, “But it also has been a source of tension. As a writer, I know well that the only way to successfully put these columns together is by reflecting my feelings and Joe’s without any whitewashing. Yet as a wife, I know well that a marriage is inherently a trust that does not always benefit from having its private dynamics laid bare before seven million readers.
“To fulfill my responsibilities both to my editor and to my husband, I looked for everyday issues that represented my and Joe’s varying views, that I felt comfortable expounding upon with raw honesty and that might resonate with this column’s large and diverse readership. This tack produced some of the most popular pieces: Joe’s opposition to my Starbucks habit, why I didn’t change my last name when we married, and how Twitter and email have interfered with the rhythms of the home.
“However, coming up with a column idea every two weeks that serves its many masters became a greater and greater challenge. When I was feeling protective of our privacy, I would write more lifestyle-focused pieces: the importance to a marriage of having close friends, for instance, or how different tastes in food can affect family dinner.
“But my job was to write about money, and doing so began to feel overly invasive, especially to Joe. When he told me late last fall that he wanted his life to be just his, I told my editor that I was going to stop at the column’s one-year anniversary.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Felix Salmon of Reuters writes that CNBC personal finance show host Suze Orman has lost her credibility in commenting about financial services products now that she has entered the field with her own.
Salmon writes, “But what I can’t do is simply say ‘you can trust Suze Orman.’ You can’t trust Orman on the subject of her competitors — which, now, includes every checking account in the country. You can’t trust Orman on investment advice. And I don’t trust Orman either on the value of credit scores and credit monitoring — a service she sells through MiFico for $50 per year.
“Orman’s heart is in the right place: none of her products are really bad. If you sign up for a one-month free trial of her newsletter, you don’t need to provide a credit card number: all you get is the newsletter for one month. If you then want to subscribe, you need to subscribe. That’s a sign of an honest merchant: Orman isn’t looking to rip anybody off.
“But if you want an impartial judge of whether to have a checking account or a prepaid debit card, Orman is certainly not the person to ask: she’s a full-fledged financial-services provider, now. Who will watch the watchdog? I think we need a new guru.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Lieber writes, “Ms. Orman seeks to broaden the debit card market by charging low fees and offering new services, including unlimited access to credit reports. She has put more than $1 million of her own money into the venture and is prepared to add more, since the product may not break even right away. But her move also raises so many questions that it is hard to even know where to start.
“How can the Approved card make money charging fees on par with those on Walmart’s cut-rate MoneyCard, while also paying a credit bureau for access to its services? Also, can it really be just fine with CNBC, where Ms. Orman has a weekly show, that her card will compete with products from companies she discusses frequently with viewers? And will her followers care that she is pushing purple pieces of plastic that will help her make money from their everyday spending?
“‘I couldn’t be more proud of this card if I tried,’ she said. ‘And it doesn’t really matter what I say. It matters what happens when somebody uses this baby.’
“Their choice to use it may be colored by the opportune moment in which Ms. Orman finds herself. Big banks have offended scores of consumers with new fees and account balance minimums. People seeking alternatives may well find what they are looking for in prepaid cards.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Rex Smith, the editor of the Albany Times Union in New York, writes about the paper’s changed to its Sunday business section.
Smith writes, “You’ll notice the changes most if you have been a fan of the Sunday Wall Street Journal pages that we have published in our Business section for the past five years. Those pages, focusing on personal finance advice, are being replaced with a new Sunday Money page that we think will offer readers useful content in much less space and at considerably reduced expense.
“It’s not that we didn’t like the Journal pages. But in an era of diminished revenues, editors must choose where to spend a limited pool of dollars. Those pages cost us the equivalent of a full-time reporter’s pay and benefits. Local reporting is really what you expect the Times Union to deliver to you, and we promise to deliver it to you at a level of depth and quality that you won’t find elsewhere.
“With that as our goal, I can’t in good conscience sacrifice a local job and the unique reporting it can yield to preserve personal finance content similar to what you can find in so many other places.
“Because of production realities on our 41-year-old press, we have to shrink another section to match the newly configured Business section. Thus, our Perspective section will lose a half-page of content, while more than a page of advertising will move elsewhere in the paper.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Dahl oversaw the magazine and its Web site during the tumultuous financial crash that drew increased national attention to personal finance coverage. For 2008, the magazine’s “Tough Customer” column won a Deadline Club Award, one of several honors that year. Its investigative pieces on annuities and retirement funds helped lead to reforms within the industry and more oversight from Washington.
At the Journal, Dahl served as a reporter, senior writer and bureau chief. He was one of the founding editors of the “Weekend Journal” section. Earlier in his career, he covered such topics as the asbestos industry and homelessness. His story “Missing in America,” a first-person account of his search for a missing homeless brother, was nominated by the Journal for a Pulitzer Prize.
He came to SmartMoney in 2006. His book, “1,001 Things They Won’t Tell You” (Workman Publishing), is based on the magazine’s long-running “10 Things” column and reveals insider information from doctors, bankers and dozens of other professions. Dahl attended Columbia College, where he graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1980. He received his master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1981.
In an e-mail interview with Talking Biz News, Dahl discussed the magazine’s strategy and personal finance reporting in general. What follows is an edited transcript.
How do you define personal finance journalism?
I’d say the definition has been evolving. The field used to just mean service-oriented pieces about what to do with your money. But today, the best personal finance journalism educates readers about the industries that handle and affect their money, offering insights into how the companies operate. The field is much newsier now, with more investigative reporting and trend pieces, and covers both domestic and global markets.
In other words, the scope is pretty big.
How does SmartMoney differentiate its personal finance journalism from its competitors?
We go against the grain in three ways. When we redesigned the magazine last year, we returned to putting more long-form stories in the mix, so you’ll find not only good advice but also in-depth reporting and strong writing in SmartMoney — the hallmark of any good business publication. We’ve also gone out of our way to be visually attractive‹with clever covers and cool graphics that aren’t normally associated with personal finance coverage. And finally, we’re not afraid to be a little humorous — have you seen “DumbMoney” on our last page? (A recent example: the $100,000 razor).
It’s a different approach, but it’s working: The magazine and its website have either won or been nominated for 18 national awards in the past two years.
What are some of the key personal finance issues that the magazine will focus on in 2012?
It’s a long list: The future of the euro. The uncertainty over our own government’s plans for financial and health care reform. The inability to make money in any savings account. The troubled housing and job markets.
Ultimately, though, I think 2012 will be the year of reckoning for baby boomers. They can’t go on being so close to retirement age with not enough saved and shaky health plans. It’s an enormous and important class of folks facing one crisis after another.
How much does the magazine look to its sister business journalism operations The Wall Street Journal, Marketwatch, Barron’s and Dow Jones Newswires in deciding what to cover in the personal finance area?
We each offer a different product that reaches a slightly different audience, so we stay fairly separate in terms of developing story ideas.
But we all operate under the same high standards of journalism.
Tell us a little bit about Smartmony.com and how it also differentiates itself from competitors as well.
Unlike most competitors, Smartmoney.com has its own staff and produces the bulk of its own content. I’m particularly proud of how well it has responded to the changing needs of investors and consumers this year. Most personal finance sites rely on static tips that are recycled through the year, but SmartMoney.com is constantly revising its advice. Recently, we started something pretty unique: a “real-time advice” blog that gives the personal finance angle to breaking news throughout the day. Readers can immediately know now if a strong retail sales report will mean fewer shopping discounts, or how the declining euro might affect their 401(k) plan. It’s been such a success The Wall Street Journal runs many of those pieces on its own website.
Are there some personal finance issues that the magazine simply won’t touch or cover?
Who is the average SmartMoney reader, and what are they getting out of the magazine?
They’re either fairly sophisticated about money or have decided they want to learn more about it. The majority are male, but we’re trying to change that with covers like “Why Women Get a Raw Deal on Retirement.” Of course, we hope that SmartMoney readers are becoming –sorry about this — “smart” about their finances. But we also want them to enjoy or be intrigued by the experience of reading the magazine. Personal finance shouldn’t feel like homework.
What topics do you consider to be the strengths of SmartMoney’s coverage?
We’ve been ahead of the game in warning readers about a litany of financial moves and products, like brokers sticking people’s excess cash into worthless “sweep accounts” or not acting as your “fiduciary” (which means they don’t have to act in your best interest). A lot of publications have followed these stories later. Our stock picks aren’t too bad either: We’ve beaten the market seven years in a row now.
But I think our biggest strength has been keeping an eye on the larger picture. With all that was happening with the markets, we knew that by midsummer the basic tenets of how most people invest had to change‹hence, our “Investing Reinvented” cover. (We used an Einstein image for that.) We also recognized early that boomers were facing a host of new headaches, and highlighted them with covers like “The Rising Cost of a Midlife Crisis.” And we had great timing last spring with “The Power of Gold” (blessed with a great closeup image of a gold bar). It’s efforts like these that I think prove personal finance can be newsy.
Any areas where it could improve its coverage?
We feel like we cover all the important bases, but we’re always looking to include more stories that could better predict where markets are heading.
As we dive into longer form stories, the art of strong storytelling becomes more important too. We’re focusing some of our efforts there and hiring accordingly.
Should SmartMoney readers do what its stories say, or should they also get advice from finance professionals before making such decisions?
Great question, and the answer is no, don’t listen to just us. We want you to use SmartMoney as a guide for investing, but still work in most cases with a professional who knows your needs. That’s part of the objection we have to personal finance stories that try to tell people what to do: Each of us has our own individual financial issues and needs to customize our finances accordingly.
But we also think you should know how those professionals work, what their conflicts of interest are, and how they get paid. I think I know a good magazine that might be able to help with that.
by Chris Roush
Three journalists have won awards for in-depth stories that have improved the financial literacy of minorities across the United States.
The award winners were among 42 reporters who participated in a 12-week program administered by International Center for Journalists and funded by The McGraw-Hill Companies on personal finance reporting.
Heather Scofield, staff writer at The Durango Herald in Colorado, won first place for her front-page articles on immigrants slipping through cracks in the country’s health system. Focusing on one family’s struggle to get health insurance, she highlighted how some Hispanic groups — even those in the country legally — are regularly turned down for coverage.
Scofield explains how this burdens the local economy, especially strapped social welfare agencies. She also wrote a sidebar on what is working in the health system and how policies are changing to accommodate immigrant communities.
Second-place winner Yezmin Thomas of Telemundo created a multimedia report on how the recession is hurting migrant workers in Fort Worth, Texas. Their American dream, she writes, has turned into the reality of barely making ends meet as day laborers. Thomas then “zooms out” and examines the important role that the Hispanic labor force plays in the U.S. economy.
Third-place honoree Jeff Kelly Lowenstein worked with Loyola University to research and analyze the demographic trends of minority communities on the outskirts of Chicago. In his multimedia-rich story on a revitalization plan in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood of Pilsen, published on Hoy Chicago’s website, he reveals how these projects are displacing Hispanics instead of employing them.
The winners were honored in New York on Wednesday. Other participants focused on topics such as money management among young Latino professionals in Washington, D.C., and how the medically uninsured can get affordable treatment.
Read more here. DISCLOSURE: I was one of the instructors of the ICFJ personal finance course, and Scofield was one of my students.
by Chris Roush
In addition to providing women with practical career advice such as “5 Things NEVER to Wear to Work” or “How to Play to Your Work Weaknesses,” the site will aim to decode often intimidating financial topics in an easy-to-navigate format.
“It is not a coincidence that Recessionista is the first initiative launched by Nothing But Gold Productions,” said Lapin, CEO of Nothing But Gold, in a statement. “The financial journalism world is devoid of content specifically geared towards women my age. We are in dire need of advice and information to intelligently guide our financial decisions in a fun, sassy, non-judgey way.”
The site will also provide money-saving tips and advice for building a career and thriving in the workplace. The site will also feature celebrity interviews and profiles of successful female entrepreneurs.
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
The Motley Fool is a month or two away from rolling out a blog network covering the worlds of investing and business. Its goal is to attract the best and brightest contributors and to make the blogging process as easy as possible.
Further, posts contributed to the network could be distributed to the major finance sites — Yahoo! Finance, AOL DailyFinance, MSN Money, CNNMoney, and more — and can be featured on Fool.com and in its emails that are sent to millions of registered users.
The Alexandria, Va.-based company is still hammering out the details of the network — it should be rolling out an early version in a month or so.
If you are interested in taking part, send an e-mail to Roger Friedman, president of the Motley Fool Blog Network, at email@example.com. Tell him that you saw this post on Talking Biz News.
by Chris Roush
Bob Mong, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, writes about the paper’s personal finance columnist, Pamela Yip.
“Pam engages with many segments of our readership: well-off investors unnerved by the market volatility; seniors concerned about their savings; relatives seeking advice for unemployed family members; and mid-career folks negotiating a tough economy.
“Her reach is impressive.
“Recent columns touched on issues as diverse as understanding credit reports, finding competent financial advice, selecting health coverage and going through financial planning for the end of the year.
“Last weekend, she invited financial planners to our offices to take reader calls.
“Her column Monday will focus on how to strike a balance between helping your adult children and not jeopardizing your own financial future.Her column tomorrow will focus on how to deal with adult children still living at home.
“Pam also launched a financial planning blog on dallasnews.com.
“She is so trustworthy that some readers allow her to match them up with experts to review family finances. In these exercises, financial analysts look over a family’s finances and recommend ways to make the most of their wealth. The service is free.”