Myron Kandel Q&A

Myron Kandel was the founding financial editor and economic commentator for CNN. He was part of CNN's original launch team in 1980 and was a pioneer in the growth and development of financial news on television.

He started his career in journalism as a copy boy at The New York Times in 1951, working nights while completing his senior year at Brooklyn College and then while earning a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Upon graduation, he was promoted to copy editor at The Times and later became a financial reporter.

Kandel next became business editor of Washington Star and then a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, covering Germany and the European Common Market. He returned to the U.S. in 1964 to become the Trib's financial editor, holding that post until the paper folded in 1966. He then became editor and president of the New York Law Journal and subsequently served as the founding editor and publisher of several newsletters, including The Wall Street Letter, the Corporate Shareholder and Review of the Financial Press.

From 1976 to 1982, Kandel co-authored the Greer/Kandel Report, a syndicated financial column that appeared in leading papers around the country. He was also financial editor of the New York Post from 1977 to 1979, before leaving to help launch CNN.

He is the author of "How to Cash In on the Coming Stock Market Boom," published in January 1982. The book accurately forecast the biggest bull market in Wall Street history, which began that August. Kandel has received a Peabody Award for CNN's coverage of the 1987 stock market crash and a magazine award from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He has taught journalism at the City College of New York and Columbia University and lectures frequently in the U.S. and abroad.

Kandel has been the president of five journalism groups, including the New York Financial Writers' Association, the Columbia Journalism Alumni Association, the Deadline Club chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of Silurians. He also served twice, 20 years apart, as president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

He has received a number of lifetime achievement awards and on May 15, 2006, he was named the recipient of the Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award administered by the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He has also received three honorary doctorate degrees -- from Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania; Bethany College in West Virginia, and Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire.

In December 2005 the state of New Hampshire named him president of the newly formed Initiative for Corporate Responsibility and Investor Protection.

On Thursday, March 18, 2006, Kandel discussed his career with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Chris Roush. What follows is an edited transcript.

Q: What first interested you in journalism?

A: I always wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school. When I reached high school Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, I got on the high school paper and began covering sports. I was the sports editor of the high school paper. When I got to college, Brooklyn College, I joined the college newspaper in 1948, and there were a number of returning veterans who were the editors of the paper. They conducted a cub class that all aspiring staff members had to attend. I probably learned more there than any other place in my journalism career. I became the sports editor of the Brooklyn College Vanguard, which got kicked off campus in 1950 because it ran afoul of a very autocratic administration. That whole experience helped shape my later years in journalism.

Q: Why were you interested in business journalism?

A: I became a copy editor on the city desk of the Times. I was the youngest copy editor at the time, and I enjoyed it immensely, but I realized if I didn’t get off the copy desk, I’d be sitting there for the rest of my life. The city editor kept telling me it was easier to get good reporters than good copy editors. But I did a lot of freelance writing, and one day a friend of mine told me there were three openings in financial reporting all at once. I had no interest in business news. It was before the days of a separate business section. But my friend convinced me it was pretty interesting. So I went to the city editor and told him I’d like to apply for one of them. I went to the financial editor, and said I wanted to join your staff. He said, “Why do you want to be a financial reporter?” I told him I had studied economics in college. It was one course, but I got the job. It wasn’t planned, but I worked very hard to learn my beat. I covered retailing, and textiles, and it was an exciting period in that beat. It was the time of the beginning of discount stores.

Q: What was it like covering business and economics issues in the 1950s and 1960s?

A: There was a long strike in 1962 and 1963, and a friend of mine in Washington had said he had recommended me for the job as business editor of the Washington Star. I thought it would be interesting to follow that through as a lark. I got that job, and enjoyed it greatly. I was only there for a few months when the Herald-Tribune approached me about going to Germany. I accepted the job and went overseas and was based in Bonn. It was very exciting time there. I did mostly political stories there, and then the Trib, about 18 months later, said we want you to come back and be financial editor. I was very reluctant. But I realized this was the second-biggest financial section in the country behind only the Times.

Q: How hard was it to overcome the stigma that business journalism was boring inside and outside of the newsroom?

A: We didn’t have the best and the brightest because most didn’t get out of journalism school and say they wanted to be a financial reporter. We and the Times had large business sections, and my personal goal was to upgrade the level of the staff as people left and moved on. But the standards were high. Those papers that demanded high standards were able to get them. I think the Herald-Tribune and the Times and not even a handful of other papers did a good job. Most of them didn’t have enough space and enough staff. The year before I came back, which was 1964, a group of people started the Society of American Business Writers, which then became Society of American Business Editors and Writers. They were people representing small papers and some big ones. The first president was Joseph Livingston, the first economics reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize. They helped improve the craft and standing of financial journalism in the newspapers themselves. There was no broadcast at all. I think SABEW has done a very good job. I joined the second year, and maybe we had 30 members.

Q: Were there any business journalists you looked up to early in your career? Why were they good role models?

A: There were some very good business writers on the New York Times. Business Week was really outstanding, and the Wall Street Journal. There were others, like Hobart Rowan of the Washington Post and Joe Livingston of the Philadelphia Inquirer. And there were columnists like Sylvia Porter writing about consumer affairs. And there were hacks around as well. But there were enough role models to learn from. Barney Kilgore at the Wall Street Journal had turned it around. It had sharp writing and credibility. When I was at Columbia, and there didn’t seem to be any movement at the Times, I applied for a job at the Journal, but didn’t get it.

Q: Why did you make the switch from newspapers to television?

A: I had become editor of the New York Law Journal. Then I got an entrepreneurial urge, and I had the idea of starting a newsletter that covered Wall Street as an industry. And it was quite successful. I sold it after only about a year to Institutional Investor, and I continued to write the Wall Street Letter by myself. And then I had the urge to own something myself, and I was going to become the head of a newsletter empire. I started two newsletters and bought a third, and they were Review of the Financial Press, the Corporate Shareholder, and The Yanks Abroad. Those three letters were started or acquired in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. An old Herald-Tribune colleague and I started a syndicated column called The Greer/Kandel report, and it was in major papers around the country. Then Rupert Murdoch bought the Post and hired me as financial editor. He never interfered, but the paper was becoming more sensational, and I was becoming uneasy. So I decided to leave, and the fellow who was starting CNN for Ted Turner, Reese Schonfeld, I met him through a mutual friend, and he offered me the job.

Q: Why do you think that business journalism on television began to grow in importance in the 1970s and 1980s?

A: The thing that attracted me to CNN was that it was a pet peeve of mine. I called it the wasteland of television news. I used to tell newspaper publishers that the one place we could beat TV was in business news because they don’t cover it. So when Schonfeld spoke to me, he told me they were going to cover business news and do a half-hour program in a primetime slot. It had really never been done before. We pioneered the coverage of business news on network television. The only thing that existed prior was Wall Street Week, which was not a business show, but covered investing. So, it was a great challenge. I hired Lou Dobbs to be the anchor, and I did commentary. And we really made a splash because people realized we could cover business news and make it interesting. We did a half hour, and we did some weekend programs as well.

Q: Do you think that business journalism on TV has done a good job in the last 25 years? Why or why not?

A: I think overall it has. I think there was too much cheerleading when the market was really hot, especially during the dot-com boom. But we were in the midst of the biggest bull market in U.S. history. So, that was part of it. We would go to that, to some extent, but others were worse.

Q: What have been some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in business journalism during your career?

A: No. 1 has been the coverage of business journalism on television. We know have CNBC, CNN for seven years had its own financial network -- CNNfn. Fox does a good deal of business coverage. When we started CNN, each of the networks had one financial correspondent, and they were lucky to get on a couple of times each week. At the height, CNN had six hours of business coverage every weekday and five separate weekend programs. Sadly, right now, it has no dedicated weekday program devoted to business news. It does updates every hour and one and a half hours on the weekend. So the emergency of business coverage on television is significant.

We also had the growth of standalone business sections in newspapers across the country, including the New York Times. One concern with the dropping of the stock tables, the worry is that business departments will lose their separate section identity. I don’t know that it has happened yet, but at the last meeting of SABEW, this was a cause of concern.
We have much better trained business writers. I don’t know if I could have gotten my job. If I were running a department, I would insist on somebody having specialized training.

We saw a number of magazines come and go, and of course, the Web is not even a dozen years old, and it is the wave of the future. I have seen the changes, and all for the better. There is more sophisticated coverage, more space, more staff.

Q: What story or stories have you been most proud of in your career?

A: We covered the financial crash of 1987 around the clock. When the New York stock market closed, we covered the Tokyo and Asian markets and then moved to London, and then picked up the U.S. again the next morning. People say we burst on the scene covering the crash as if a star was born overnight. I said, we had seven years of experience of covering business and financial news on a daily basis.

Q: Business journalism has been criticized in recent years for missing some big corporate scandals. Do you think that’s a valid critique?

A: Yes. Everybody else missed it too. Wall Street analysts, who get paid a whole lot more, missed it. I think business journalists, along with the rest of society, were carried away to some extent by the booming economy and the gangbuster stock market. There were a few examples of saying the emperor has no clothes, but they were a voice in the wilderness. How many adulatory stories were written about Ken Lay?

But there have been scandals over the years, like the Salad Oil scandal, and the Hunt brothers trying to corner the silver market, and the insider trading scandals in the 1980s, and Ivan Boesky. And then you had the junk bond mess with Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert. These things are not isolated, and the collapse of a bull market shines a light on things. Maybe I am as guilty as most, but it was a dirty little secret that brokerage houses never issued “sell” ratings. But we’ve had good journalists write negative stories over the years.

Q: Where do you see the future of business journalism heading?

A: I think it’s only brighter as more and more Americans have a stake in the stock market and more discretionary income, and more control over their retirement funds. There will be growing interest in business journalism. At the same time, there will be a plethora of outlets with the Web. We’ll see a lot of garbage, and we’ll see a lot of good stuff. It’s up to responsible journalists to point out the differences and guide the average reader or viewer or surfer to responsible places.

And then of course, the growth of the blogosphere can’t be overlooked. The thing that bothers me about blogging is that it is unfiltered. In journalism, there are layers of expertise. Blogging, there is none of that. So there could be the misuse of the web, and that’s something responsible journalists have to pay attention to.