One of the great journalists of the 20th century died the other day. Sydney Schanberg from Massachusetts was best known for his coverage of the war in Cambodia, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
I’m told he didn’t coin the phrase himself, but Schanberg was a firm believer in the idea that the duty of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In his view, the job of the journalist is to find and tell the truth, however unpalatable it might be to powerful vested interests, or indeed the advertisers.
Alas, I fear we may have lost something of the spirit of Sydney Schanberg in recent years. It’s partly down to technological change and market forces. Newspaper sales have fallen through the floor and, faced with the choice of paying for quality journalism and not, most people are opting for the latter.
But if you’re interested in the asset management industry or in personal finance, it really is worth parting with some hard-earned cash to keep yourself up-to-date. For me, the one columnist US investors and advisers ought to read is Jason Zweig on the Wall Street Journal. In Canada, the Globe and Mail stands head and shoulders above its rivals. And there’s a runaway winner in the UK too — the Financial Times (not to be confused with its sister publication, the trade journal FT Adviser, which, sad to say, rather lets the side down).
In the years that I’ve been writing about investing and, in particular, the lack of transparency around financial intermediation, only the FT has consistently told investors what they really needed to hear. Yes, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard all have good journalists; the Guardian and the Independent (sadly now online-only) have also touched on the shortcomings of active fund management. But this is a huge story that affects every single one of us and, in the UK, only the Financial Times is telling it properly.
An example of the excellent journalism on offer from the FT is this long-form piece, Asset management: Actively failing, by Stephen Foley. In it he explains how an industry that consistently fails its customers continues to enjoy operating margins of around 37% — and that despite the fact that a typical equity fund manager is paid nearly 20 times as much as the average worker. Here is a newspaper that genuinely afflicts the comfortable on behalf of those they afflict.
Along with Stephen Foley, the likes of John Authers, Josephine Cumbo, Madison Marriage and Naomi Rovnick are well worth following. You can read three pieces a month for free by registering, or unlimited articles by subscribing.
I’ve been critical in the past of the financial media and its failure align its interests more closely with those of investors. But it’s also important to give credit where it’s due, and the FT has been earning credit in spades.