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Investors Business Daily at 30: An Unlikely Success Story

Investors Business Daily at 30: An Unlikely Success Story

Investors Business Daily is turning 30 today. That is quite an achievement.

You may know much, or anything, about IBD. You may declare, “I read the Wall Street Journal and I watch CNBC.” So, why do you need IBD?

That has been a prevailing attitude since the day the newspaper hit the streets in 1984. In the pre-Internet media world, it was extremely difficult for a new venture to gain traction, especially when the field was already crowded with such powerhouses as the uber-competitive Journal. But IBD has persevered and catered to investors like you and me, the forgotten folks in the Wall Street industrial complex.

I should know. I joined the IBD staff in December 1985, when it was still a cultish newspaper. I had been working for up-and-coming USA Today, itself not far removed from the startup world. Friends and colleagues said I was crazy to leave a fairly established national paper for a relatively unknown one, which specialized in finance, no less.

But I had a feeling about the paper. Individual investors were gaining in numbers and force, thanks to the mutual fund boom on the early 1980s, giving the paper a good foundation.

For my job interview, I went out to Los Angeles, where it was and continues to be based. I got the red-carpet treatment. The smart, wily editor, Steve Fox, put me up in the swanky Miramar hotel in Santa Monica, for openers. I stepped outside and thought, like an idiot easterner: Hey, isn’t that…the Pacific Ocean??? It sure was. (By the way, it should be noted that on my subsequent visits to LA, the shrewd paper housed me in a Holiday Inn! Alas, no more Miramar.)

The Investors Daily (as it was known then) staff was congenial and determined. I agreed pretty quickly to make the jump. 

The New York bureau, at 150 Broadway, was a dump. There is no other way to put it. It was probably a glaring fire hazard, too. Plenty of people in the office chain-smoked. The “bureau” was a few rooms slapped together, one for sales, one for circulation, one for editorial. The fax machine never seemed to work. The place was so cramped that we had to hold business meetings downstairs at a greasy spoon called Burger Heaven.

Still, it was a terrific place to be a journalist. I became the New York bureau chief after a year and had to encounter  management challenges. Since the paper was based 3,000 miles away — near that blessed ocean! — I had a lot of freedom. When it came time to hire a reporter, I realized I needed someone who was not going to be put off by the slovenly working environment, could blast out stories quickly and efficiently — and could, in a pinch, fix the fax machine for me.

I covered the Wall Street scene, which meant I had a reporter’s view of some of the hottest business stories of the decade, the insider-trading wave, the 1987 Crash and the buildup to the takeover of RJR Nabisco. Now, those bombshells seem kind of quaint. Back then, this was hot stuff.

The New York crew was comprised of a bunch of lively people. A few loved to go out drinking after work and I joined them at Cafe Americano and the Thomas Street Inn and the Raccoon Lodge and the other dives we loved in the historic lower Manhattan neighborhood.

IBD wouldn’t be around today without founder William O’Neil, who had made his fortune by figuring out how to invest brilliantly. While everyone told him he had to kill the paper and save face (and big bucks), he flatly refused. Lots of other media mavericks get acclaim for their vision but somehow Bill O’Neil doesn’t — and it is a disservice to him, his paper and his staff.

Another IBD stalwart: Wes Mann took over as the editor in chief n the late 1980s and may just be the longest-running editor of a major U.S. newspaper. He was a firm but agreeable boss. He used to say to me about stories he wanted em to do, “Maybe I’m all wet but I think this idea could work.” It usually did, too.

I am excited for the paper’s success, though I left the staff 26 years ago. It is a snappy, respected daily. Its greatest success is that it is still here, while many other papers have cut back or gone out of business. Thirty years! Pretty darned good.

It is reassuring to think that I and my then-colleagues may have had a small impact on its longevity. Long may it run.

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