Allen Wastler, Managing Editor of CNBC - At the Forefront of the News - Part II
Tell us about your background.
Allen Wastler: I graduated from school. My parents were complaining about a $40,000 education and no job. So I took a job as a proofreader at a trade magazine called Traffic World Magazine – the weekly news magazine of transportation and distribution management.
I did a good enough job proofreading there, and not just for grammar but for substance, that they promoted me and made me a reporter there. So I worked a few years as a reporter there. And then a newspaper owned by Knight Ridder that was active in that coverage area – basically trade and transportation and pretty heavy business issues – they hired me away from Traffic World.
I interviewed with the managing editor there, at the paper, and he was kind of snotty to me during the interview. At the end of it he said, ‘Well, you need us much more than we need you!' And I'm like, yeah, well, same to you bud. But a couple weeks later I was covering a business conference that they were covering too, and I just made it my mission to beat them on every da** story I could at that conference. Any time their reporter was going to be there, they will have read my initials on the wall and eat my dust. So I just kicked their butt.
So that managing editor was at the conference. At the end of it, I'm in the press room still cranking out stuff. He said his goodbyes to the room reporters and stuff. And as he left, he stuck his head in and said, ‘Oh by the way: you did a great job and I want to talk to you next week.' So let that be a lesson to all the young journalists out there: get competitive. People will notice.
So I went to work there for several years. It was great working there, too, because when you work for one Knight Ridder paper you're essentially working for them all. I'd see my stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News, the Detroit Free Press, all over the press. They transferred me all the way out to the west coast. I worked there for a few years.
I moved back to New York, where they made me a desk editor for a little while. And then Knight Ridder sold it to the Economist Group – they're associated with the Financial Times and all that. They started managing the paper and…I don't know. They were British magazine guys and I don't think they really knew the U.S. newspaper thing all that good.
I was getting a little bit demoralized there, and there was a little thing starting up called the Internet. And I thought, ‘Well, I'm young, I can still do this stuff.' I went over to CNN [which] had just started a business channel. They had a website that went along with it. It was interesting, because they had launched the two as associated but independent news platforms. So the website, CNNFN.com, basically [had] its own editorial staff. So I went over there as an early morning line editor. And from there I just kept moving up the ranks until I became [a] managing editor.
Eventually they merged the website with the Time Magazine business magazine group, and it became CNNMoney.com, and I was managing editor of that for a while. And then CNBC came along and made me a better offer. So I jumped to CNBC in 2007.
Keep in mind, CNBC.com as it exists today wasn't really born…it's only about three and a half to four years old. What it was, in the late 1990s CNBC licensed out the CNBC name on the Internet to Microsoft. Microsoft made it part of MSN Money Central. Then new management came in (around 2005, 2006) and they decided that it was better for the brand to have control of its own website.
So they took back the licensing rights in 2006 and hired my boss, Meredith Stark, to basically build CNBC.com. She did a hurry-up offense and got it built in like six months. So they re-launched CNBC.com in December 2006, and then they hired me the following summer. I came on board in August 2007. So, when you think about it, as a news and actionable device platform, CNBC.com is only about four years old. We had a lot of catching up to do, and we did it.
What advice would you give to journalism students?
Allen Wastler:Keep your content and technology issues separated. First of all, understand what good content is, which is not just repeating whatever the latest blog rumor is, but is to go out and find out what is actually truth.
I'm not seeing the level of skepticism that I should from journalism students these days. I should see a greater level.
Understand what journalism is about – it's not just about trying to see if you can shout the loudest in a crowded room. Find information that's actually useful to people. That's step one. Step two, do it – get experience. Start working it. These days, anybody can blog. Go ahead. Start contributing to a blog. Get experience any way you can.
Now, be careful about what you blog, ‘cause if you write something silly, somebody's gonna find it and it's gonna stick with you like glue for the rest of your existence.
You mentor journalist students and have said they don't always ask enough questions. Would you key in on that as well?
Allen Wastler: Certainly. And you know, that ties into being a critical thinker. If you're not asking questions, you're not critically thinking.
Do you have a best or worst investment? It doesn't have to be specifically about a stock.
Allen Wastler:Best decision I ever made was jumping to the Internet. It opened doors for me both professionally but also journalistically because Internet journalism allows you to do so much more than the printed word on newsprint. With a piece of Internet journalism you have the opportunity to blend in graphics, video, audio, related links – the product that you're giving to your reader is a much more textured and deep report than what you could ever do on a newspaper sheet.
And, frankly, whatever you could do in a broadcast. To me, Internet journalism is a chance to connect and offer your readers something of use. As a journalist, you know, both professionally and as a journalist, jumping the Internet as one of the best things I ever did.
Any bad investments?
Allen Wastler: I've got a zillion of those. As a journalist, you're always going to make mistakes. It's the nature of the beast. That's why we have a corrections page. But bad decisions…
I can recall a couple stories I did when I was covering the Longshore union on the west coast where I was really unfair at a couple points because I got so involved in the story I couldn't take a deep breath and step back and say, “Am I doing this the right way? Am I being fair?” Looking back in my career, I wish I could go… Did I slander anybody? No. But I could have done the stories differently. I really didn't have a lot of strong editing support to help me on that. I wish I had, but I didn't.
Have you written any books?
Allen Wastler: I wrote a novel once and it was terrible so I put it on the shelf. [Laughs]
I used to do a lot of martial arts. I was toying around with a martial arts philosophy in business practices. I call it Hapkido Management. Hapkido is one where you actually join with whatever's attacking you, become one with it, and redirect it. I've noticed some companies are successful and able to do that sort of thing.