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Diary of a 'Reformed' Journalist

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At the end of a two-day investment conference sponsored by Dimensional Fund Advisors near Los Angeles a few years ago, I remember not being able to stop squirming.

The final workshop included a slide show highlighting articles from major business publications across the country conveying a range of dire investment messages. Some spouted warnings of impending market calamity. Others urged investors to pounce on opportunities that everyone else seemed to be overlooking.

The presentation was led by another former journalist, someone who once worked at the same national daily where I had started as a fledgling reporter. He adeptly set up each story by depicting what was going on at the time, then taking a step back to see what actually happened as markets unpredictably turned.

For good reason, the crowd around me roared with laughter as each short-term prediction turned into quicksand. But I had to step outside. After more than three decades as a reporter, my presence at the seminar came on the heels of leaving journalism to work full-time as an investment writer at Index Fund Advisors.

I must admit to feeling rather contrite in walking out the door that day in Santa Monica, Calif. Even though none of the bylines presented were mine, the irony was clear. I had to confront again a very unpleasant truth.

Too much of my reporting over the years had wound up amounting to little more than noise in a media marketplace filled with over-hyped claims of stock picking prowess.

I was trained as a journalist to approach any type of speculative claim with a high degree of skepticism. But it took years of sifting through a wealth of academic research and market evidence for me to finally make a career change. In all honesty, it had just become too apparent to me that index-based investing is the only way to achieve long-term financial success.

To members of the Fourth Estate, that probably seemed like a highly subjective assessment. No doubt other journalists saw my decision to become a dedicated in-house writer for an independent wealth management firm as a breach of oath to serve as an impartial observer of everything dealing with fund investing.

But I viewed working for IFA as a natural extension of my growth as an investment writer. As a financial journalist, I learned over the years how objectivity could be obfuscated to give a voice to money managers who either were unable or just not knowledgeable enough to truly work in the best interests of their investors.

Don't get me wrong. I learned a lot as a financial journalist and keep advocating on behalf of a free press. But I now have the freedom to set a base level of standard fiduciary conduct to judge fair play in financial markets.

Namely, I'm being tasked at IFA to help chronicle investing by applying a filter where a rules-based and highly analytical process steeped in top-drawer independent academic research is a baseline for evaluating investment decisions.

This opportunity not only came at the right time in my professional life, it also involved working for one of this industry's pioneering fiduciaries, Mark Hebner. I just couldn't imagine transitioning out of journalism anywhere else but through IFA. 

So my writing comes to you from a perspective of working these days as a 'reformed' journalist. I've learned the hard way that whether as an investor or writer, dealing with markets is a humbling experience. I am thrilled to be able to take part in a dialogue about markets that traces its roots to research by industry luminaries such as Eugene Fama, Kenneth French, Myron Scholes and Harry Markowitz.

I only hope in coming years to be able to live up to the high ethical and intellectual standards set by Mark and his IFA crew. Please feel free to write me to suggest story ideas or critique articles. After all, investing is a journey that study after study shows is best made together, not alone.


TThis is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, product, service, or considered to be tax advice. There are no guarantees investment strategies will be successful. Investing involves risks, including possible loss of principal. This is intended to be informational in nature and should not be construed as tax advice. IFA Taxes is a division of Index Fund Advisors, Inc..  For more information about Index Fund Advisors, Inc, please review our brochure at https://www.adviserinfo.sec.gov/ or visit www.ifa.com.