Financial History Issue 121 (Spring 2017) - Page 25

for mainstream business journalism at the time. “We pulled no punches in our report- ing and played no favorites — actions that were considered unusual, if not unique, for a trade publication,” Strachan wrote. “And we still have the strong sense of outrage that makes it difficult for swindlers to evade our notice for very long.” But Strachan did not begin as a crusader. His colleagues and competitors described him as a solid, intelligent journalist, trying to do his job well. “It didn’t start out as moral outrage,” said Paul Muolo, a former National Thrift News associate editor. “He was trying to make a living, but then the S&L crisis happened.” This ability to navigate both roles as industry insider and industry watchdog is Strachan’s powerful legacy. National Thrift News used its close relationship with the industry as a reporting tool. “That kind of close engagement with the industry was how we got to those stories first because we were in there,” Fogarty said. “Because of our sources and our method of attack we got to know those things.” Business executives and regulators knew National Thrift News reporters under- stood this complex market. Lew Sichel- man recalled that being a reporter for the National Thrift News allowed him to get “in the door wherever I wanted to go and talk to people I wanted to.” One of the newspaper’s legacies is that it provided a platform for the reporting of a major book, Inside Job, by reporters Stephen Pizzo, Mary Fricker and Paul Muolo, one of the first detailed accounts of the national scope of the savings and loan crisis. This book is one of the main works documenting criminal activity in the mortgage industry. Inside Job won an Investigative Reporters and Editors award and was a New York Times bestseller. The ability of the National Thrift News to support reporting for the book — Pizzo, Fricker and Muolo met while reporting on a California thrift caper — opens a new dimension and promise for the trade press. National Thrift News was not a one-off phenomenon. Institutional factors, such as supportive private ownership and the edi- tor’s partial ownership of the paper, boosted Strachan’s autonomy and supported his journalistic professional ideals. As partial owner, Strachan could lead by example and set a tone where innovation can flourish in the newsroom. He did this through a simple yet powerful mission. The National Thrift News was “a reporter’s paper,” one where journalists could set the news agenda rather than being led by the industry. Eugene Carlson, former communica- tions director for the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, said of Strachan’s impact and legacy: “It is one thing for a well-heeled television net- work, general circulation magazine or big city newspaper to broadcast or publish a story that might offend an advertiser… It is quite another matter for a relatively small trade newspaper to relentlessly and aggressively cover the industry whose advertising dollars comprise its very life- blood. But that’s exactly the no-holds barred approach that Stan and his crew of reporters brought to their coverage of the mortgage industry.”  Rob Wells is an assistant professor at the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journal- ism at the University of Arkansas. He is author of a 2016 doctoral dissertation, “‘A Reporter’s Paper’: the National Thrift News, Journalistic Autonomy and the Savings and Loan Crisis” and won a 2015 award from the Association for Educa- tion in Journalism and Mass Communi- cations history division for his research on the National Thrift News. www.MoAF.org  |  Spring 2017  |  FINANCIAL HISTORY  23