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The Back Shed – Q&A with Greg Bright

Shed Media interviews Greg Bright, prominent financial journalist with over 25 years of experience in journalism and publishing.

Greg BrightGreg is the chairman of IO&C, an information company for institutional investors. He is the founder of a string of investment titles including: Super Review, Investor Weekly, IFA, Investor Daily, Investment & Technology and I&T News and Investor Strategy News. He is also a former assistant editor of the Australian Financial Review and economics writer for the Sydney Morning Herald. He is also deputy chairman of La Trobe Financial and a director of Pyne Gould Corporation.

How did you land in journalism?

I started on the now-defunct Sydney Daily Mirror in 1976 as a junior economics reporter, which was an advertised position. It published four editions a day and was mostly remembered for pioneering the Page 3 Girl in Australia. Within a few weeks of my arrival there they decided they didn’t really want an economics reporter so I was sent down to the courts to help out with those reporters and ended up on the paper’s single finance page. It was a lot of fun but not a great training ground so I applied for a job on the SMH which was really where I learned the most important aspects of journalism. I reckon there’s no more exciting job than being in the newsroom of a big daily newspaper. I haven’t had many bosses in my life but the best was definitely Ross Gittins who was then and still is now the economics editor of the SMH.

How has this industry challenged or surprised you throughout your career?

The media industry of course has changed immensely, but so has the superannuation and funds management industry, which is where I’ve concentrated my efforts for the past 26-27 years. In the specialist and trade press you tend to become a part of the industry you’re reporting on. The upside of that is you are more expert about the subject. The downside is you tend to be less critical.

I think it will not only be a sad day for journalism when the last newspaper closes, it will also be a sad day for society as a whole. It is difficult to imagine any news website except maybe the Guardian, New York Times or government-owned internet news such as the BBC being able

to produce big scandal-busting stories. A daily newspaper newsroom has about 300 journalists. The Huffiington Post has about a dozen. Of course the jury is still out but I don’t believe people will pay for quality general news when they can get the second-rate stuff for free on television or websites which are paid for by other means, such as their search capabilities. Specialist news has a better chance of surviving.

What role do you see media playing in the evolution of the finance industry?

I’d like to say the media will play an important role in the finance industry in the future, as it has in the past, but I don’t think it will. I’d like to see more analysis but the industry, at the moment, is not prepared to support it financially. Advertisers for online publications, which are all that will exist pretty soon, are obsessed with clicks. You know us publishers and editors can manipulate clicks? All I have to do is leave out a crucial piece of information from the intro on the home page and I will get a lot more clicks, which will make the advertisers happy. But that goes against what the reader wants. We are not giving the reader the best experience possible even though it would not be difficult or costly to do so. And that’s because advertising agencies demand clicks. Most of them never even attempt to judge the quality of the stories. Talking to specialist publishers in other industries and it’s the same. It’s not just the finance industry.

What are the big issues playing on your mind?

There’s nothing I can do about the trends in the media industry but I may be able to make a slight difference in the funds management industry by focusing on certain things which could help a super fund, for instance, improve its offering to members. A current example is my focus on Member Directed Investment options from big super funds. The early evidence is that they may help to stem the flow of members who are setting up their own self-managed-super funds. That will be good for everyone because many studies have shown that individuals do not make optimal investment decisions over the long term. They react poorly to booms and busts and are more likely not to discount their choices for behavioural biases than professionals do.

You’re obviously committed to your work. Where does Greg the journalist and the person begin and end (i.e. work/life balance)?

I don’t think I work that hard, although my wife would probably disagree. I like my work. I publish two newsletters and get involved in the occasional conference. That’s not too much in my view. I guess I’d like to spend more time in China and I certainly want to finish the two books I’ve been trying to write for several years. But I don’t feel there’s a great hurry. I spent a few months in China with my son in 2010 and that was a life-changing experience for both of us.

So what do you do in down time that doesn’t involve writing?

This is going to sound bad but mainly I like to read. I read a lot of Chinese history books. It’s getting more and more difficult to find a bookshop which stocks something in that category that I haven’t read. I also like to watch sport but in the past few years my teams – Parramatta in the NRL and Australia in the cricket – always seem to lose. At least Chinese history looks like it might have a happy ending after thousands of years of tragedy.