It Would Have Had the Most Grammatical Prospectus Around

Alas, an arbitrator says a New York Times copy editor can't start a mutual fund.
Author:
Publish date:

Maybe you could get away with it if you were a taxicab driver or even a cabaret dancer, but don't try to moonlight as a mutual fund manager if you want to work at

The New York Times

.

An arbitrator has ruled that the old Gray Lady can bar one of its copy editors, William D. Curtin, from starting his own mutual fund. The ruling, issued July 1, was obtained Tuesday by

TheStreet.com

.

In 1997, Curtin, a copy editor on the metro desk, filed papers with the

Securities and Exchange Commission

to start his own fund. He planned to call it the

Breezy Point

fund and invest its assets in out-of-favor companies whose stocks were undervalued.

In a 1997 news report, a

Times

spokeswoman originally said the paper didn't mind if Curtin ran money while crossing its Ts and dotting its Is. The paper later changed its tune.

"You cannot have somebody within this newspaper -- where there's a lot of nonpublic information floating around that has the potential to move markets -- in a situation where he is actually running a fund," associate managing editor William Schmidt said Tuesday. "The question is: To whom is his responsibility, the

Times

or the people who are members of the fund?"

The

Times

-- which owns a minority stake in

TheStreet.com

-- has long had a policy prohibiting financial reporters from owning stock in companies they cover, and even from managing money for others. But the policy doesn't address reporters or editors in other parts of the paper, like the metro section.

"We never thought we would have to prohibit a member of the staff from running a mutual fund," Schmidt said.

Curtin may have the background for it. He started at the

Times

as a copy boy in 1962 and spent more than 20 years working in the paper's business section. From 1990 to 1994, he worked as a stock analyst for the

Forbes Investors Advisory Institute

. He didn't return three phone calls or an email asking for comment.

Lena Williams, a sports reporter for the paper who acts as a union rep with the

Newspaper Guild of New York

, says Curtin has now given up on the idea of running the fund. But she still takes the

Times

to task on its policy.

"The policy was very specific in that it targeted and was aimed at editors, reporters and others who worked in the business and financial news sections of the

New York Times

," Williams says.

Schmidt says the paper is currently reworking its policy, which is now based on a memo written in 1986.

Running a successful mutual fund has a much better salary potential than that of a copy editor -- even at the relatively well-paying

Times

. A survey released today by the

Association for Investment Management and Research

and

Russell Reynolds Associates

projected the median compensation for mutual fund managers to be $150,000 in 1999. That's more than double the $71,000 Guild minimum that a starting copy editor would make at the

Times

, and significantly over than the $85,000 salary a copy editor with Curtin's experience would make.

Williams points out that there was a silver lining in the decision for the paper's union members. The

Times

had originally argued the issue shouldn't even go to an arbitrator. But arbitrator John Donoghue felt otherwise.

"To hold the issue not ripe for arbitration is tantamount to finding that one must wait for the executioner's axe to actually drop before answering the question of whether the sentence is just," the opinion reads.

"Well, we lost one, we won one. Not to belittle what happened to Mr. Curtin," Williams says.

Still, Tom Goldstein, dean of

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism

, says the

Times'

policy is a no-brainer.

"That sounds just right to me," Goldstein says. "It's a new world in which journalist have opportunities that they once did not have to make money, and there need to be certain rules. The

New York Times'

rules seem like reasonable ones."

Still, Williams says the policy shouldn't be broadened to apply to things like taxicab driving or even cabaret dancing. (Times Square, after all, is right outside the newspaper's front door.)

"I think people would find it very interesting if we moonlighted as cabaret dancers. It's something that relieves a lot of stress, it's fun and it's good exercise," Williams says. "But as a cabaret dancer, I don't have any inside information."