Don't Let Your Distrust Cost You Money

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I'm a business journalist.

If you want my credentials, I'm a graduate of the "Mama Yama School of Business." The late Elizabeth Yamashita taught the business reporting course in 1978 when I was at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. She said we'd all get jobs. She was right.

A journalist's job is to ask tough questions, and not take the answers at face value. Cynicism is called for, H.L. Mencken) is our patron saint,and the fact that Mencken is mainly forgotten today speaks well for him. We live in the moment. We're aware of our mortality.

It's not a job for everybody, but today it's the common stance. We're all cynical about everyone and everything. There are no sports heroes, only suspected cheats, and government is assumed to be corrupt even in the absence of corruption.

Perhaps no institution is as widely distrusted, with better reason, than business, the beat I've covered since walking into Mama Yama's classroom 35 years ago. Bankers are banksters, brokers are assumed to be promoters, and all of Wall Street is seen by most people as a rigged casino -- one that stole their life savings and laughs at their misery.

As a result, the vast majority of people have missed one of the most spectacular bull runs that followed the market's bottom in the wake of the financial crisis. ( The Guardian reports just how far stocks have come.)

A Bankrate survey last year showed only 18% of those 50-65, the prime investing age bracket, were inclined toward stock investment.

Those who do invest are as cynical as anyone else. We think the pros are cons. This is behind the rise of sites like this one and its competitors. We serve what Felix Salmon famously called at Reuters the "hobbyist" investor.

Lately I've had a face pinned to my computer screen: Andy Zaky's. As my fellow journalist Philip Elmer-Dewitt detailed in Fortune, Zaky made his name at Seeking Alpha pounding the table for Apple ( AAPL). Zaky's calls on Apple earnings made him famous as the stock rose, and infamous once it fell.

Zaky's story scared me. What if someone got mad and sued? I'm just a writer, doing stories, but in this case I took that fear and did something smart with it. I formed an LLC, to limit potential liability for what I write.

Then I wrote this column.

As a journalist, I make calls on companies all the time. As a fan of journalism, I get a kick out of recent posts by the TheStreet's Rocco Pendola: His demanding the firings of business titans including Reed Hastings of Netflix ( NFLX), Rob Johnson of J.C. Penney ( JCP) and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Rocco and I are like sportswriters at a baseball game. We can spot a promising rookie, a veteran on the decline and can spin stories that entertain. But you wouldn't hire a sportswriter to manage a ball club, and you shouldn't trust a journalist with your money.

Trust is the problem. There are millions of people who should be in the market, who are about to take huge losses as bond prices drop and interest rates rise. But they're not in the market because they don't trust anyone. Nor is there much reason for them to trust anyone.

Here at TheStreet, there are people who entertain and people we trust, people we cover who deserve your trust. I entertain. Doug Kass, by contrast, deserves your trust. Warren Buffett and Berkshire-Hathaway ( BRK.A) deserve your trust. Jack Bogle and Vanguard, as I wrote at my personal blog, deserve your trust.

There are honest people and honest institutions on Wall Street. They won't promise you the moon, but they won't take your money and run off to the casino with it either. They usually charge you less to handle your money than the sharpies do, they have a track record and they admit to making mistakes. They don't put all their eggs in one basket, like Andy Zaky did. They're usually quick with a laugh, slow to burn, and detail oriented.

Find one such institution and start putting money away with it. Then come back here and enjoy the game with me.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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