Just like your investment portfolio, it’s good to diversify your information sources. Consider adding Michelle Singeltary to your financial reading list.
Financial Lessons in Newspaper Publishing
Once upon a time, I owned and published an alternative weekly newspaper in Spokane, Washington. You’ve probably seen such papers given away for free at pizza joints and college campuses and concert halls.
As a learning experience, running a small business and publishing a newspaper was invaluable. As an investment, it was not good.
Joke: How do you make a small fortune?
Punchline: Take your slightly larger fortune and open a newspaper.
One of the reasons I got into the local journalism business was to help address the economic issues in the region. One thing that a newspaper could do was help raise the financial literacy of the community.
As a newspaper publisher, you have to know the demographics of your town. At the time, Spokane was very white–92 percent white, to be exact. The city was also pretty poor. Sure, some parts of town did okay. It was a great place to live if you had a good job. But Spokane also was, and is, home to the poorest legislative district in the state of Washington.
To address financial literacy, I wrote a regular financial column called “Proper Lincoln.” The column logo was a drawing of Lincoln on the penny. Writing a recurring column that required substantial research, on top of all my other work and family duties, was tough. After less than a year, I decided to switch to running a syndicated column.
I picked “The Color of Money” by Michelle Singletary, syndicated by the Washington Post Writer’s Group. Her column was available and affordable. She also happened to be a black woman.
The Color of Money
Some readers, even some of my staff, commented that such syndicated content wasn’t very “alternative.” Free weekly newspapers like the one I had are considered “alternative” for several reasons. Sex ads, for one, and swearing. A higher proportion of local entertainment coverage than your typical daily newspaper. Plus, a writing style closer to magazines and creative nonfiction than straight-up journalism.
I replied that publishing a black woman as a financial expert in white Spokane was very “alternative.”
This was more than 15 years ago. Singletary’s column still runs twice weekly in more than 100 newspapers. She’s published three books, appeared regularly on television and radio, and founded a program to match money mentors with those struggling with financial issues.
Yet, I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard of Michelle. If not, is it because Singletary is a black woman? I suspect it might be, in part. I’ll also bet that you’ve at least heard of the white megastars of financial advice like Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and Tony Robbins.
And yes, I’m aware of the glaring irony of yet another white guy–me–spouting off about money. I started this blog in part because the financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) trend felt like financial porn for a select few, mostly white, people.
That’s in contrast to Singletary, who draws her financial inspiration from her grandmother, Big Momma. According to Singletary’s website,
Big Mama raised Michelle and her four brothers and sisters on a salary that never reached more than $13,000 a year. Yet at her death, Big Mama owned her own home, had paid off a car loan and had a beautiful collection of Sunday-go-to-meeting church hats and a savings account that supplemented her Social Security check and small pension.
I think our wealth and income inequality problems become worse when we lack diversity in the voices and experience discussing financial life in the U.S. Plus; we don’t talk enough about pocketbook issues.
So seek out those with a different experience than you. It just might color how you view money.