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Thank You, E.J.

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“…where the interests of the insurance business and the public which it serves, after making every possible effort to harmonize those interests, conflict, The National Underwriter believes that the best interests in the insurance business are served by taking the stand of the public. In the final analysis, the insurance business can only be successful if it is conducted on the basis of the truest and best service of which it is capable to its clients and the public. This, I take it, is a fundamental principle and the one which has kept the National Underwriter from being a mere paid organ of special interests. Its policies are based on the broad foundation of good citizenship and the recognition that insurance, as well as all other business, exists primarily not for the men who are engaged in it, but for the people whom they serve.”

–E.J. Wohlgemuth

On Oct. 17, E.J. Wohlgemuth, founder of the National Underwriter back in 1897, was inducted posthumously into the Insurance Media Hall of Fame. I accepted the award on behalf of E.J. This is what I said:

I know that E.J. Wohlgemuth–wherever he is–would be proud of the legacy he’s left 110 years after founding National Underwriter. Back at the end of the 19th century, he set out to be the gold standard in insurance journalism–one imbued with the highest ideals and respect for the reader. Over a century later, National Underwriter is still the gold standard in the insurance trade press.

I have been with the magazine for 27 years and for all that time it has been a point of pride that we have never been in anyone’s pocket. Even as a rookie reporter I sensed that something was different about this publication. We’ve all heard journalistic horror stories about the trade press and those publications in it that sell their editorial pages. The fact is–and everyone knows this–you cannot buy editorial space in National Underwriter.

The worst thing a PR person can say to me is, “My client is a big advertiser in National Underwriter.” It shows me they are unfamiliar with the magazine and, indeed, are ignorant of the best practices in PR. This kind of remark tends to happen less often lately, so it may be that those PR people who have been on the receiving end of my bristling when they made such a remark have passed it along to confreres.

The amazing thing is that our own salespeople know the editorial pages are not for sale and, though they might be reluctant to admit it, they value the very high church-state wall that has been in place ever since E.J.’s time. It’s actually become a strong selling point.

Our independence is our promise to our public, that is to say, our readers, who deserve and get unbiased reporting and frank expression of opinion, whether they positively or negatively reflect on the business.

We have always printed the facts, regardless of what company or official might be involved. Over the years we have taken our lumps for this when companies cancelled business in reaction to a story that may have made them appear in an unflattering light, although it was true. Inevitably, they returned to our pages.

On another front, we run many articles by contributors from the business. But one of our cardinal rules is that they cannot mention, much less tout, their products or services in the article. That kind of self-referential promotion would suggest to readers that editorial space has been exchanged for advertising–and that is something that we can’t allow.

Ultimately, as E.J. understood, you create your good reputation and it must be safeguarded zealously. Once you lose it, reputation is mighty difficult to retrieve. And that in the end is E.J. Wohlgemuth’s legacy–our reputation is still as high as his ideals wanted it to be over 100 years ago. We look forward to keeping it that way.


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