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Remembering Mark Haines: Lessons from the late financial newsman

Mark Haines

A screen shot of CNBC's Mark Haines in an Associated Press video piece covering his unexpected death on May 24.

Mark Haines’ unexpected death on Tuesday at age 65 rocked the financial journalism community. The next day, those who knew him shared memories and lessons from working with the CNBC veteran financial journalist.

The newsman, whose cause of death was not disclosed by the network, had been with CNBC for 22 years and became co-anchor and co-founder of “Squawk Box” in 1995, and went on to anchor “Squawk on the Street.” He  joined CNBC when it was still a fledgling network and he helped shape the format and content of the show.

There are many lessons business reporters can take from this veteran journalist, who was described as both quirky and intimidating. In the coverage of Haines’ passing, numerous reporting tips are packed into stories and segments remembering the newsman. Here are some of the highlights:

Ask and ask again

Joe Kernen, co-anchor of “Squawk Box,” explained during a segment on “Squawk on the Street” that Haines taught him to keep asking questions when he was a cub reporter. Here’s an excerpt from Wednesday morning’s show:

“We had a lady from California, she was from the pension plan, and I’ll just never forget that. She wasn’t answering the question and we were new and we didn’t know that you could just keep asking the same question and if they didn’t answer it you just keep asking it, no matter how uncomfortable it got, until you got the answer that you wanted to get. We cut our teeth with him.”

Keep viewers first

In a CNBC piece packed with memories of Haines from journalists and executives, Jeff Zucker, former president and CEO of NBC Universal, said:

“All he ever cared about was that people thought he was fair. When I was an executive he would only begrudgingly take my call, which always made me laugh. But that’s why he was so great. He never worried what “the suits” thought. Only the viewers. As it should be.”

Be skeptical

Barry Ritholtz, a guest on CNBC and head of research firm Fusion IQ, said in an Associated Press article that during the 1990s news anchors were cheering the stock-market bubble, but Haines was an exception. In the story Ritholtz said:

“He was trained as an attorney. He brought that keen lawyer’s eye to everything he did. It wasn’t something often seen in the financial media.”

Defend the facts

Eric Jackson runs a hedge fund called Ironfire Capital and recalls Haines authenticity in this Associated Press article:

“He resonated with so many people because he would speak out, and with opinion. Too often the media lets the corporate PR army and highly trained CEOs get their points across without question. He wouldn’t let that happen.”

Ask the tough questions

Haines’ former “Squawk on the Street” co-anchor Erin Burnett told MarketWatch her former colleague didn’t take B.S. In the article written by Jon Friedman she said:

“He wanted to tell the story – and that’s why so many viewers trusted him. He would always ask the question that nobody else would ask. He was fearless.”

Stocks aren’t just companies; they’re people, too.

On his Mad Money website, CNBC’s Jim Cramer detailed Haines as no-nonsense.

“Never took himself too seriously, but took our viewers’ money incredibly seriously and never let anyone get away with anything. He used to say to me, ‘NO FREE PASSES.’”

Cut to the chase

In the final entry on CNBC’s piece “The Business World Remembers Mark Haines,” Joe Moglia, the chairman of TD Ameritrade, recalled his nervousness during his first interview with Haines in 2002 after his company purchased Datek.

“It was the biggest news event on that particular day, and I was nervous – about the magnitude of the transaction, which could make or break the company, but also being interviewed by Mark. I remember Mark asked me something about the valuation of the deal – and I went on and on about the strategic reasons why we did it. He was good enough to let me go on for a while, but he stopped me in the middle and just said – ‘Joe, all I want to know is do you think you paid too much?’ I stopped, smiled and said, ‘No, Mark. I don’t think so.’”

Tell it like it is

Many remember Haines as an opinionated reporter who wasn’t afraid to speak up, especially when a source was being evasive or inaccurate. Check out this video clip to see those qualities in action.

In Basics, Career tips, Featured.

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