News To TheStreet
By Tami Luhby '92
Kansas '90 has always chosen paths that others might not have dared
to take. He left a small college in his hometown of St. Paul,
Minn., to transfer to Columbia, though New York had scared him to
death on previous visits. He abandoned his lifelong dream of being
a sportscaster to venture into the unfamiliar world of financial
journalism. Then he gave up an enviable job at the Wall Street
Journal to edit a start-up Web publication called TheStreet.com in 1996 - when the
Internet was still an unproven medium.
TheStreet.com was the
craziest thing I ever did," Kansas says in his modest corner
office, keeping one eye on his e-mail to check for breaking news.
"But I didn't want to stay on the traditional journalism
path has made Kansas, 32, a rising star in business
tutelage, TheStreet has evolved from a fledgling Webzine to a
respected site with 66,000 subscribers. It covers stock markets
around the world, as well as various industries. Heavyweights from
The New York Times to ABC News turn to TheStreet to provide
business coverage for their own Web presences.
also has made Kansas a rich young man. Thanks to the investment
community's response to the company's initial public offering in
May, the editor's stake is worth about $2.9 million as this issue
of CCT goes to press. (Kansas had seen the value of his stock
options soar to $9.1 million just after the IPO, before the
Internet industry slump on Wall Street.)
This is quite
a change for Kansas, who had to work during college to pay
Columbia's tuition, and then take freelancing assignments to
supplement his first job's salary. He's still not comfortable
talking about his newfound wealth - his college friend Sam
Marchiano '89 dragged him shopping after the IPO to replace the
worn out clothes he'd had since college - and instead politely
shifts the conversation back to TheStreet's journalistic
always been focused on journalism. After spending a year at
Macalester College, he transferred to Columbia to become part of
the media mecca of New York. Two days after arriving on campus,
before attending any classes, he lined up a job interview that
turned into an 18-month stint at NBC Radio Network, first as the
overnight desk assistant and later as an engineer and taperoom
Kansas joined the Spectator and worked his way up to editing the
sports section. He also could be found on the air, announcing
football, basketball and baseball games for WKCR. His most
memorable moments included covering the 1988 homecoming game, when
Columbia's football team broke a 44-game losing streak.
"The team was
being covered by the national press," says Kansas, who also
performed with the Kingsmen during his years on campus. "I got to
rub shoulders with some very interesting people."
sometimes brutal honesty in his reporting did not win many friends
among the athletes, but it impressed his colleagues at Spectator.
He was not afraid to criticize teams or players, and he held people
accountable for their actions, a practice he continues as a
back down when the athletes got mad at him. He would do what he
thought was right," says Marchiano, now a sportscaster for Fox
Sports. "To me that was a sign of great things to come."
In his senior
year, Kansas began covering high school sports for New York
Newsday. He continued working there part-time after graduation, and
wrote freelance news articles to make ends meet. But after a few
months, he decided he needed a full-time job with benefits. And he
realized the only publications that were hiring covered
So he secured
a job as a news assistant at the Wall Street Journal. This move
stunned friends and colleagues, not only because Kansas had never
taken an economics course or bought stock, but also because he was
giving up a writing post for one where he would look for typos and
act as a liaison with the paper's production facilities.
however, had a plan. As soon as he walked through the Journal's
doors in May 1991, he started pitching story ideas to the editors.
He often came in five hours early to work on articles. Within a
month, he published his first piece, about a new law in Chester,
N.Y. that required all store signs to be blue. Soaking up financial
journalism on the job, he became a reporter on the spot news desk
the next year and then started writing the "Abreast of the Market"
column. Since he knew nothing about covering stocks, he read a
dozen books in four weeks and called experts to explain the markets
know a lot about financial journalism, but he caught on fast," says
Jim Hyatt, one of Kansas' former editors at the Journal.
One reason he
took to business writing, he says, is because it's a lot like
sports. There are winners and losers. There is inherent drama in
the game. And the vocabulary is often the same.
"I used to
joke that I covered Columbia football, so I'm ready for a bear
market," Kansas says. "I've got all the words and
five years at the Journal, Kansas was ready for a change. At the
same time, he caught the eye of TheStreet's founder James Cramer, a
hedge fund manager who calls Kansas' work at the Journal "some of
the most credible, authoritative business journalism" he'd seen.
Tempted by the challenge and the potential high returns, Kansas
signed on as executive editor in September 1996, becoming
editor-in-chief the following April.
easy at first. Kansas spent two days at TheStreet's office - then
located in an abandoned bank vault with telephones and computers
that didn't work - before taking a few days off to adjust to his
new position...and to ponder whether he had just made the biggest
mistake of his life.
uncertain, Kansas returned because he believed TheStreet would
succeed. Debates rage in the journalism industry as to whether the
Internet will be more than a conduit for self-publishers, such as
Matt Drudge, and whether it would ever be a credible source of
news, with the same standards for truth or ethics that hold at the
highest levels of print or broadcast journalism.
As he watched
the value and importance of information explode, Kansas was certain
people would turn to the Internet for news throughout the day that
they couldn't get from their newspapers. He felt he could fashion
TheStreet as an authoritative source for financial
Kansas noted, was that readers could interact with the writers. At
the Journal, he received only a handful of letters over four years.
Now, when he writes a column, he gets 50 to 100 e-mails.
others of the medium's potential, however, took some work. "We
would cheer when someone agreed to work here," Kansas
have to cheer anymore. Launched in November 1996 with a staff of
seven, TheStreet now has 70 reporters in bureaus on both coasts, as
well as in London, Berlin and Tokyo. It also has landed two
high-profile columnists, Herb Greenberg, formerly of the San
Francisco Chronicle, and Adam Lashinsky, who came from the San Jose
publications have proliferated, TheStreet is unusual for the
Internet. It has no print companion, such as a newspaper or
magazine, and posts 60 to 70 original stories a day.
Like many of
its peers, TheStreet is not yet turning a profit. It charges a fee
of $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year, and hopes to become profitable
through advertising and partnerships with other media, such as
providing business news for ABCNews.com and doing a weekly program
on Fox News Channel. Eventually it may publish books about finance
and investing. As a director of the company, Kansas could not
predict when TheStreet might ease into the black, but he did point
out that it took many traditional publications, such as USA Today,
many years to generate profits.
financial pressures and seeming conflict of interest with a hedge
fund manager as a publisher, Kansas says he hasn't let his
journalism standards suffer. He expects the same level of reporting
and writing from his staff as his editors did at the
When he first
took the job, he was very concerned about having the freedom to
make editorial decisions, says Roger Lehecka '67, Columbia's
director of alumni programs, who struck up a close friendship with
Kansas when Lehecka was the College's dean of students.
apparently has succeeded. Cramer says he keeps his distance from
the editorial side of TheStreet, over which the young editor has
complete control. And his former boss at the Journal says Kansas
has won the respect of his former colleagues who doubted his
ability to make TheStreet a credible source of business
bringing stature to an unknown medium," says Hyatt, the Journal
editor. "TheStreet could have been gossipy or poorly reported.
Instead it breaks news, has high standards and is
let his newfound Internet wealth change his personal routine. He
still sleeps on a futon in his lower Manhattan apartment, which he
shares with a roommate. One of the few luxuries he's allowed
himself is a new titanium bicycle, which he recently rode across
Iowa. Friends such as Roger Rubin '89 say Kansas doesn't believe
his own good fortune.
really think about it that much," Kansas says. "I focus more on
trying to succeed."
Author: Tami Luhby '92, J'97 is a writer at Crain's New
York Business. Her work has also appeared in Newsday and The New
York Times's Cybertimes section.