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American Journalism Review
Moneyed Columnist Bad Bet To Bank  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   December 1991

Moneyed Columnist Bad Bet To Bank   

By H. Glenn Rosenkrantz
H. Glenn Rosenkrantz covers business for the San Ramon Valley Times in California.      


Never mind polls that indicate the public has little respect for journalists. More important is where reporters rank in the minds of credit grantors.

Sadly, the answer is about the same.

Consider the case of San Francisco Examiner columnist Rob Morse. In a column last year, Morse chastised the San Francisco-based Bank of America for refusing him a "gold card." The bank refused his application despite the fact that Morse had just deposited with the bank a hefty profit from the sale of his house.

"I handed Bank of America $75,000 and in return they have told me I am a worthless human being, at least as far as my credit is concerned," Morse wrote.

Among the reasons for the bank's refusal was Morse's "type of occupation" as well as the fact that he had just moved, according to a letter Bank of America sent him.

In the murky world of credit, journalists are apparently teetering on the edge of deadbeat-land. Credit industry insiders describe an esoteric, computer-driven system that scores applicants based on their occupation, age, credit history and other information.

"If a job rates a low income or has unusual risks, it is not uncommon at all to be turned down for credit because of it," says Gerri Detweiler, educational coordinator for Bankcard Holders of America, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Herndon, Virginia.

"That might be especially true for reporters because of the recession and what's going on in journalism," she adds, referring to widespread layoffs.

Freelancers without steady monthly incomes might be considered especially risky to creditors. Former Newsweek writer Douglas Davis, now an author and artist, says his credit dried up soon after he left the magazine in 1987, despite his real estate holdings, a book contract from Simon and Schuster and several research grants. "When I wrote for Newsweek, people offered me credit when I didn't want it," Davis says. "When I became an entrepreneur, credit was denied to me."

"We don't single journalists out," says John Woldrich, executive vice president of San Rafael, California-based Fair, Isaac and Company, which pioneered credit scoring systems. "Our coding isn't that fine." Woldrich says no one factor determines whether an applicant will get credit.

Morse isn't so sure. But he received credit card offers from at least 20 banks after his column appeared. Bank of America has since approved his application.

"Sometimes," he says, "it helps to be a columnist."

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