Lauren Foster: Senior Business & Finance Writer for Barron’s

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. In today’s episode, we are speaking with Lauren Foster, a senior writer for Barron’s, who covers investing topics and strategies. With a focus on sustainable investing in ESG, she helps investors make smarter decisions and has a knack for translating complex topics into simple, clear, and engaging copy. Lauren is also an intrepid traveler who has explored the remote landscapes of Mongolia, the vibrant streets in Afghanistan, and the Karakoram highway in Pakistan. Hello, Lauren, how are you?

 

Lauren Foster  01:00

Hi, Angela.  It’s great to be with you. Thanks so much for having me on the show.

 

Angela Tuell  01:04

Yes, I’m looking forward to talking with you. I would love it if you could start by telling us about how you began in journalism, and how you’ve gotten to where you are today.

 

Lauren Foster  01:15

Absolutely. So my first reporting job was actually for a local Sunday newspaper in South Africa, which is where I was born and raised. And then something about a long and winding path after that. I left South Africa and spent about two and a half years living and working around the world sort of traveling to different places. And then a few years later, I found myself in New York City and realized that I needed a graduate degree to compete for jobs with Americans being a foreigner. So I went off to Columbia, which is where I got my master’s. And that amazingly, led to my first reporting job in New York City. And that was covering foreign exchange for a wire service. And that may sound terribly dull, but that was actually, 1997 and that was the year of the Asian financial crisis. And in July of that year, soon after I’d started, the Thai baht collapsed. And so it was actually a very exciting time to be covering what was a big international story. And I was lucky, I did that for a couple of years. And then the Financial Times, which is the UK publication, was expanding its presence in the US. I was left in a job in the New York newsroom and spent nearly a decade working at the Financial Times. Then took a little bit of a, what I would call a journalism-adjacent job for a few years. And now, Barron’s full-time.

 

Angela Tuell  02:44

Wow. So when you went to get that journalism degree, did you know that you wanted to do financial journalism?

 

Lauren Foster  02:52

Absolutely not. But at the time, that was really where the jobs were. And it actually became a huge international story. You know, back in ’97, the Asian financial crisis, there was a lot of contagion. And it was just a tremendously exciting time to be a reporter and being on a wire service was very fast-paced. There was a lot of international news and also involved covering a lot of what was happening on the international stage. So it was very exciting.

 

Angela Tuell  03:19

Yeah, it sounds like it definitely. So I have to veer off just a little bit and ask what it was like to grow up in South Africa.

 

Lauren Foster  03:25

Well, it was, I would say, a challenging place to grow up. I was actually living during the apartheid era, which was a very difficult time to be a South African. I would say that it gave me a great appreciation for a free press. South Africa under apartheid, it was a totalitarian regime. And so I grew up seeing what censorship was like. And so it was a great place to learn to take stands for what you believe in and to fight for what you think is right. But I’m very happy to see that today South Africa is a democracy.

 

Angela Tuell  04:06

Yes. So as a senior writer for Barron’s, a well-respected publication in the business and investing world, what topics do you specifically cover?

 

Lauren Foster  04:16

So I really have quite a broad mandate to write about, investing, and the asset management industry, but I also cover what’s known as ESG and sustainable investing, and big themes that are related to climate change, including important topics like water security and water scarcity.

 

Angela Tuell  04:36

Okay, so for those who don’t know what is ESG?

 

Lauren Foster  04:40

That is environmental, social and governance, and investing.

 

Angela Tuell  04:44

Okay. Okay. Which makes sense of what you explain there. So, what do you find most interesting about your work?

 

Lauren Foster  04:52

Well, I have to say that I’m never bored. There really is no shortage of news. But also, because media has evolved so much, there are now so many different ways of telling a story.

 

Angela Tuell  05:05

Yeah,

 

Lauren Foster  05:06

I love the fact that you know, audio is so accessible, that visual storytelling is more important than ever. And going back to sort of the bit that I write about a lot today, I would say that climate change is going to be really the story of our lifetimes. And I feel that I have a responsibility to write stories so readers understand the risks it poses not just for the planet, but also for their portfolios.

 

Angela Tuell  05:32

Yes, yes.

 

Lauren Foster  05:33

That’s sort of what makes my work so interesting is that I feel like I’m constantly learning. Every time I get thrown into a deep dive on a story. It’s somewhat like doing sort of a mini masterclass in a subject, turning around and having to explain to my readers, what I’ve just learned.

 

Angela Tuell  05:51

That was my favorite thing, too. I started my career as a journalist as well. And I loved that. And, you know, before actually working in it professionally, that’s what I would do with family and friends, I’d be the one to learn about something that was happening, dive into it, research, and let everyone know. So when you like to do that, it’s definitely a really good fit.

 

Lauren Foster  06:11

Absolutely.

 

Angela Tuell  06:12

So how do you approach covering complex financial topics? You know, because their financial topics are complex, usually, what strategies do you use to simplify or explain the complicated concepts?

 

Lauren Foster  06:27

So I really tried to read as much as possible about a subject. Whenever I find a story, I always try to see if it’s original, like primary research, and then it becomes one of the things we use to go down the rabbit hole. You start reading one thing leads to another thing, and that leads to another thing. And I’m somewhat old school in the sense that I will print out vast quantities of paper and find it on our desk piled high with reports and stories that I’m highlighting and scribbling notes all around. So it’s just really trying to do as deep a dive as possible, and to figure out who else is writing similar stories, and who are the people I should be reading about. And that sort of just helps to build out the sort of like a skill base of knowledge. And I would say, when it comes to writing, one of the strategies that I always think about for keeping things simple, is to go back to Warren Buffett, and he is a legendary investor. This is to say that when he would draft his annual letters, which are very well-read, he would keep his two sisters in mind. And what he would mean by that is that they are smart, but they’re not necessarily active in business, and they’re not reading the newspaper every single day. So that means you have to write clearly, it means getting rid of jargon. And I will also say that I learned a lot from reading some of my peers who are very good at distilling complex topics. For example, Jonah Cera, used to write a business column for The New York Times and whenever I would read his columns it was almost as if I were sitting at a bar and having a conversation with him. He could take a very complex subject and just make it very accessible. Another great example is Jason Zweig, who is at the Wall Street Journal. Again, complex topics and make them accessible pockets with the storytelling, but also just in this style, and the prose. You know, Warren Buffett, just to get back to him for a moment, would say all – still says – that he only tends to invest, stick to businesses that we believe we understand. As a journalist, if I’m tackling a complex topic, and I don’t understand it, I can’t expect my readers to understand and if I don’t really understand it, I kind of think about it, it goes back to the lesson, you always say, if you want to really learn something, you have to teach someone else about it, then you have to keep that in mind.

 

Angela Tuell  08:56

Yes, yes. So what are some of the challenges you face when covering financial news?

 

Lauren Foster  09:03

Well, I would say it’s not just unique to financial news, although the element of the markets which are constantly changing, and there’s lots of news that makes stocks and bonds move on a daily basis is certainly one challenge. But I would say the biggest challenge, and this is probably for journalists everywhere is just time, and to be able to do enough reporting and to be able to understand the story. And to write it accurately and quickly. When also there’s so much information out there. You have to be incredibly discerning about what you’re reading, and have to think quickly in terms of what is the most important information that you have to assimilate. So I would say, you know, in terms of how to overcome that challenge of time, you know, aside from wishing that I could just slow down time but I can’t. I find that I really have to be quite disciplined about focusing and not being distracted when it comes to writing, and so easy to be distracted, there are just so many different things that are going on during the day. So one of the things that I often do to try and sort of create more of a flow state, as I’m writing, is to turn off my distractions. So that would be things like switching off the notifications on my email, and cell phone and making sure that my Slack channel is silenced because otherwise, it’s very easy to write a couple of sentences, check email, check your messages, and it’s not that productive. So that’s the way I tried to just, I guess, stay focused and hone in on a job that I have to do.

 

Angela Tuell  10:38

Yeah, that’s great advice for all of us in our work. I tend to do that as well. Are there any specific strategies you employ to stay ahead of you know, what the constantly evolving financial landscape?

 

Lauren Foster  10:51

I think it helps to be something of a news junkie, and hopefully, most journalists are news junkies in their own way. And certainly, I’m an avid consumer of the news. I’m also a very early riser. And I like to make my morning coffee and sit down before I go for a run and just scan in, I have a news app on my phone, I scan the front pages of the big publications to just see if anything has broken overnight. I also check LinkedIn from time to time because that’s a chance to see stories that your professional network is posting that I may not have seen. Or if I see something that someone has posted, that’s getting a lot of interest. That’s another way that I make sure that I haven’t missed something. You know, years ago, I used to look always at Twitter, because it was a great source of breaking news. But I’ve I guess I’ve switched away from Twitter in the last few years of having to rely really just on the news, as is produced by the major publications.

 

Angela Tuell  11:55

Yeah, we’re hearing more and more of that, for sure. So what are some examples of memorable business stories you have covered that had a significant impact on you or your readers?

 

Lauren Foster  12:06

So one story that comes to mind, it sort of harkens back to something I said in the beginning about climate change. Last year, we did a cover story on water and water security and water risk. And you know, most Americans don’t think about water, we turn on the taps, and water flows out. But there are many parts of the country where there isn’t running water, or there is too much water, or there’s too little water. And so I think it was very important to bring this topic to our readers for them to understand the real challenges, that running out of water poses for businesses’ daily life, and even once investments. And then this year, we did a big cover story on plastic. And again, that’s another one of these big stories, that gets a lot of interest from our readers, you know, we tend to take for granted just how much plastic we consume, the amount of waste pollution that produces. And we often don’t think about the realities of recycling and whether what we put into our recycling bins actually gets recycled, what happens to it? And so they’ve been those sorts of stories to our readers is important.

 

Angela Tuell  13:19

Yes. And we’ll link to those in our show notes. So anyone listening in can read them if they’re interested. How do you see the future of financial journalism unfolding? You know, particularly in terms of integrating these emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence?

 

Lauren Foster  13:36

I really think that financial journalism will evolve much the same way as mainstream media, which is really to say that you have to reach your audiences where they consume that information. And increasingly, that’s in places like YouTube, and TikTok. Maybe on LinkedIn, so you have to be very adaptable in terms of how you package your stories. So you may have a story that runs as a big cover story that can be in print, it can be online, but then how do you take it and chop it up into bite-sized pieces that make it work for a TikTok or make it work on YouTube? So I think we have to be very creative in thinking about how we repackage and package our stories. And I think that comes down to being very nimble. And in terms of how we think about storytelling, but I also think, you know, video and photography will become increasingly important. Even in financial journalism, you need to have compelling visuals to draw in the audience.

 

Angela Tuell  14:43

Yeah.

 

Lauren Foster  14:44

It also particularly in financial journalism, there’s a lot of data and thinking about how one presents data. So data journalism is very important. Well, not just how you present but also how you mine that data. And sometimes you know, we think of AI as taking away jobs, but actually, it can also help us do our jobs in terms of mining data for incredibly interesting stories, or for patterns. There’s a lot of talk about AI at the moment. And I think a lot of people are fearful. But I do think it’s going to be a while before robots take over the newsroom. Not that AI can help in terms of just sorting through a lot of information and helping journalists to be better at their jobs.

 

Angela Tuell  15:30

Yeah. Are you using it right now?

 

Lauren Foster  15:32

I’m not. I know that Chat GPT is incredibly popular. I have two young boys who have been using chat GPT to do all kinds of things, but I haven’t yet used it on a day-to-day basis.

 

Angela Tuell  15:48

So how can PR professionals best help you do your job?

 

Lauren Foster  15:51

Now I think the best PR people are the ones who really understand what you’re writing about. And only bring the best people and ideas to the table. And that means just keeping track of the stories that are being produced. As you know, we are inundated with information. And it’s very hard to sort out sort of, you know, what’s relevant and what’s not relevant. But the best PR people really, truly understand what you’re writing about, and what will make a difference. And what is a good story? And those are the PR people who tend to get traction when they approach journalists with ideas.

 

Angela Tuell  16:29

Yes, I’d love to talk a little bit about your passion, being an avid traveler. Has, you know, how has that passion for travel influenced your journalism career? Or have you found any connections between your travels in your work in the financial industry?

 

Lauren Foster  16:44

So my travel is somewhat on the adventurous side of the scale, might always, you know, match up with financial journalism. But I was lucky when I worked at the Financial Times, we had a phenomenal Travel section. And so I was very lucky to be able to write about some of the adventures that I had. So for example, they published a story on my trip to Kabul in Afghanistan, and they also published a piece on my travels to Pakistan. And then a few years later, I took a trip to Ecuador canoeing in the Amazon. And so again, I was lucky enough to write about that for the FT. But unfortunately, they are not other, not that many opportunities today, to marry up financial journalism and travel in terms of what I’m doing.

 

Angela Tuell  17:32

Yeah, so how did you get into the adventure travel?

 

Lauren Foster  17:35

Maybe it comes down to growing up in South Africa, where I was used to beautiful surroundings and, very adventurous lifestyle. And when I left South Africa, it was just very exciting to be able to go to new places I’d never been to. So yeah, I don’t really know how it became such a passion of mine.

 

Angela Tuell  17:56

Yeah, those places that you named, you know, I’d love if you’d share some memorable experiences, or, you know, stories from those travels.

 

Lauren Foster  18:04

Absolutely. So that’s one of the most defining trips was one that I did a few years ago to Mongolia, which was a photographic expedition, where we tracked across the Altai Mountains.

 

Angela Tuell  18:19

Wow.

 

Lauren Foster  18:19

One of the amazing things about that trip was that I was off the grid, for several days. And it really was a chance to reset to not be constantly thinking about checking social media, not thinking about reading the news. And there was a time to really practice, I think, gratitude to be in this incredibly beautiful space, without those distractions. To be in a very different culture, to be photographing, to be walking, to be sharing in your experience. I think those kinds of sort of experiences really shape one’s outlook and define who we are. And they were certainly one of the trips that really stands out in my memory.

 

Angela Tuell  19:01

So you’re a photographer as well.

 

Lauren Foster  19:03

Yes, I would say that I’m a novice photographer, I love to take photographs. And that was one of the appeals in particular, that trip was the opportunity to travel with a photographer, and we did a portrait workshop as part of the trip. So that was simply part of the appeal.

 

Angela Tuell  19:21

Wow. So what were some of the challenges you faced while traveling in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if there were any, you know, and how did those experiences shape your understanding of those regions?

 

Lauren Foster  19:33

So my trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan were in the early 2000s. And that was a time of some sort of instability in the region, we can say. And they were they weren’t very many travelers going to those regions, let alone women traveling alone. So perhaps the biggest challenge was really just to be cognizant of safety as a woman traveling alone and to not draw attention to myself especially. For example, in Pakistan, you don’t see very many women traveling alone. And so one of the things I try to do when I’m traveling is to not stand out. So for example, in Pakistan, I wore shalwar kameez, which is the traditional style of dress, so that I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. So I think, you know, women traveling alone, any place have to be careful, but particularly in places where it might be more noticeable that you’re foreign, you just have to be, I guess, cognizant of your surroundings and take the appropriate steps to stay safe.

 

Angela Tuell  20:35

Yes, were you completely alone or did you have a guide?

 

Lauren Foster  20:38

So I was alone for part of it. But then what I would often what I often do is I’ll get to a place, find a local guide, and then use a guide to help take me on part of the trip. So for example, in northern Pakistan, I arrived in the city in the north, and then I hired a guide to take me in a jeep on the Karakoram Highway. That’s something I couldn’t do by myself. So I had to hire a guide to drive me on these rural parts of the road.

 

Angela Tuell  21:07

Wow, that’s amazing. You are adventurous in that way. If there are others listening, who are thinking, Oh, I’d love to do that, you know, where, where do you even suggest starting and planning for, for visiting areas, you know, countries like that?

 

Lauren Foster  21:25

So I guess the confession of this is that I’m actually a terrible planner, I don’t plan much ahead of time. And maybe part of the thrill for me is that I sort of arrive in places, and then they start to unfold, sometimes rather unpredictably.

 

Angela Tuell  21:41

Wow.

 

Lauren Foster  21:42

I was having another adventure. You know, I would start where I always start with everything in terms of what I’m doing. And that’s with the research. That’s Googling, reading everything I can about a place in the old, like I said, the old days, but the Lonely Planet Guys is if you put you know, books, to read and research about the history, about the food, about when to travel. I mean, nowadays, you can do all of that online. I would say that you know, once I have an idea of where I want to go, and I would say this to anyone if they were planning a trip, it’s also really helpful to find out if anyone in your network has either lived there or traveled there because they can really shape an experience. I can remember a few years ago, I was working in Hong Kong, and I wanted to go to Japan for a long weekend. And one of my friends, they said, Oh, you know, I have a friend who’s in Japan. And so when I got to Japan, she came and met me one evening, we went climbing, and she took me to find some local food. So whenever I can, I do try to meet up with locals so that I’m experiencing the country or that city as a local would, not necessarily as a tourist would.

 

Angela Tuell  23:02

Yes, yes. Great advice. Do you have any upcoming adventures planned?

 

Lauren Foster  23:07

No, unfortunately, I don’t. I’ve been thinking about what to do. I know that the pandemic put a bit of a hard break on my travels. But I am looking around for the next great adventure. And I’m just sort of thinking through where do I want to go, do I want to go down to Argentina? Do I want to go to Asia? Do I want to go more wilderness? Do I want to go city? So no, nothing imminent? More that said, Actually, I need to do another trip to Japan. Next, I would not consider it as much an adventure in terms of sort of the roughing-it type of trip. But certainly an adventure in terms of culinary adventure, beautiful architecture, and that kind of thing.

 

Angela Tuell  23:52

Yeah. So before we go, I need to mention that you’re also a podcaster. And one of the hosts of the daily Barron’s Live show. Can you tell us more about this?

 

Lauren Foster  24:02

Absolutely. So Barron’s Live is our daily webcast and podcast where we cover a range of different topics. And the show is always live so that audience members can actually submit questions. And about once a month, I host an episode on managing your money.

 

Angela Tuell  24:20

That’s wonderful. So we’ll make sure to include a link to that as well. And how can listeners connect with you online?

 

Lauren Foster  24:26

So part of the easiest is to find me on LinkedIn. Lauren Foster, you’ll see my bio there at Barron’s, and I’m always open to making new connections there.

 

Angela Tuell  24:36

Great. Thank you so much.

 

Lauren Foster  24:39

It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  24:44

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Lauren Foster shares how she researches and breaks down the most complex financial information to share with readers.  Listen to today’s episode to learn more about critical financial considerations, adventurous solo female travel and the wisdom Warren Buffett provides for today’s society.

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