Audit Notes: Bad Times with FINRA, Apple, and Co-bylines

The New York Times’s DealBook drops a beat sweetener profiling the new head of FINRA, that toothless in-house regulator of Wall Street.

The basic problem with the story is that it takes FINRA seriously, though it does quote “critics” of the organization. But FINRA’s credibility is near zero and that’s long been the case. This is an organization whose vice chairman was Bernie Madoff for crying out loud (and where Obama found his SEC chief Mary Schapiro, who had made it even more toothless.

Now it’s going to be headed by an attorney who for twenty years “has defended financial advisers, brokerage firms and corporate chieftains accused of everything from insider trading to accounting fraud.”

We find out from the Times that J. Bradley Bennett likes to shoots ducks and that he is :

An imposing presence at 6-foot-5, Mr. Bennett said he was eager to take on any case that ended up in court.

“You don’t ignore Brad when he stands up,” said James Doty, Mr. Bennett’s former colleague who last week was named chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the nation’s top accounting regulator. “He has an expansive, exuberant personality. He is not a mouse.”

Hope that gets them some DealBook scooplets down the road.

— The Times then gives Apple a somewhat puffy story atop Business Day headlined “A Deep Bench of Leadership at Apple.” The investor-relations folks at Apple must have liked that one.

“The person who can keep the trains running on time is a scarce commodity, but not as rare as someone who can do breakthrough innovation,” said Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the director of its Center for Leadership and Change Management.

Apple is widely believed to have both.

Well, maybe, or maybe not. Let’s check The Wall Street Journal, which is more judicious about the loss of a guy like Steve Jobs.

Absence Will Test Apple’s Executive Bench

Here’s what it writes:

But Mr. Cook’s stints during Mr. Jobs’s absence were each a half-year or less. It isn’t clear how well Apple would fare for longer periods of time without Mr. Jobs, a star CEO whose grasp of product design and marketing makes him irreplaceable in the eyes of many people. Mr. Cook isn’t regarded as a product visionary, an area where Mr. Jobs has excelled at over the past decade with products like the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

Jim Bethmann, head of the technology practice at executive recruiters Caldwell Partners International in Dallas, doubts that Mr. Cook is capable of filling Mr. Jobs’s oversized shoes.

“I don’t think he is strategic enough,” the recruiter said. Mr. Jobs “has a good solid team in place, but I doubt he has given them any authority to make any strategic decisions” while he is away, Mr. Bethmann said. During Mr. Jobs’s 2009 leave, he added, the company didn’t release as many major products as it did in the years before and after.

That’s more like it.

— Finally, the Times had a front-page story yesterday on how the burgeoning and unregulated lawsuit loan industry takes advantage of injured people. Good story.

It was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity (which the paper notes in the text of the story), but the Times gave its reporter Binyamin Appelbaum the only byline, stuffing this tagline at the end:

This project was initiated by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization in Washington. It is based on reporting by Ben Hallman and Caitlin Ginley of the center and Binyamin Appelbaum of The Times, and was written by Mr. Appelbaum.

The same story is on the Center for Public Integrity website and CPI gave its reporter Ben Hallman a co-byline.

Now co-bylines are somewhat squishy things, but the story either is by both Appelbaum and Hallman or it isn’t. In this new era of collaborative journalism, where the press is teaming up with nonprofits like ProPublica and the CPI to do investigations, it’s probably best to lean toward being liberal in crediting partners for their work.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,