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Alan Abelson: Moved “Up and Down Wall Street” calling out hucksters and hype

Alan Abelson '46

Class of 1946 

Inducted 2002

From the time his weekly column, “Up & Down Wall Street,” first appeared in Barron’s, few financial journalists have been as influential as Alan Abelson. And few have been as appreciated by his readers and attacked by some of the people he covered. His column, which appeared on Saturdays and allowed readers until Monday to mull his tips and –analyses, could roil the markets. He once said he likes to deflate the inflated and inflate the deflated, and he did it by bringing humor and wit to his investment columns. He also brought an aggressive brand of journalism that was sharply critical of what he perceived as Wall Street hucksterism and government hype. After government statements promised second-half recovery one year, he wrote, “We’ll get a second-half recovery. It just won’t be the second half of this year.” In the 1990s, he was relentless as well as prescient in disparaging the run-up in technology stocks. And he was not reluctant to be critical of even as mythologized an investor as Warren Buffett. When Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway issued an annual report in 1996 that was perhaps more rosy-hued than circumstances warranted, Abelson suggested he add the words, “Just kidding.” Abelson’s influence could create such consternation among business executives, they sometimes threatened lawsuits. He told them to go right ahead and sue him. Many did. None won.

Abelson was born in New York on Oct. 12, 1925. After growing up in Queens and attending Townsend Harris High School, he entered City College at the age of 15, studied chemistry and English and earned a B.S. He followed that by studying at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and came away with a master’s degree in creative writing. In 1949, after spending two years in New York freelancing and writing book reviews, he was hired as a copy boy by the New York Journal-American. He later became a reporter on the city side, then moved to the financial desk with a $5 raise and the title of columnist. From 1952 to 1956, he was the paper’s stock market columnist.

In 1956, Abelson joined Barron’s, which is published by Dow Jones & Co., editing the Investment News & Views section and writing corporate and industry features. In 1965, he was named managing editor, starting writing his column in 1966 and in 1981 became Barron’s editor. He relinquished that post in 1992, but continued to write his column until 2013. From July 1982 to October 1990, he was also the regular business commentator for NBC-TV’s “News at Sunrise.” For more than half a century, his columns influenced the market values of thousands of publicly held companies and gave definition to the modern application of contrarian investment journalism. He received the G. & R. Loeb Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and the Elliott V. Bell Award in 1999.

 abelson alan barron
Abelson’s byline graced cover of Barron’s for decades

When Abelson died, on May 8, 2013, at the age of 87, the plaudits from colleagues and competitors came pouring in. Some of them credited CCNY for being part of Abelson’s success. Bill Alpert, a senior editor at Barron’s, put it this way: “Alan was part of that greatest generation of New York Jews, who — endowed with nothing but their industry and wit — poured out of City College in the first half of the 20th century to make an outsize mark on American life. His public- school cohort surely ranks as one of the most successful talent finds in human history.”