Class of 1938
Hobart Rowen revolutionized business coverage in newspapers and magazines. As a reporter, a columnist and an editor, he sparked a change that transformed business sections from reams of barely edited press releases into pages filled with investigative pieces that explored matters of finance and economics with sophistication and depth.
Rowen, who was known as Bart, spent most of his career with two publications, Newsweek and The Washington Post. At The Post, where he was financial editor from 1966 to 1975, and then chief economics correspondent and syndicated columnist until his death in 1995, he expanded the scope of the business pages from coverage of local companies to analyses of the world economy. Under his leadership, the business staff increased from four in 1966 to 30 in 1975. At the same time, the business news section grew from three columns a day to more than 20. Earlier, he had been with Newsweek for 21 years as its business trends editor and columnist.
“Before Bart,” said David Ignatius, a former assistant managing editor at The Post, “economic reporting at most newspapers was an afterthought. Business sections covered powerful local companies and rarely said anything uncomplimentary about them. After Bart, business sections covered local business aggressively. They also covered presidents and treasury secretaries and World Bank presidents and regularly skewered them for their mistakes.”
Among the many honors that came his way were the first Gerald Loeb Award “for writers who make significant contributions to the understanding of business, finance and the economy” and the first Society of Business Editors and Writers Distinguished Achievement Award. Rowen was named one of the 100 business news luminaries of the 20th century.
He was born in 1919 in Burlington, Vt., eventually came to New York and entered City College. He graduated with a B.S. in social science and joined The New York Journal of Commerce as a copy boy, advancing to reporter and then Washington correspondent. During World War II, Rowen worked in the information division of the War Production Board. He was hired by Newsweek in 1945, working as a Washington correspondent and as the author of “Business Trends,” a syndicated column.
“We started the column because we didn’t have any vehicle for reporting on trends that hadn’t yet shaped up into a news story,” he said, pointing out that “it was the only piece of copy in Newsweek that was written in the Washington bureau.”
Ben Bradlee was Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief in 1961, when the magazine was acquired by The Post. By 1965, Bradlee became The Post’s managing editor and a year later, made Rowen the newspaper’s first assistant managing editor for financial news. Rowen not only built up The Post’s business section, he shook it up.
“The advertising people used to come down to the fifth-floor newsroom and distribute company press releases to the reporters,” he said. “I had to lay down new rules and let everyone know we were no longer going to be running those releases as if they were news.”
Rowen, who covered the economic policies of presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, was not reluctant to critique whoever was in power. His last book, in 1994, was “Self-Inflicted Wounds: From LBJ’s Guns and Butter to Reagan’s Voodoo Economics.” Thirty years earlier, he had written “The Free Enterprisers: Kennedy, Johnson and the Business Establishment.”
Rowen was named Journalist of the Year by the National Economic Association in 1984, received a lifetime achievement award from the Gerald R. Loeb Foundation in 1992, and was cited as a Distinguished Achievement Award winner by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in 1993. He had been president of SABEW in 1973-74 and helped create its Code of Ethics for business journalists.
He died on April 13, 1995 at the age of 76.