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Challenges Of Writing To A Million People

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
by Gary D. Halbert
December 18, 2007

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.   Writing To A Million “Strangers”

2.   The Weekly E-Letter Writing Process

3.   The Key – Spotting Mis-Information

4.   Your Feedback Is Very Important

5.   No E-Letter Next Week – Happy Holidays!

6.   P.S. – My Football Season Comes To An End

Introduction

With Christmas fast approaching, and with most of us getting in the holiday spirit, I thought I would veer from our usual economic and investment topics this week.  It has now been over five years since I began writing this weekly E-Letter for InvestorsInsight.com.  It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but it has – time flies. I would like to express my thanks to Mike Casson, president of InvestorsInsights Publishing, for the opportunity to write to his list of apprx. one million subscribers each week.

As many of you already know, I started writing a monthly paper newsletter for my clients over 30 years ago.  It was not until 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, that I began to send periodic e-mails to my “online” clients.  I called these brief e-mail articles “Special Updates,” and sent them out whenever I felt there might be news my clients may not otherwise see, or misinformation that needed to be addressed.  InvestorsInsight became aware of these updates in July of 2002 and asked me to produce one weekly for their subscribers.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I’ll have to admit that moving from a monthly newsletter and an e-mail every once in a while to a strict weekly deadline was quite a challenge, especially when you consider that I also have a successful financial services business to run.  Five years in, it’s now almost second nature to hit the “send” button every Tuesday afternoon, but it’s still not always easy.

My goal is to provide a variety of topics, most of which are at least somewhat investment related, that will hopefully be helpful to a majority of this broad cross-section of readers, but also knowing that not everything I write will be useful to all of you week in and week out.

In this week’s E-Letter, I’m going to share a little bit about what it takes to bring these weekly articles to you so you can see it from my side of the fence.  I’ll let you in on both the positives and negatives, and tell you why this E-Letter is truly a labor of love. 

Challenges Of Writing To A Million “Strangers”

Over the course of my career, I have helped literally thousands of investment clients living all across America.  Most have come to me by way of third-party referrals or because they came across my writing somewhere and decided to check me out.  I have never met most of my clients in person, but I have probably talked to most of  them on the phone at one time or another. 

Likewise, I don’t know very many of you who are among InvestorsInsight’s 1+ million subscriber base.  However, the lessons I have learned about communicating with a nationwide client base over 30+ years has helped me in this relatively new E-Letter endeavor, though the process is still not without its challenges.

When you write an E-Letter to a million or so people week after week, year after year, the greatest challenge is to find interesting topics each week.  This may come as a surprise to you, especially when you consider that I write about anything from the economy and investments to geo-politics and domestic politics.  We all know that there never seem to be any shortages of such topics addressed by the press, the Internet news sites and blogs, or on one of the numerous 24-hour cable news networks.

However, over the course of the 30+ years I have communicated with my clients via newsletters and e-letters, I never wanted to just pass on information or analysis that they may have already read or heard.  Instead, I have always tried to feature subject matter that is under-reported or mis-reported by the mainstream press, or topics that are analyzed in a way that is not what you are likely to read or hear anywhere else. 

Choosing source material and then analyzing it and writing about it week after week is probably the second greatest challenge of my career, right behind finding professional money managers that can successfully navigate today’s extremely complex and fickle investment markets.

Frankly, there are some weeks when we struggle to find something interesting and useful to write about.  At other times, we are overwhelmed with topics we think you will enjoy.  The last few weeks have been a good example of a time when topics were abundant.  On December 4, it was a slam-dunk that I needed to summarize The Bank Credit Analyst’s latest concerns about a recession, especially if the Fed doesn’t get serious about cutting rates and adding liquidity to stave-off a more severe credit crunch.  I hope all of my readers appreciate the value and benefit of receiving BCA’s insights from time to time.

The week before that (11-27), it seemed like another slam-dunk to present you with the Fed’s latest economic forecast for 2008 and beyond, most notably that the Fed does not believe there will be a recession in 2008.  And the week before that (11-20), the latest Treasury Income Tax Study, which blew away several liberal myths, was a no-brainer.  But as noted above, topic selection at other times can sometimes be a challenge.

The Weekly E-Letter Writing Process

My editorial staff and I are avid readers.  We have to be.  We subscribe to dozens of financial periodicals (including some very expensive ones) and investment related magazines and newsletters.  In addition, we are voracious surfers of the Internet. 

Each morning, for example, one person on my editorial staff spends over an hour cruising the Internet news sites, looking for interesting articles and information that may not have been covered (or was mis-reported) by the mainstream media.  By mid-morning each day, he sends me an e-mail with a list of links to the stories he thinks I will want to read.  Some of those stories end-up in the SPECIAL ARTICLES section that appears at the end of each week’s E-Letter.

On Thursday or Friday of each week, I sit down and think about all the topics and reports we’ve read and decide what will be the focus of the next week’s E-Letter.  Some weeks, there’s just so much to write about, I don’t know where to start.  On other weeks, one topic rises above all others as the obvious choice.  On still other weeks, the topic seems elusive.  I have to admit that I have spent many weekends perusing news and articles, and then writing much of the next week’s E-Letter on Saturdays and/or Sundays.  There are even occasional weeks when I’m still scratching my head for a topic on Monday, and the deadline is Tuesday afternoon.

The next step in producing the E-Letter is the required research.  While I often use BCA, Stratfor and other trusted sources, I rarely limit my research to just those very good resources.  This is where my editorial staff comes in.  I have a number of people in my company to whom I can assign a research project and know that the result will be just as good as if I had done the research myself.

There are even times when I can copy and paste portions of their summaries right into the E-Letter, and only do a little editing (my staff calls it “Gary-izing” the text).  This step can save me countless hours of research and writing, which is especially important when my schedule is tight or I’m out of the office.

More importantly, there are times when our collective research brings new information to light, often differing significantly with reporting by the mainstream press.  Sometimes this information allows us to add to our analysis, but at other times, it contradicts an initial source.  Occasionally, our research findings can completely change the whole focus of the E-Letter, which can up the stress level if it happens near our publishing deadline on Tuesdays.

I am telling you all of this because I think it’s important that you know that I do not just blindly accept any particular article, study or other piece of information at face value (though some of my liberal readers have tried to opine otherwise).  You can be assured that we make a concerted effort to verify the information I present in these pages, even though you may or may not agree with all of my opinions.

Obviously, I can’t always include all of the opposing views on a subject because of space restrictions.  You should know, however, that I am most likely familiar with the opposing views, and if they don’t make it into the E-Letter, it probably means that I either don’t have the space, or I do not believe them to be valid or accurate.

Once the E-Letter is written, we move into the final step of proofing and editing.  Almost all of my staff is involved in this step, and I ask them to not only proof for typos and grammar, but also for content.  I have always believed that if anything is confusing to one of my proofers, it will be confusing to some readers, so it should be rewritten more clearly.  This is not to say that all E-Letters are free of typos and grammatical errors, but we try our best to prevent them.

The Key – Spotting Mis-Information

There is a ton of mis-information out there.  If you have been reading me very long, you know that I believe the mainstream media is very slanted toward the liberal side.  Over the years, I have mentioned a couple of great organizations for tracking the bias in the mainstream media - the Media Research Center at www.mediaresearch.org and Accuracy In Media (AIM) at www.aim.org.  I encourage you to check them out for yourself.

It may surprise you to find out that I also look at some liberal media bias groups; in fact, I regularly receive e-mails from some of these groups.  One such example is the Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), which produces periodic e-mail updates and also maintains a website at www.fair.org.  While I often get a chuckle from the lengths to which FAIR will go to allege “conservative bias” in an article or broadcast story, it does provide a valuable insight into liberal thought concerning the mainstream media.  It’s always good to know how the libs are thinking, even if you don’t agree with them.

At this point, it’s necessary to explain just what I think media bias is, and what it is not.  I do not consider pundits who have a clear liberal agenda to be part of the media bias issue.  Both conservatives and liberals have their standard bearers, but we all know where they are coming from.  Anyone tuning into Rush Limbaugh knows his reporting will have a conservative bias, just as anyone who watches Chris Matthews on Hardball knows he has a liberal slant.  Instead, I try to focus on news organizations that profess to be practitioners of objective journalism, but let their liberal views skew their reporting.

I also believe that many in the financial media are very slanted, in one way or the other.  Some analysts and publications spin the news and reports so as to only reflect their views on the markets and investing.  This includes the “perma-bulls” on Wall Street.  Anyone who listened to them likely left their money in the markets during the 2000 – 2002 bear market and got killed.  Only recently have the stock markets returned to the levels they were in early 2000.

And then there is the “gloom-and-doom” crowd for which the sky is always falling.  I call them “perma-bears” since they always expect the worst.  They missed the greatest bull market in stocks in history during the 1980s and ‘90s.  For them, the next depression is always right around the corner.  Another problem with some of them is that the solutions they propose (and usually get paid for selling) can be as potentially bad as (or even worse than) the bear market they fear.

The common thread in my writing is that I try to bring you the real story, whatever that may be, whether it’s about the economy, the investment markets, world events or politics.  This is not to suggest that I am right all the time.  I’m not.  What I do is read a variety of respected publications and writers, in addition to the mainstream media, and I try to maintain a flexible attitude.  I try to give you my very best thinking every week.  And I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong. 

Your Feedback Is Very Important

Admittedly, we are our own worst critics when it comes to what we write.  Obviously, you can't have the best article you've ever written week after week after week for years.  Note that this admission is in stark contrast to some of the stuff we see on the Internet and from direct-mail marketers who would have you believe that every single word they write, and advice they give, is “golden” and “priceless” and that they are never wrong. 

We, on the other hand, do not consider ourselves perfect.  Instead, we tend to believe that some of our articles are very good, most are at least pretty good, and yes, a few are less than what we desired.  Just about every week, we have internal discussions among ourselves regarding what we perceive as the quality, validity and interest level in each E-Letter topic we address.  Along this line, we are wrong from time to time, and we don't mind admitting it.  I happen to believe that our clients are smart and sophisticated enough to know that no one is right all the time. 

A big part of how we evaluate what we write is YOUR READER FEEDBACK each week.  We love to read your comments - good, bad or otherwise (but not profane or vulgar, which happens only once in a while).  We dearly love to hear from our readers, and we read every response you send us.  Your feedback is immensely helpful for several reasons, and I want you to know why.

First, the level of responses we receive from readers week in and week out may or may not always be a "statistically valid sample."  Some weeks, we get a huge response, and on other weeks the responses are less.  It depends on the topic and what I have to say about it.  But regardless of the level of response, that is all we have to go on.  And that is precisely why we value your feedback so much. 

Second, my experience is that most writers of a weekly or monthly publication of this type would never tell you what I am about to tell you, so listen carefully.  If you were to ask most writers I know if their reader responses were ever mostly negative, they would say NO, leaving the assumption that the vast majority of their reader response is overwhelmingly positive week after week (yeah, right).

What I don't mind admitting is that I have weeks - not very often, thankfully - where my reader response is slightly more negative than positive.  There have been a few weeks over the last five years when the response was overwhelmingly negative.  There's no way I would admit that to you if I had an ego a mile wide as some popular writers do. 

The truth is, I like to read the negative responses, especially those that are thoughtful.  They make me think.  The positive responses, while I must admit are very enjoyable, tend to be short and along the lines of "great job," or "I liked it," or "keep it up."  Some of the negative responses typically follow a similar pattern along the lines of "you’re just wrong" or "you don't get it" or "take me off your list," often with no specifics as to why.

But I also get a fair share of negative responses that get into more detail as to why they disagree and sometimes point out specific perceived errors in my analysis, or even my sources.  Some even include their own sources of dissenting information, which is also very helpful - so please keep it up.  Some try to point out how I have misinterpreted the findings of studies and have very different conclusions than I reached on the same report or set of data.  Again, this is sometimes very helpful.

After writing this E-Letter for InvestorsInsights.com for five years now, and receiving a different level of response each week - ranging from positive to negative - here is the typical week's response: 1) mostly a number of responses that are overwhelmingly positive; 2) a lesser number of responses that are overwhelmingly negative; and 3) a varying number of responses that do not apply, either because they are over the top (positive or negative), or they go off into totally unrelated directions, which usually means they have an agenda that does not relate in any way to the subject matter I present.  For this latter group, I usually just hit the "delete" button.

Since I am a conservative on most social and political issues, those who are most likely to disagree with me are liberals.  Some libs tend to respond on the radical side, but I must admit that most of my liberal readers - at least those who tend to respond - have well-rounded and intellectual arguments to support why they disagree with me.  I should also add that most libs (not all) who respond are very respectful and usually include a word of thanks for receiving my E-Letters, and note that they realize how much work it takes to do this week in and week out.

So I would like to salute and thank those of you who offer well-thought and respectful disagreements with what I write.  Please keep it up!  You make me think. 

Wouldn't it be nice if the political discourse in Washington could be on such a collegial level, rather than the politics of personal destruction as we see day after day on both sides?  Wishful thinking, I guess.  

For all of you who write to us - positive and negative - I appreciate your responses more than you can know.  Your well-thought out input is greatly appreciated.  It very much helps me to be a better writer.  Please keep it up!

And finally, if there are topics you would like me to write about, please let me know.  Just keep in mind that the topics should be those that would be of interest to most of our readers.  Along this line, feel free to e-mail me interesting articles or studies that you run across.  As noted above, we are always looking for good topics to write about.  You can e-mail me at gdh@profutures.com.

Conclusions – Definitely Not A Stopped Clock

We’ve all heard the saying that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  In my view, many in the mainstream media are like a stopped clock.  Occasionally they get it right, but usually they don’t.  Many in the financial media are the same way.  I try to be flexible and base my predictions on information gathered and analyzed from numerous respected sources.  Other than politics, arguably, I try to be as unbiased as possible.  But I am not a stopped clock. I am not always optimistic, and I am not always pessimistic.  You get enough of that elsewhere.

I hope you find the information and analysis interesting, at least most weeks.  My staff and I put a lot of work into it.  I also very much appreciate your e-mails.  Please note that, while I always welcome your questions and comments, we sometimes cannot respond to all of them because of the volume of responses. 

Finally, I am NOT paid for writing these weekly E-Letters.  I do it because I hope that over time I will build an affinity and trust with you so that you decide to become one of our investment clients.  As noted earlier, we have thousands of clients all across America.  Hopefully, one day you’ll decide to become one of them!

No E-Letter Next Week – Happy Holidays!

Since Christmas Day is next Tuesday, I will not be writing an E-Letter at all next week.  Instead, I’ll be enjoying the Christmas holiday with my family and friends.  I hope you have the opportunity to do the same.

I will resume my writing schedule the following week, but due to the New Year’s holiday on Tuesday, January 1, the next E-Letter will be published on Wednesday, January 2nd.  In the meantime, I wish you Seasons Greetings, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays all around.  During this time of secular commercialism and political correctness, it’s comforting to remember that there really is a “Reason for the Season.”

Wishing you a Happy New Year,

 

Gary D. Halbert

P.S.  The football season for my son’s high school team came to an end two weeks ago when we lost to a much bigger team in the state private school semi-finals.  Unfortunately, we were not able to win consecutive State Championships after having won it all last year.  Still it was a great year and my son, Tyler, a senior, won several honors.  In addition to being named the highest rated wide receiver in the Central Texas region for the regular season by the Austin American Statesman newspaper, he was selected as a 1st Team All-District wide receiver and also as a safety on defense.  He also was selected to the All-State 1st Team at wide receiver and, most importantly, was named to the Academic All-State Team.  What a year he had!  Dad is real proud!! 

Tyler, Academic All-State

SPECIAL ARTICLES

Fed Spreads The Runway Foam
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/12/fed_spreads_the_runway_with_fo.html

Bernanke Blows Smoke (FYI, I agree with Kudlow’s conclusions)
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/12/bernanke_blows_smoke.html

How Petraeus Turned Around Iraq
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/12/how_petraeus_turned_around_ira.html

Hillary Agonistes - Is Hillary down & out?
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/12/hillary_agonistes.html

When Inevitability Isn't So... Inevitable - by John Zogby
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/12/when_inevitability_isnt_so_ine.html


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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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