The New York Times is widely regarded as having perfected what we recognise today as the op-ed (or opposite the editorial) page in newspapers. They took the idea that nothing is more interesting than opinion when opinion is interesting, which was the driving force behind the first ever op-ed pages in the New York Evening News World in the 1920s, and added a twist: independent contributors.
In an age when opinion has been cheapened by the profligacy of blogs, great opinion pieces which move markets or set agendas are rare. Speak to any comment editor, they would also blame large egoed politicians or chief executives believing a column from them is news-worthy just because it is in their name, for damaging the part op-eds play in breaking news stories. Which brings me to Greg Smith, a largely anonymous derivatives executive at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.
I would wager that no one, beyond Goldman Sachs, where he’d worked for a dozen years, his clients, and a handful in the wider investment banking community had ever heard of Greg Smith until last week. Once he wrote a very public resignation letter from his role as executive director and head of Goldman’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa on the op-ed pages of The New York Times many more knew who he was. In summary, Smith said that Goldman Sachs ripped off its clients in a relentless pursuit of ever greater profit. He outlined how Goldman’s culture had shifted in recent years and revealed certain tricks employees played to maximise revenue for the firm over what might be best for their clients.
The impact was immediate, Goldman’s stock dropped over 3 per cent in a day in the fallout of the article. The piece was picked up by news channels and other publications across the world. 5 days later and articles are still being written about the piece in globally important titles such as the Financial Times, Time and the Daily Mail. Goldman Sachs are having to deal with a global crisis just because one man expressed an opinion that was interesting and new amongst all the hum-drum opinion which rarely constitutes news.
For writing an op-ed piece which shook the world and Goldman Sachs, in a way op-ed pages were designed to do nearly a century ago, I make Greg Smith my Communicator of the Week.