Charles Gasparino, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covers brokerages and banks with the grit of his construction-worker father. In other words, PR people don't intimidate him.
Charles Gasparino has a quick and purposeful gait. Walking alongside him, you get the impression that once he has settled on a direction, he'd walk through a wall to get there. This perseverance seems to inform most aspects of his life.
Born in the Bronx to a construction worker and housewife, Gasparino has risen from his working-class roots to become one of the most influential business reporters at work today. As The Wall Street Journal's Wall Street reporter, he is charged with covering the nation's investment banks and brokerages. Among Wall Street's closely knit journalism and communications community, he has developed a reputation as a dogged but fair business journalist who lives on scoops the way others do oxygen.
"Charlie is one of the most aggressive reporters I've ever come across," says a high-ranking media relations official at a major Wall Street firm.
"He can be very intimidating. I'm sure he scares the heck out of some junior PR people. Yet I have always found him to be fair. Charlie's never written anything that he didn't tell me was coming."
Gasparino gives the impression of someone with boundless frenetic energy who has learned through years of practice to channel and focus it. When not in the newsroom chasing down a story, the former amateur boxer can be found running, lifting weights, and punching a heavy bag - a fact portrayed by his brawny physique.
Gasparino says he owes some of his blue-collar work ethic to his late father, a former Marine who Gasparino describes as "a really tough guy."
After months of working out of a makeshift newsroom in Soho, Journal reporters have returned to their World Financial Center headquarters, adjacent to Ground Zero. As the son of an iron worker who helped raise the once majestic Twin Towers over the city, the move back downtown has revived some childhood memories.
"When I was just a little kid, my father took to me to look at the lobby of the Trade Center just before it opened, recounts Gasparino. "He showed me some of the iron work he had done, and I was in such of awe that my father was working in this place - the biggest buildings in the world."
While attending Pace University in New York, Gasparino edited the student newspaper, and then went on to journalism school at the University of Missouri. After internships at the Dallas Morning News and Newsday, and a stint as a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, he later returned to New York as a reporter for the now-defunct Bond World, a bond market trade publication. Two years later, he was hired at The Bond Buyer, where he broke stories about scandals in the municipal bond markets. Those stories helped him land a job at the tabloid New York Newsday, where he amassed enough impressive clips to draw the attention of several publications, including The Wall Street Journal.
Gasparino started at the Journal covering mutual funds, eventually moving to the Wall Street beat. Lately, his reporting has been at the heart of some of the biggest Wall Street stories, including Martha Stewart's alleged insider trading. Now making regular TV appearances, Gasparino is a bit taken aback by the attention.
"I get calls from guys I used to go to high school with, and my wife's friend will call her and say, 'Hey I saw Chuck on TV,' he says. "It's funny."
In recent months, Gasparino has been at the forefront of the stock analyst controversy that has already forced brokerage behemoth Merrill Lynch to pay a $100 million settlement, and led many other firms to announce massive overhauls of their stock research and ratings practices. However, many people might be surprised to learn that Gasparino considers Henry Blodget, the now disgraced Merrill Lynch analyst, whose controversial e-mails helped propel the analyst controversy into the national spotlight, a tragic figure.
"If you really read his e-mails, he was railing against the system," explains Gasparino. "That says to me that Henry was trying get the system to change and to be more honest. I've talked with him a few times, and he's a very nice guy - so nice, that when I would write one of these stories about him I'd feel kind of bad. Granted, he was part of the system, but he also took a bullet for it."
As someone with a front-row seat to Wall Street's PR effort in recent years, Gasparino says the seeds of the financial world's current image problem were sown doing the boom years, when firms promoted themselves as an impartial friend of average investors.
"Armed with high-priced public relations machines and the best spin-meisters money can buy, they hyped their image into something that they're not, says Gasparino. "What Wall Street basically does is sell people a product. It's not some benevolent organization."
As committed as ever to breaking news and uncovering stories about the inner workings of Wall Street, Gasparino has a quick admonishment for PR pros who try to intimidate him with tough talk and endless spinning.
"With someone like me, that's not going to work. If I can live with my old man for 24 years - a former Marine construction worker who grew up poor in a tough Bronx neighborhood - some flak screaming at me over the phone is not exactly going to get me to shake in my shoes, let alone stop me from writing a story."
1985: Graduated Pace University
1989: Graduated University of Missouri School of Journalism
1992: The Bond Buyer
1995: New York Newsday
1995: The Wall Street Journal