Media: Shares are sexy. So who wants a dabble?

Ross Greenwood's new magazine `Shares' aims to `cut through the crud' of investment journalism. By Darius Sanai
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The Independent Culture
IT'S A long way from the one-horse Australian town of Wangaratta to the hub of the London business world. Ross Greenwood grew up as the schoolmate of goth-rock star Nick Cave in an outback town 150 miles from Melbourne, and dreamed of being a journalist in the big city.

Over the years, he fulfilled his ambition; by last year, he had become a prominent television presenter, analyst and editor in Australia. Now, Mr Greenwood is in London, starting afresh once more. He is working with a team of journalists on the launch of Shares, a magazine aimed at taking advantage of the boom in popular share-ownership, with a breezy, radical, populist style.

The weekly magazine is launched this Thursday by specialist publisher MSM, priced at pounds 1.95, with a print-run of 80,000. Greenwood has already revolutionised financial magazines in Australia, and the launch issue looks set to follow suit, with a cover featuring a wall of fire, all reds and yellows, and arresting coverlines that make it look like an entertainment publication.

Inside are easily-digestible, opinionated gobbets of information and features on various companies, identified by bold, colourful pictures in a layout which looks like that of a modern men's magazine. There is a sports section - concentrating on which sports company shares are hot - and restaurant reviews, focusing on where you're most likely to overhear useful information.

"I want to be brash, in your face, colourful and highly readable," says Greenwood. He is bright and energetic, the kind of person who never runs out of enthusiasm. Colleagues say, a little wearily, that he is "absolutely tireless".

A key part of his target market is the kind of person who "wants to have a dabble, but has no idea where to start". There are many people, he says, who want a part in the booming stock market but are daunted by the complexity of specialist publications such as the Investor's Chronicle, the august market leader, which is owned by the FT and has been around since 1860. "We want to cut through the crud, because most people find financial magazines dull and boring."

Greenwood waves a sheet of statistics to emphasise his point. Britain is the fifth largest shareholding economy in the world; more people are dabbling in the markets than ever before, and the number of women investing is rising sharply.

To draw readers in, Shares has dispensed with the dry, academic layout of existing financial publications. "People relate to products, they don't relate to companies," he says. "If you write a story about Allied Domecq, most people won't know who you're talking about. But if you say they're the people who own Ballantine's whisky and Baskin Robbins, and have logos and pictures illustrating the point, they'll say, `OK, I know what this is about.'"

Ross Greenwood admits that in order to establish its credibility, Shares will have also to take a bite out of the fund manager/economist market of the Investor's Chronicle. To that end, there will be plenty of expert- led analysis, and a huge section of data and tables at the back of every issue. "They are our main rival," he says, "and they do what they do very well. But their name says something about them."

Mr Greenwood talks with the loquacity of a convert, reminding one that the launch editor of a magazine has to be as much a salesman as a journalist. Anyone doubting whether this upstart from a small publishing company can give the established champion from Pearson a run for its money would do well to look at Greenwood's track record in his native country.

Now 40, he left school at 17 and worked as a copyboy at the Melbourne Truth, a city tabloid, before joining the graduate trainee scheme. "Eventually, I noticed that financial journalists seemed to have a nicer lifestyle and got paid more," he grins. His move into the financial side of journalism took him to two new launches from the Fairfax group, which was burgeoning in the 1980s. At the same time, his TV career began to take off. Articulate and intense, he must come across well on the screen. Before long he was moving from presenting personal finance slots to standing in for general presenters on breakfast television shows.

Eventually he directed the launch of Australia's Shares magazine, the precursor of the British version, where he helped set the trend for a clear, biting, populist style. When Niall Sweeney, MSM's chief executive, approached him to be the editor of his new British launch early this year, Greenwood didn't hesitate, despite the fact that he would be trading his life and career in Australia to become an unknown fish in a large pond.

"I love a challenge, and launching a magazine has got to be the greatest feeling in the world," he says as we walk back to his office from the cafe at the back of tatty Borough Market.

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