By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director

Sometimes, you know what you’re about to publish on The White Coat Investor is going to be a controversial take. We’ve had plenty of those since Dr. Jim Dahle founded this website in 2011. The controversy can spill over into the comments section of the blog post, on social media, or in our email inboxes. Much of the time, we know what we’re about to publish is going to cause some temporary unpleasantness.

Sometimes, we anticipate a controversy and get none at all. But sometimes . . . well, sometimes, we don’t see the controversy coming, and we get blindsided by how divisive an issue can get.

As I’ve learned through many years in the publishing business, no matter how well-conceived, well-researched, and well-written your pieces are, somebody is going to hate them.

When the controversy gets going in a major way, I’ll often email Jim and we’ll do a quick debrief to see if we did something wrong or if what we published was the right thing to do. Then, occasionally, we’ll lift back the curtain so readers can see our thought process (and weigh in themselves).

As I’ve written before:

“Beginning in 2021, we introduced a slew of new writers to the WCI community, and sometimes, these columnists have opinions that don’t necessarily mesh with what Jim would normally write. Since this website isn’t simply one person’s blog, differing ideas are beneficial. Quite honestly, they should be expected.

Sometimes, those competing philosophies make people really mad.

So, let’s revisit some of our most controversial pieces in what will be an occasional series on our most controversial articles and see how Jim and I feel about them in retrospect. Were we wrong to post them at all? What was the point of publishing them in the first place, and, in hindsight, would I make the same decision to run them?”

Here are part 1 and part 2 of our most controversial articles for even more viewing pleasure.

 

PSLF Canceled! by Dr. Jim Dahle on April 1, 2024

Josh Katzowitz: Sometimes, you knock out these April Fools’ Day posts real quickly. I remember the I'm Disinheriting My Kids post that we ran on April 1, 2023, was actually written on, like, April 2, 2022. The one this year came much later in the process, and we brainstormed a couple of ideas. But then you got the idea of canceling PSLF, and it seemed pretty awesome.

But let's talk about whether the fallout was worth it.

Some people got really upset. I'd say on the blog it was 70/30 percent of people who enjoyed it, but the 30% who didn't like it REALLY didn't like it. And I can see their point. A lot of our previous April Fools’ posts were about topics that weren't going to affect anybody else: You buying a Tesla or how you're using crypto to pay WCI employees. But this one felt more personal to those people who actually use PSLF.

Somebody called you an “asswipe,” and there were multiple phallic references in emails and the comments section. Some people threatened to never come back to WCI. Andrew Paulson from StudentLoanAdvice.com got more than a dozen emails about it and poor Ashriel Lutz [WCI’s executive assistant] had to sort through a bunch of emailers who weren’t happy. Somebody even emailed their US senator to complain about losing PSLF (which I think is pretty hilarious).

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Coming from the world of journalism, I always cringed whenever a media company did some kind of April Fools prank. I always hated that, because it stood opposite of what journalism was supposed to be about. But I've enjoyed having a little bit of fun in this job on April Fools’ Days, though I do wonder every year whether we're actually eroding a little bit of our credibility every time we do this.

Some people got really pissed about this one. What do you think?

Jim Dahle: Every year, I try to make the April Fools’ post even more obviously a joke than the one before because there's always someone who doesn't figure it out. I got emails about “my Tesla” for at least two years afterward from potential Tesla buyers. But the last line of this one basically said, “This is an April Fools’ joke.” So, I think the people who got upset didn't actually read the post. They certainly didn't read all of it. Maybe they only read the title (to which we added the words “April Fools’” for people who aren't reading it on April Fools’ Day).

I guess it's natural. Most people don't read everything on an internet page; they skim it. Well, that post looked pretty legit to a skimmer, but I find it hard to believe that anyone who read the whole post would come away from it without knowing it was a joke. I mean, most people knew it was a joke by the end of the first paragraph, many by the time they read the title.

And if that wasn't enough, there were references to medical student Jack Cousteau and lots of other made-up names and silly stuff. I mean, the whole idea of PSLF going away for current borrowers, especially with a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, is so far-fetched that I just thought nobody would fall for it this year. But you're right that people don't mind me joking about my financial plan nearly as much as they mind me joking about their financial plan!

As far as the person emailing their senator, the links in the post for “Email your senator here” went to a page on the site that basically said, “This is an April Fools’ post,” not the actual page where you can email your senator.

The outrage at the very idea of it going away does give you a sense of just how big a piece of the financial life of many physicians PSLF has become, though. I'm skeptical that it will be around long-term in its current form. It's just too generous to high earners to withstand real scrutiny from taxpayers and their representatives. But I fully expect any current borrower to be grandfathered into the current version, and I don't think changes that made it less generous would ever happen in an election year by either party.

While WCI is a little more journalistic under your reign as content director, we're still not really a “first-run” news organization. Most of our posts are written months before publication. If we get something out a week after it hits the news, we're doing pretty good. We'd never be the ones to break news like PSLF going away. We just don't have the resources to beat CNN and Fox and USA Today and the BBC doing stuff like that.

That said, I do feel bad for those who didn't realize it was a joke right away. Someone lost some sleep over it. A few people were crying. Obviously, quite a few people forwarded it to friends (mostly receiving a reply of “That's an April Fools’ joke, you dolt!”), and some emailed Andrew (who replied similarly but in a much nicer way). A few called me names and said they'd never read anything from WCI again. Honestly, I was probably bound to offend those folks away sooner or later, so might as well get it over with, I suppose. Maybe we should stop doing April Fools’ posts, but I've got a pretty good idea already for next year's. It's the most fun I have writing all year.

JK: I know you were almost sort of offended at our annual survey where most people said they had never been offended by what you've written or said. I guess that percentage has increased slightly now. But I also bet $10 to anybody on our staff that we'll get less than five people (out of the thousands who take it) on the next survey who will even mention being upset about the April Fools’ joke.

And for the record, we always write the last line of the April Fools' post the same: “How else are you celebrating April Fools’ Day?”

But I also wanted to ask you about the traffic and page views implications:

There's no question that this post was a MAJOR success for WCI traffic. In 2021 (the Tesla year) on April Fools’ Day, our traffic was better-than-solid when compared to most other days. In 2022 (shorting Ethereum to pay WCI staff), traffic dipped from the year before. In 2023 (taking your kids out of the will), page views for the day increased 20% year over year. But this year, we had the highest daily traffic we've had in the past four years, and the page views on the PSLF-is-canceled post were about twice as many as the three previous April Fools' posts combined. For StudentLoanAdvice.com, it was the most traffic they’ve ever gotten.

From a traffic perspective, it was a wonderful day.

For us, traffic isn't the main factor for whether we'll publish a post (though it does play some sort of factor, and I do sometimes write headlines with that in mind). But how do you as the WCI founder balance traffic numbers vs . . . well . . . potentially creating controversy and making people mad?

JD: The quality of the content has to come first with WCI. Without high-quality content, there is no WCI. So, we can't just write stuff for the page views. That said, there is some wisdom in the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Perhaps we did lose five WCIers who were offended that we did an April Fools’ Day post on PSLF, but what if all that extra publicity from the post brought in 500 new WCIers who can now benefit from the real content on the site?

most controversial fights

JK: One other thing that Katie [Dahle, WCI’s chief product officer] brought up in an all-staff meeting a few weeks after the post ran. This post could kind of be construed as a wakeup call for people who are taking out loans, maybe more loans than they need, and expect that they'll mostly get forgiven by PSLF. I mean, the government could get rid of PSLF at some point. It's not like it's guaranteed forever. That's not out of the realm of possibility. This kind of wakeup call wasn't the intent of this post, but I think Katie makes a good point. Thoughts on this idea of an indirect wakeup call?

JD: It certainly WAS NOT the point of this post, at least not in any sort of conscious way. But there are obviously risks in relying on the government for important aspects of your financial plan. That said, I think any current borrowers are pretty darn safe relying on PSLF still being there for them going forward. That's why I thought this sort of scenario was so outlandish that it could safely be used as an April Fools' post.

JK: So, are we going to see an April Fools' post next year? And are you going to take my suggestion that you write about how you're running to be the next governor of Utah?

JD: I'm not the politician in the family. Katie is actually running for office right now. I guess people will have to wait until next April to see if there's an April Fools’ post. Maybe we just won't post anything at all, and people will wonder what happened.

 

A Financial Love Letter to My Wife (and the Realities of Living Like a Resident) by The Motivated MD on December 2, 2023

Josh Katzowitz: I was a little worried that people would think this was too mushy. A financial love letter to my wife was too soft a headline for even a romantic softie like me, so I added the “and the Realities of Living Like a Resident” at the end so people knew there was legit financial talk for readers to peruse. But when I was first editing it, I knew (I FREAKIN' KNEW) that people would hate the revelation that he owns a boat. I didn't mind leaving that passage in there, but I also made sure to tell our anonymous writer that he needed to add something afterward to let readers know that, well, he realized this would be an unusual purchase for a resident.

So, we added in parenthesis “another story for another day.” But man, some people really latched on to the boat thing and that he has a nanny and that maybe he's not actually engaging in what some people feel “living like a resident” should be. To be honest, I left in the boat revelation, because I thought it was a good left turn that came out of nowhere. But I also didn't want that to be the big focus of the commenters' ire. I don't know, maybe I should have taken it out. What do you think of the piece as a whole?

JD: I think the guest poster's point was that it is really hard to live like a resident, not that he and his wife were actually doing it. To be fair, almost nobody actually does. Everybody has at least a little lifestyle creep, and that's fine. It's the lifestyle explosion you're trying to avoid.

Like some commenters, I also could not figure out why, as a VA doc, he wasn't going for PSLF. It would have been nice to have explored that a little bit more.

Boats, like airplanes, can be terribly expensive financial decisions. So, people like to jump all over anyone with a boat. But our first boat was $6,000, $3,000 of which the military paid us to move it from Virginia to Utah. Even a resident could afford that. Certainly a two-doc couple should be able to do so without being accused of not living like a resident.

JK: It's a good point; I probably should have had him talk about the decision not to go for PSLF. I actually just went to his website at The Motivated MD, and he has an article about it. In essence, he chose to refinance his loans instead of going for PSLF (even though he does now work at the VA). When they were first considering PSLF (this was before the pandemic), there was a lot of uncertainty around the viability of the program and there were, as he writes, “endless testimonies of physicians meeting obstacles with PSLF.” After they refinanced, they ended up saving $24,000 a year in interest. Then, during the pandemic, they refinanced their student loans again. He feels like he made the right decision about not going for PSLF. There's also this: as he writes, “There is a very real sense of obligation I feel to pay back all of my debt.”

But it is unfortunate that sometimes one line that you wrote or one line that you didn't write but maybe should have can become the focus of the piece.

[The Motivated MD also responded in the comments section:]

Wow! Honestly, constructive criticism or not, I love the level of engagement this post brought. All the comments and considerations really got me thinking! What better use than to channel all of this interaction into a follow-up post addressing some of these questions, comments, and critiques. As such, instead of meticulously responding to each and every comment here, I decided to publish a follow-up post on our site. Check it out here.

 

Money Song of the Week

For a man who is one of the most influential British comedians of his time, who helped create two timeless comedy films, who won a Tony for the musical Spamalot, and who scored a top-10 hit with a song that still resonates today, Eric Idle isn’t sitting by passively today, waiting for his royalty checks and doing whatever 80-year-old comedic legends do with their time.

And, he said, that’s by necessity. He apparently can’t afford not to work.

The song of the week is Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a tune written by Idle for the film “Life of Brian,” and it’s become a cult hit in the 45 years since it was released. It’s a comedy song, but it’s also supposed to lift you out of the doldrums (and there’s nothing quite like hearing it as the traditional walkout music to an Iron Maiden show).

 

 

As Idle and company sing:

“If life seems jolly rotten/There's something you've forgotten/And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

When you're feeling in the dumps/Don't be silly chumps/Just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing/And

Always look on the bright side of life.”

Hopefully, Idle is paying attention to his own lyrics. A few months ago, he said this on Twitter:

“I don’t know why people always assume we’re loaded. Python is a disaster. Spamalot made money 20 years ago. I have to work for my living. Not easy at this age. . . . We own everything we ever made in Python and I never dreamed that at this age the income streams would tail off so disastrously.”

It was a surprising statement from somebody who’s been so successful in show business for such a long time. Whether this happened because of the mismanagement of his money or whether it’s because Monty Python has become somewhat irrelevant in the modern age, it goes to show that, even if you’ve had a wildly successful career, that doesn’t mean the money you earned will always allow you to have a passive, non-working retirement.

 

Thread of the Week

The last line, of course, is key.

 

 

What do you think about our most controversial topics? Were there other posts that we missed that made you absolutely steam? Comment below!

[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected].]