Covering the Facebook IPO
by Chris Roush
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
CNBC media and entertainment reporter Julia Boorstin is one of the dozens of business journalists covering the biggest business news story of the week — the initial public offering of Facebook.
Boorstin joined CNBC in May 2006 as a general assignment reporter. In December 2006, Boorstin became CNBC’s media and entertainment reporter working from CNBC’s Los Angeles bureau. Boorstin covers media with a special focus on the intersection of media and technology. In addition, Boorstin reported a documentary on the future of television for the network entitled, “Stay Tuned…The Future of TV.”
She previously worked at Fortune magazine, where she was a business writer and reporter since 2000, covering a wide range of stories on everything from media companies to retail to business trends. During that time, she was also a contributor to “Street Life,” a live market wrap-up segment on CNN Headline News.
In addition to its coverage throughout the day, CNBC is running a live special on Thursday, May 17, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET titled “Facebook: The Social Offering.” It also has additional coverage on CNBC.com at facebook.cnbc.com.
Boorstin spoke with Talking Biz News by e-mail earlier this week about covering the Facebook IPO. What follows is an edited transcript.
How is covering the Facebook IPO different than other stories?\
It’s unusual to get to cover a company since its inception, and I’ve been following Facebook since soon after it was founded. I remember pitching stories on this social network that was limited to college students and having people ask about the non-existent business model and why they should care. It’s been so much fun to watch the company evolve, build out its advertising model, tackle major issues like privacy concerns, and to see Zuckerberg grow as a CEO.
How do you try to make your coverage stand out?
I try to really get inside Facebook’s strategy — why the company makes the decisions that it does about its products and advertising. When the company rolls out new products like Timeline, or ads on mobile devices, users can get frustrated and complain that the company doesn’t know what it’s doing. I try to figure out the reasons behind its decisions. Facebook has the tough challenge of keeping users happy and growing revenue at the same time. Baked into its business are some inherent challenges — how will it manage privacy concerns if the entire business is based on the importance of sharing? Can it make money from ads on mobile devices without alienating users? I always aim to tell all sides of the story — the challenges and the potential.
How competitive is the story?
It’s pretty competitive — whenever Facebook has an event, like the road show in Palo Alto, there are a half dozen cameras and reporters. But CNBC has the advantage of having been all over the story from the beginning — I was the first person to interview Mark Zuckerberg on TV. I know the personalities and the company inside out – people at Facebook and other sources seem to respect that depth of understanding.
What have been some of the reporting strategies that you have used in covering the IPO?
I try to talk to as many people as possible, and I also try to spend time on Facebook. It’s actually really valuable to attack the privacy issues and the advertising as a consumer — is it easy for me to adjust my privacy settings? Am I annoyed by the new ads?
How important has it been to have sources on Wall Street?
They’re always important, especially for a company like Facebook. It’s crucial to know how this company is perceived not just by consumers, and users of the service, but by bankers and Wall Street investors.
Do you think a reporter covering this story needs to read the S-1 and all of the amendments?
Absolutely — it’s crucial to read each of the S-1 updates — you never know where you’ll find something interesting. I find the filings fascinating. It’s such a treat to get a look inside a company I’ve been covering for so long – to finally see the numbers is a thrill! The filings are all about what users are doing and what Facebook’s risk factors are — the raw documents and numbers are so juicy! Facebook has major concerns about privacy, monetizing its mobile users — it puts them all out there. I’d say it’s not just a must-read for reporters, it’s a must-read for anyone considering investing in the company.
I’ve been really proud of how we’ve all worked together, to be ahead of the story, break news, and get inside Facebook in a way that no one else has. Everyone at CNBC has really come together for team coverage — I’m consistently impressed by our open communication. A number of reporters, including Kayla Tausche and Kate Kelly, and a bunch of producers are all pouring their energy into our coverage of this huge story. It’s a thrill to be part of such a great team effort!
Why is this such an important business news story?
Not only is this a simply massive IPO, but Facebook has really changed the way people interact and companies do business. Facebook has encouraged companies to directly communicate with consumers — and (along with Twitter) has empowered consumers to have a voice by posting on companies’ Facebook pages. I think companies realize that they can’t do business without a social presence. It’s also important for investors to understand the risks involved with investing in Facebook — we don’t know how volatile the stock will be. There are many risk factors and investors should weigh them carefully.
How have the reporters at CNBC coordinated the coverage?
We’ve split everything up — my job is to cover everything company related, how the company makes money, what Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg are doing to run the business. My colleagues back on the East Coast cover the details of the IPO and the pricing. We talk on the phone and email back and forth to make sure we’re all on the same page about everything.
Anything else you’d like to say about the story and CNBC’s coverage?
It’s been a lot of fun to cover Facebook and this is just the beginning. Once the company is public I look forward to digging into the numbers every quarter!