Monthly Archives: December 2009
Jensen writes, “The makeover will include new virtual sets, graphics and music, additions to the roster of commentators, and something decidedly not cosmetic: an approach that will play down stock coverage.
“‘A stock quote has become commoditized,’ said Rodney Ward, the showâ€™s senior vice president and executive editor. ‘What people want at the end of the day is more analysis, more perspective, more context.’
“‘Weâ€™re going to put some shape to all of that daily box score and data dumps,’ Mr. Hudson said.
“Three decades ago, ‘Nightly Business Report’ led the way in dedicated business coverage on television, but its turf was encroached upon by cable channels, including CNBC and Fox Business Network, public radioâ€™s weekday ‘Marketplace’ program and myriad Web sites and mobile apps that give consumers immediate access to financial data.”
Read more here.Â
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Robert Snell, a business reporter who covers General Motors at the Detroit News, has one of the most unique side beats in all of business journalism — he focuses on individuals and companies who don’t pay their taxes.
Snell writes the “Tax Watchdog” blog for the paper. He focuses on state and federal tax liens and, based on public records, interviews and Detroit News archives, identifies those who don’t pay income, business and property taxes.
Every year, about $345 billion in federal taxes are either late or unpaid, according to the IRS, ripping open holes in budgets and shortchanging schools and public safety. That forces taxpayers to cough up more than their fair share, tax experts say. About $2.5 billion went uncollected in Michigan between 2000 and 2006.
In recent weeks, Snell has written about rock ‘n’ roll star Todd Rundgren, singer/actor Chynna Phillips, a member of the band ‘N Sync, former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain and comedian Sinbad. His blog posts include YouTube videos and other amusing information as well.
Before joining the News in 2006, Snell covered crime, courts and local government at The Flint Journal, Lansing State Journal and The Lima News newspapers
Snell, who graduated from Oakland University in Michigan in 1996, talked to Talking Biz News via e-mail on Thursday about his job. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did the paper decide to cover taxes on a regular basis?
I came up with the Tax Watchdog blog idea when I worked on the Metro desk covering economic development, or in many cases, lack of it, in Metro Detroit. I noticed a trend of high-profile developments, developers and entrepreneurs saddled with tax and other debt, which helped explain why projects were stalled or failing. I started to nose around and noticed a surprising amount of public figures and public officials who had the same problem.
With public officials, especially politicians, it raises a legitimate question about the person’s ability to manage taxpayer dollars when they have problems managing their own finances. We were going to do one comprehensive story but instead, in May 2008, I proposed creating a blog that could be continuously updated.
What public records do you find most helpful?
The blog relies almost exclusively on state and federal tax liens but also uses property tax records and federal tax lawsuits.
How do you determine something is a story?
I try to limit the tax posts to public officials and public figures. and people we have written about previously, such as politicians, entertainers and movers and shakers or other newsworthy people. For example, we posted a story on a Michigan resident who won $57 million in the Mega Millions lottery and it turned out he owed delinquent state taxes.
When the PGA Championship was in Metro Detroit in 2008, I backgrounded the top money winners on tour and found pro golfer Tommy Armour III owed more than $863,000 to the IRS. When there are state and local elections, I background the candidates.
How hard is it to get someone to talk about the taxes they owe?
It can be impossible, or extremely easy. They either don’t want to talk or call back immediately. Writing about someone’s finances is such an intimate issue and I’ve found that the people either clam up or respond quickly to explain.
Most of your reporting is done on the blog. When does a story make it to the printed paper?
The blog runs once a week in the paper on our largest circulation day and, in rare cases, when the tax debt is significant or relevant to ongoing coverage. During former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s perjury case, one of his lawyers scolded the county prosecutor, saying she should spend more time paying her delinquent taxes and less time talking to reporters.
I did some checking and it turned out the mayor’s lawyer had recently paid off more than $1 million in delinquent state and federal taxes and had an outstanding tax bill of $23,600. He eventually left the defense team and filed bankruptcy.
You focus a lot on celebrities and semi-celebrities. What about those not well-known?
As a general rule, I don’t write about people unless they are public figures or public officials. But tax data on less well-known people can be used to illustrate broader points. You could use tax records to show the concentration of delinquent tax parcels in business districts or neighborhoods, for example.
How do you use the paper’s archives to help your reporting?
The archives are a big help bringing context to blog posts, especially if I’m writing about someone who was convicted or accused of a crime. I will confirm certain details from our prior coverage or link to an earlier story.
Why do you think that so few business news operations focus on taxes?
I think the tax system can be confusing to a lot of people, dry and boring. People dread paying taxes, who wants to read about it? (more…)
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
The first decade of the 21st century began with business journalists facing criticism for their boosterish coverage of companies during the tech bubble and ended with many of the same reporters facing more criticism for failing to warn consumers about the current economic crisis.
In between, the world of business journalism underwent dramatic changes that make the field only vaguely similar to what it looked like back on Jan. 1, 2000.
Talking Biz News believes the following 10 events — ranked in order of importance — were the most important to business journalism during the past decade. If you’d like to nominate another event, please post a comment.
1. The demise of the daily business section: At the beginning of the decade, standalone business sections in metro newspapers across the country were the primary source of news for those seeking information about business, the markets and the economy. As 2009 closes, they’re now an afterthought. Many of these papers have only themselves to blame — the cutting of printed stock listings and the downsizing of business news staffs have cut the quality and quantity of business news they provide.
2. The biz magazine shakeout: Goodbye Business 2.0, one of the hippest business magazines ever printed. Hello, and goodbye, to Conde Nast Portfolio. So long, Fortune Small Business and BusinessWeek SmallBiz. In addition, Inc., Fast Company and BusinessWeek were sold to new owners, Fortune cut its printed issues by 33 percent and Forbes sold a minority stake of itself. None have been able to find a new formula for success.
3. The rise of Bloomberg News: At the beginning of the decade, Bloomberg was simply another wire service that competed against the AP, Reuters, Dow Jones Newswires and the now-defunct Bridge News. Now, it has the largest staff of business journalists anywhere. It owns BusinessWeek magazine, and it’s overhauling its TV operations to compete with CNBC and Fox Business Network. The contest for business news dominance now appears to be a two-horse race between Bloomberg and Dow Jones.
4. Dow Jones sale to News Corp.: Rupert Murdoch added the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Marketwatch.com and Dow Jones Newswires in 2007 to his far-flung media operations. Along with the Fox Business Network, News Corp. now has a presence in delivering business news in every major platform. The Journal has continued to grow its subscription base and has led the pack in requesting consumers pay for business news online.
5. Cable biz news wars: After CNNfn went off the air in 2004, CNBC had the cable business news market to itself for the next three years, until 2007 when the Fox Business Network was launched. Amid criticism that it was too bullish at the beginning of the decade and too defensive of Wall Street at the end of the decade, CNBC continued to dominate business news on TV.
6. Lessons learned: Yes, business journalism was asleep at the wheel in failing to provide adequate coverage of tech, Internet and telecom companies in the first part of the decade. But many biz reporters learned their lesson, and the coverage in the latter part of the decade about the housing bubble and Wall Street problems was much better. And I don’t buy the argument that financial journalism should have warned consumers what was coming; we are not fortune tellers.
7. KHOU-TV’s coverage of bad tires: This was the 2000 coverage of the Firestone problems on Ford Explorers that led to dozens of deaths, and it was a stark reminder that the best business journalism is investigative and questions companies, searching for answers when a company stonewalls. It led to an overall more adversarial approach to business journalism for the rest of the decade.
8. Jon Stewart’s takedown of Jim Cramer: Forget the back and forth between the two combatants here. Simply put, “The Daily Show” hosts montage of bad calls by Cramer put into focus what every serious business journalist knows: You don’t ever predict something, particularly involving investments or money, in print or on the air. Sadly, Cramer’s not the only one who does this.
9. Pulitzer winners abound: From the 2002 win by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times for her coverage of Wall Street to the 2008 win by Washington Post business columnist Steve Pearlstein and the 2009 win by Alexandra Berzon of the Las Vegas Sun, the Pulitzer committee recognized that business journalism was prescient and performed its watchdog role.
10. New delivery systems: iPhones and Blackberries now act as a transmitter of The Wall Street Journal and other major business media outlets. Twitter sends headlines of breaking news. Kindles and Sony Readers can do all and more. The newspaper is not dead as a medium of business news, but it now has more competition from a variety of options.
San Jose Mercury News columnist Mike Cassidy asked readers for comments about the newspaper, and one of the readers complained about the lack of business coverage.
Here is an excerpt:
Issue: “The majority of your subscribers are college-educated, high-tech workers,” writes Pankaj Dixit of Sunnyvale. “These people are interested in the business news. But you have made it almost nonexistent by … making it part of local news. The business news has got to be the prominent section.”
Answer: The Business section remains a prominent section on most days of the week. The crumbling economy and advertisers’ shift to lower-cost Internet ads, however, have forced the Mercury News to reduce the number of pages in some sections to save on newsprint. On days when advertising demand in Business is typically light, we produce a smaller Business section that is more economically printed as part of the Local section.
“That was a choice of how to spend money,” Butler says. “You either spend it on people or you spend it on newsprint. Our choice has been to spend it on people.”
Read more here.
The Financial Times has named CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo as one of the 50 faces who has shaped the first decade of the 21st century.
The FT writes, “When the dotcom bust struck, few would have bet that the day traders’ ‘Money Honey” would emerge unscathed as a serious commentator on the market machinations that marked the decades’ end.
“Maria Bartiromo, the anchor of CNBC’s ‘Closing Bell,’ has made the transition from breathless market rundowns from the New York Stock Exchange to the inner circle of the business elite from Wall Street to Davos. Along the way, she has become a measure of the popularisation of financial news.”
Others on the list include former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, former President George W. Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.Â CEOs such as Lakshimi Mittal, Indra Nooyi and Jeff Bezos were on the list for business.Â In the economics section, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Nouriel Roubini were also on the list.
Lulu Chiang, a senior producer at CNBC who works closely with Bartiromo, writes on her blog: “I have been Maria Bartiromoâ€™s producer over the past five years, alongside her during the biggest interviews of our careers.Â It has been a privilege to cover these stories day in and day out.Â I look forward to sharing more of our stories with you next year on air and in our blog.Â We hope to bring you even better work in the next ten years.”
Paul Kangas, the co-anchor of “Nightly Business Report” on PBS for the past 30 years, will appear on the air for the last time on Dec. 31.
The new co-anchor, Tom Hudson, will take over on Jan. 4.
Kangas, whose trademark phrase ending the show has wished viewers the “best of good buys,” earlier this month by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of Business & Financial Reporting.
Kangas joined Nightly Business Report when it began as a local program on Miami’s public television station, WPBT2, in 1979.Â While helping to make NBR the most-watched daily business program on television, publications like TV Guide would go on to praise Kangasâ€™ â€œfine stock market coverage.â€
Most recently, Kangas was named to an Esquire list of â€œSixty-Six Guys to Emulateâ€ because, according to the magazine, â€œhe tells the truth about the market when we need it.â€
â€œPaul has been the backbone of NBR for decades,â€ said executive editor Rodney Ward in a statement.Â â€œHis imprint, influence, and journalistic values are forever encoded into the programâ€™s DNA.â€
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Despite being laid off as business editor of the Fresno Bee earlier this year, Mike Nemeth has no regrets about his career in journalism, or his work as a business journalist.
“I miss journalism almost every day,” says Nemeth, nowÂ nine months after he lost his job.
TheÂ Bee folded its business news desk into its metro operations, with the four business reporters now reporting to an assistant city editor.
Nemeth had been business editor since October 2005. Before that, he was assistant city editor atÂ the Tri-City Herald for nearly seven years. He also worked at the Skagit Valley Herald and the Anchorage Times. He was known in the Bee newsroom for his sense of humor and for making the business desk a fun place to work.
Now, he’s working for a nonprofit, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, assisting 35 cities and counties get their energy efficiency conservation block grants. “I’m putting my otherwise useless skills into a new realm that involves a lot of outreach, deadlines and obscure new concepts,” he says.
Nemeth talked to Talking Biz News via e-mail about what it was like to lose his job, how he’s coped in the past nine months, and whether he’d come back to business journalism. What follows is an edited transcript.
How surprised were you when you were laid off from the Fresno paper?
I wasn’t surprised. My closest friend at the paper, who followed me from the Tri-Cities in Washington state, ditched for a energy related Web site in Oakland right before the second round of layoffs. I got tagged in the third round. He wouldn’t have been one of the casualties, but got sick of the sinking-ship mentality.
What kind of severance did you get, and did you use that to help you find work?
I got a decent severance. I had been with McClatchy 11 years. My wife works as an English teacher so we still had an income. With unemployment, we were fairly stable. Still able to keep the boys’ music lessons, which are fairly substantial. I didn’t end up spending any of my severance over the seven and a half months of no job. When I finally got a job, I bought my wife a new Civic with cash. I’m using the balance to upgrade our furnace and finally get an AC unit for this house. I spent an entire summer in this city with a swamp cooler. It felt like the bayou. But I was writing fiction and feeling creative.
How much time did you spend sulking, and when did you start looking for jobs?
I didn’t really sulk. I worked another week at the Fresno Bee after getting notice. Finished my projects, cleaned the decks. Most of my fellow laid-off co-workers ditched the day we got the fat manilla folder and the frowns of two senior managers. It was far nicer than McClatchy’s treatment of those of us who worked at the Anchorage Times. In 1992, the Anchorage Daily News became the only paper in Alaska’s biggest city and all of us in the bloated newspaper-war newsroom had four hours to clear out. That was shock. This was a slap but strangely interesting. I became part of the story, and my bosses really didn’t want to send me packing.
Did you want to get back into journalism? What were the limitations there?
I miss journalism almost every day. I remember the obits on the wire about the veteran AP writers who continued their craft despite alcoholism, divorce, kids who hate them and still loved their jobs. I love this crap. But I also like to paint cars, rebuild houses and run marathons. Of course, none of those interests pays the bills.
What was the first work that you did after being laid off, and how long did that last?
After I got laid off, I went to work on a really dilapidated foreclosed home I purchased with money from the sale of my father’s house in Seattle. I beat the Seattle market and capitalized on the real estate meltdown in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The repo was in bad shape. Renters from Ukraine had painted every room a different shade of pink or purple. The stucco was peeling and the yards and fences were trashed. It took six months but I gutted the bathrooms and kitchen, laid a lot of tile and replaced fencing in 107-degree temps. I felt like I was back in college working pick-up construction jobs, walking around in tattered, paint-covered clothing.
How have you used your business journalism skills during the process?
Business journalism gives us a cynical world view. Worse than that of sports writers. They still get pumped about something. We just seem to wait for the next crisis. And it’s coming. Will cap and trade be co-opted and corrupted by fee-happy bankers? Does journalism help in the real world? Hell if I know. I can write a mean cover letter.
You’re writing grants now for counties. How did you find that job?
The grant-writing gig is interesting. I spend my time working with small impoverished cities in the Valley, helping them get stimulus money they don’t have the resources to go after. I feel like I’m doing something of value and I interact with agencies and J.Q. like the old days.
How satisfied are you with the work you’ve been doing compared to what you were doing in journalism?
Nothing compares to journalism. That hot story is a drug I still haven’t recovered from.
Would you still like to find a job in journalism?
Some part of me believes I will be the ME of a smallish paper even now. That was my dream. Helm a 40,000 circulation paper and retire, then count kind notes from journalists I mentored. What a load, eh?
Do you think you’d permanently give up on journalism and move into another field?
Never say never, again — even with a Scottish accent.
What do you miss about journalism? Not miss?
I miss the “we’re in it together” camaraderie. I don’t miss some of the other aspects.
If you could go back to your job as business editor, would you?
Bianna Golodryga, who covers business and economics stories for ABC News, has become engaged to Peter Orszag, the budget director for the Obama administration, leading to questions about whether she can cover stories surrounding her future spouse.
The same concerns have been raised about other media/politics marriages, most notably Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, who is married to former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan.
Golodryga’s official ABC bio states that she has “reported extensively on the housing and credit crisis as well as the collapse of Bear Stearns. She also covered the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and Warren Buffett’s annual shareholder’s meeting in Omaha, Neb.”
Jackie Calmes of the New York Times reports, “He met Ms. Golodryga, a business and economics correspondent who, at 31, is a decade younger than him, last May at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, where Mr. Orszag was a guest at ABCâ€™s table. They have dated since, drawing attention in gossip columns for their attendance at several high-profile gala events.
“But Mr. Orszag couldnâ€™t get Ms. Golodryga into the Obamasâ€™ recent state dinner â€” the one that the Salahis ultimately crashed â€” because he was told that administration staff can only bring a spouse. So he skipped it rather than go without her.”
Read more here.
About The Business Insider, Robert Quigley writes, “Even in a web culture of numbers, numbers, numbers, The Business Insider stands out for its freakish speed and volume of posts. According to Google Reader, it clocks 522 posts a week: compare that to Gawkerâ€™s not at all shabby 246/week or ABC Newsâ€™ 480/week. Of course, TBIâ€™s staff size is a tiny fraction of the likes of ABCâ€™s, but withÂ Dan Frommer on the tech beat, Nick Carlson on the media and advertising beat, and John Carney and JoeÂ Weisenthal on business and finance, with occasional backup from EIC Henry Blodget, itâ€™s a question worth asking: who needs squads of reporters, anyway?”
About The Wrap, he writes, “Itâ€™s hard to believe that entertainment and media news site The Wrap only launched this January: in terms of its impact, it feels like itâ€™s been around for much longer. This year, The Wrapâ€™s Sharon Waxman established some serious cred by laying the siteâ€™s reputation on the line to call an NBCU-Comcast deal before anyone else. She was treated with derision by Nikki Finke and with skepticism by many outlets (including ours) â€” but as time has told, she was right. Scooping the entirety of business and entertainment media about a multibillion dollar merger: not bad for year one.”
Read more here.
Tara Young, an assistant business editor at the Houston Chronicle, has left the paper and is planning to return to her home state of Alabama.
An e-mail sent to the staff by business editor Laura Goldberg stated, “She is planning to move back to Alabama to be close to family where she will pursue a law degree at the University of Alabama.Â We thank her for all of her hard work and wish her well in her endeavors.”
Young had been an assistant business editor at the Houston paper since February 2006, and she had been night city editor at the Chronicle. Young also taught journalism at the University of Houston.
Young previously worked at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. While there, she worked as an adjunct teaching journalism at Dillard University.
She is a journalism graduate from the University of Alabama.