Tag Archives: Reporting tips
by Chris Roush
Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review spoke Thursday at Yale University about the media’s failure in predicting the 2008 financial crisis before it occurred to underscore the need for effective investigative journalism, or “accountability reporting.”
Tianyi Pan of the Yale Daily News writes, “Starkman told the audience about Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Richard Lord, whom Starkman said ‘caught the financial crisis in its infancy’ in his 2004 book ‘American Nightmare.’ Through lengthy interviews that connected him to a household facing foreclosure, Lord traced a single household’s mortgage dilemma back to the global mortgage market, using terminology and theories that eventually became well-known after the financial crisis, he said. Starkman added that he thinks Lord was able to uncover a global phenomenon because ‘he experienced it personally with another family.’
“Lord’s investigative report first gave Starkman the idea to look into business reporting in the years before the financial crisis, Starkman said.
“Starkman’s research led him to conclude that the financial press failed to perform an accountability report of the financial system during those years, he said, leaving the ‘public in the dark, powerless against the radicalized financial market.’
“His experience with journalism surrounding the crisis further strengthened his belief in accountability reporting as opposed to ‘access reporting’, he said, which is ‘all about scoops and speed.’
“‘Access reporting often presents the orthodox views,’ said Starkman, ‘while accountability reporting is invariably dissident.’
“Starkman added that research for accountability reporting takes a significant amount of time and looks at systemic issues, so it can be difficult, risky and expensive. Digital media, he added, is more compatible with access reporting than accountability reporting.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
John Wihbey of The Journalist’s Resource recently spoke with Greg Ip, the U.S. economics editor of The Economist, about his job.
Here is an excerpt:
JR: What are some pitfalls that young economics reporters should watch out for?
Greg Ip: Let cover a few things that are especially important for journalists.
Number one is the failure to consult the original source. It is amazing how many times you can read something, for example, in a news report or blog post and think you know what they’re saying, and then you just quote it – maybe changing a word or two. And then you realize you’ve completely misinterpreted it. As often as possible, you need to go to the original material. For example, if someone is talking about the unemployment numbers, don’t just quote from somebody’s news article. Go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics itself. You’d be surprised at how often, looking at the raw data itself, the numbers are saying something different than you thought. And you often find something that you didn’t realize before in the numbers.
Also, be careful when you’re quoting a policymaker – for example, when the President addresses the country or gives an interview or makes off-the-cuff remarks at an event. Sometimes only one sentence or two will make it into the news. But when you consult the entire context of what was said it’s often a lot more interesting, and the context makes what was said very valuable. By the way, that’s true in all journalism, not just economic journalism
JR: What about specific errors to be mindful of?
Greg Ip: People often confuse levels and rates of change. For example, people will often say, “Inflation rose last month by 1.7 percent.” What they meant was prices rose 1.7 percent. Inflation is itself a measure of a rise or fall. So inflation is 1.7 percent. That issue to a lot of people isn’t intuitive. You see similar misunderstandings when people talk about the debt and the deficit, or the difference between a stock and a flow. So you can have a debt one year and a surplus at the same time. How is that possible? It’s because you started with a debt of $100, then had an annual surplus of $2, so you end the year with a debt of $98. If you started with a debt of $100 and you ran a deficit of $2, you’d end up with a debt of $102. You need to understand these differences.
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
John George, a senior reporter at the Philadelphia Business Journal, writes about how he was one of three journalists from across the country selected to participate in the Association of Health Care Journalists fellowship program on health performance supported by the Commonwealth Fund.
His participation led to a three-part series in the paper on obstetrical care.
George writes, “This wasn’t the type of fellowship program where I temporary left my regular job for specialized training. Instead, I was expected to continue in my role as the Philadelphia Business Journal’s health-care reporter while over the course of the year working on my project.
“The three of us selected for the program attended a variety of workshops and seminars related to health care and journalism. We also received the services of a mentor, former CNN medical correspondent and now independent journalist Andrew Holtz, for our projects. The Commonwealth Fund provided financial support that allowed us each to visit different markets to conduct interviews and research.
“During the year, I traveled by car, bus, train and plane to eight states for my project. I attended meetings with health experts and other journalists in New York, Atlanta and even Nebraska (the site of a rural health-care conference).
“I spent time in Washington, D.C., talking with a University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing graduate who, at age 71, started an inner-city birthing center in an underserved area of the nation’s capital.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Andi Esposito, who is now the managing editor of the Worcester Telegram, writes about her favorite story while working for the paper.
Esposito writes, “Looking back over 27 years with the Telegram & Gazette, most of it spent as business editor, I covered thousands of stories. But these three remain most memorable.
“Fax machines were the new technology the day Editor Ken Botty called me to his office and announced that he was sending me to Japan for as long as it took to figure out why this powerhouse economy seemed poised to surpass the United States in so many economic measures.
“I set the course for the story series and interviews I would have by deciding to track down Japanese companies with factories here and Worcester-area businesses with operations there. Both sides of the equation had plenty of examples and lots to say. I was gone a month.
“The series, ‘Trading Places,’ which won the John Hancock Award for Excellence in Business and Financial Journalism in 1988, revealed an Asian business sensibility key elements of which would eventually be adopted by American companies, but also uncovered Japanese shortcomings, including a cultural rigidity that couldn’t understand American innovation and entrepreneurism.
“I got to ride the bullet train, drink sake, bathe in outdoor hot springs and get lost repeatedly in Tokyo subways.”
Read more here.
The love/hate relationship between business journalists and a company’s public relations team is a well documented one.
To heighten this already contentious relationship, companies frequently use their public relations staff as a roadblock to keep business journalists from calling C-suite executives.
Why do companies, particularly publicly traded companies often do this? And is it the best strategy?
One of the most important tasks of a PR professional is to stay on and promote their company’s carefully crafted message and provide positive spin on any news that comes about about the company.
Since this is a key part of their job, PR professionals are accustomed to handling relationships with journalists, carefully preparing in advance for any question that a journalist may fire.
While CEOs are trained to handle questions from reporters to some extent as well, they most likely aren’t as prepared to field questions from reporters on a daily basis and stay perfectly on company message.
Because of this and the other plethora of duties that company executives have, it makes some sense that business journalists are often deferred to the public relations department, rather than being able to directly call executives. This often comes to the frustration of business journalists who would much rather a quote from someone inside of the company rather than spin from either an external PR firm or the internal PR department.
Is it in the company’s best interest?
Whether it is a wise choice for a company to have its PR department field questions from journalists that may be better answered by the CEO is an interesting question. While certain companies have precedents on whether their CEOs will take direct calls from business journalists, to some extent this tone can be set by the chief executive.
If the CEO is amiable toward the media and is media savvy, I don’t think it is wise of a company to prevent journalists from speaking to the executives. In fact, it can even be to the company’s detriment, as the CEO may have the best perspective on a company’s goals and outlook.
Further, a story that contains a quote from a CEO will often get better play in a newspaper or on a website than a story that simply quotes a prepared message from a press release or PR person.
Talking to executives also allows journalists to cultivate a personal relationship with the company, which can help provide fair and accurate coverage — even if this coverage is not always favorable. Giving the CEO a chance to comment in a story that may be negative but fair may appear better to the public than a story where the CEO refuses to comment at all.
Bill Berkley, who has been the CEO of insurance firm W.R. Berkley Corp. since the company’s formation in 1967, is know for providing his blunt and honest opinions to reporters.
Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has also been known to speak freely with reporters and to utilize media relationships wisely. Buffett even writes his own shareholder newsletter, which is uncommon for CEOs of large companies. He also pens opinion pieces that are published by major news outlets, seeming to understand the importance of a comprehensive communications strategy.
Media savvy CEOs
An executive that doesn’t shy away from the media but instead knows how to leverage news coverage and when to take calls directly from business journalists can have the most success in obtaining the most fair coverage. This is because a reporter is able to obtain the truth from all sides and insert comments from the most important players in a story.
Additionally, as Dan Simon, a Forbes contributor, wrote in his blog earlier in October, “Senior executives who believe in the power of PR often see the greatest results and those who don’t almost always end up with the less positive outcome they predicted from the start.”
Simon goes on to point out that CEOs who believe in the power of public relations often see better results in the media not because of “the power of faith” but because these are the executives who take actions to help boost the company’s public relations.
Executives who understand and believe in maintaining a relationship with the public and with the media will seek out opportunities to enter conversations about their industry, whether that be speaking at conferences, taking a reporter’s call or blogging and writing opinion pieces.
“Naturally this results in better conversion rates of interviews to coverage and better relationships with key influencers,” Simon wrote.
Thus, the company that will be most successful in promoting its message and maintaining a positive relationship with business journalists will be the ones whose top executives will happily take the calls of journalists, rather than creating a PR roadblock for them.
by Chris Roush
A Citigroup tech analyst has been fired from his job after he talked about Facebook’s initial public offering with business journalists.
Stephen Foley of the Financial Times writes, “Mr Mahaney, one of the most widely-respected and quoted analysts in his sector, was given a ‘letter of education’ in April this year about his failure to adhere to the bank’s internal policy about seeking approval before speaking to reporters, according to court documents filed in Massachusetts.
“Citigroup was one of the lead underwriters on the Facebook flotation in May and was given privileged access to Facebook management and financial information. That analyst, who was not named, was fired last month.
“The incident for which Mr Mahaney was fired this week took place in April. He told a reporter from the French business magazine Capital that he believed Google’s revenues from its YouTube video sharing site would outstrip his published forecasts.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Tom Blumer writes that coverage this week that new homes sales are at their highest levels in the past two-and-a-half years, but the business media has ignored the fact that the level is still below new home sales before 2008.
Blumer writes, “Here are the headlines and descriptions of today’s report found at the three major wire services:
- AP (Christopher Rugaber): Headline — ‘US NEW-HOME SALES RISE TO HIGHEST IN 2 1/2 YEARS’; Description — ‘further evidence of a sustained housing recovery that could help lift the lackluster economy.’
- Bloomberg (Alex Kowalski): Headline — ‘Home Sales Rising to Two-Year High Spur U.S. Growth’; Description — ‘the industry whose decline was at the heart of the recession is bouncing back.’
- Reuters (Lucia Mutikani): Headline — ‘New home sales jump to near 2-1/2 year high in September’; Description — ‘further evidence the housing market recovery is gaining steam.’
“Reuters actually was a bit unfair in its comparison to the past, noting that ‘new home sales are just over a quarter of their peak in July 2005.’ Unfortunately, we now know that this peak was driven by loosened lending standards and fraudulent packaging of hundreds of billions of dollars of securitized loans at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (perhaps as much as $2 trillion if one includes the loans the two entities kept for themselves).
“The better benchmark is the last half of the 1980s. On a population-adjusted basis, monthly and annual sales during 2012 are far less than half of what they were during that period — proof that talk of a ‘bounce-back’ is premature at best, and deceptive at worst.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Robert Frank is an award-winning CNBC journalist, best-selling author and leading journalist authority on the American wealthy.At CNBC, he oversees the “Inside Wealth” portion of its website.
Prior to joining CNBC, Frank was with The Wall Street Journal for 18 years, serving as a foreign correspondent in London and Singapore, and later covering Wall Street and corporate scandals.
For eight years, he was the paper’s wealth reporter, covering the lives, culture and economy of the new rich.
Frank is the author of two books: “Richistan,” a New York Times bestseller, and “The High-Beta Rich,” released in 2011. His blog, “The Wealth Report” was named by Time magazine as one of America’s most influential financial blogs.
Frank spoke with Talking Biz News by email about how he covers the wealth beat. What follows is an edited transcript.
Few people in business journalism cover the wealth beat. How did you develop the beat at The Journal?
When I came back in to the U.S. in 2002 after being a foreign correspondent, I was struck by how much sudden wealth had been created. So many more giant homes, super cars, outrageously priced restaurants, soaring art prices…salaries for hedge fund managers reaching hundreds of millions a year. When I dug into the data, I found a chart from the Federal Reserve that showed that the number of millionaire households in the U.S. had doubled over the decade.
I went to my editors with the chart and said “This isn’t an article it’s a beat. What if we spent a year telling the story of the new American wealthy. Who are they? How did they get there? What are they doing with their money? And how are they effecting the rest of America?”
They loved the idea and, what was supposed to be a year-long experiment, continues to this day. No one else was really covering the wealthy and these questions so directly.
Equally important is the way I decided to cover the beat. Funny story – the first month I started reporting on wealth, I went to a yacht show in Florida to find rich people to talk to (like Willie Sutton I go where the money is). I was standing on the dock looking out over the marina filled with yachts, like a Wal-Mart parking lot on Black Friday, but with mega-yachts. An owner came up to me and said “Incredible right? You’d think it was another country.”
The phrase stuck with me. “Another country.” The rich had become numerous enough to form their own country, and certainly wealthier than many countries. So I called it “Richistan” and decided to cover it like any other exotic country, just as I had covered Albania or Thailand or Fiji. The goal wasn’t to judge or stereotype or mythologize or attack them. It was to cover the people and places of a remote land, and send home great stories. That’s still my mission today.
Why is such a beat important for consumers of business journalism?
The great economist john Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “Of all the classes the wealthy are the most noticed and the least understood.” The wealthy are have a huge and growing impact on our economy, companies, financial markets and government. The top 5 percent own more than 80 percent of the individually held stocks and bonds in this country. They top 5 percent of earners account for more than a third of consumer spending. The top 1 percent of earners pay more than a third of the taxes (and earn more than 20 percent of the income). Just look at Super PACs to see the impact a few billionaires can have on a national discussion and election.
To understand where the country, economy and markets are headed, we have to understand the minds and money of the wealthy.
How do you find your stories?
When it comes to finding stories, I rely on my training as a deals reporter: source like hell. After 10 years covering wealth, I have a contact list of hundreds of millionaires and billionaires from around the world. I also talk to butlers, art dealers, mansion brokers, yacht manufacturers, fashion designers, Ferrari dealers, personal arborists, you name it. If they sell or deal with the truly rich, I try to know them.
What types of stories do you want to cover on Inside Wealth?
On “Inside Wealth,” I cover five basic areas: investing, spending, politics/taxes, philanthropy and people. So it’s how the wealthy make, spend, give away and fight for their money.
How do you get the wealthy to talk about these stories?
Getting the rich to talk on the record about their wealth has become increasingly difficult. The rich have always been press-shy, but today they’re targets, they know they’ll be attacked for saying just about anything related to their wealth. So they’ve gone quiet.
That’s made my job tougher, but I have a contact list of hundreds of millionaires and billionaires who know me and trust me. They know I may write something critical, but they also know I’ll take pains to be accurate and to understand every detail of the story before publishing or going on air.
Wealth seems to be a major issue in the current election. How do you tie that into your coverage strategy?
The election has politicized wealth. I think it’s positive for the country that we’re now having a serious discussion about the role and responsibility of the wealthy, and the structures in America that create and distribute wealth. The election has become, in part, a referendum on wealth. But facts have also become a casualty of the class wars — there are distortions and over generalizations from both sides of the political spectrum. The wealthy are either portrayed as saints or devils in this campaign.
They’re neither. They’re a complex economic group with widely varied agendas, backgrounds and impacts on the country. It’s seductive to see the world as a struggle between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. But it’s not that simple. These labels serve politicians, but they don’t serve readers or reporters. Polls show that despite all the heated rhetoric, the American public still feels the same way about the wealthy that they did five, 10 even 20 years ago. They largely admire people who got rich by working hard and creating something of value, and they hope to be wealthy themselves someday. But they also worry about a system that can seem rigged for the privileged few
Who reads wealth stories? Is it just the wealthy, or do the middle class and lower also read these stories?
Everyone, especially since the tax debate has cast a spotlight on the wealthy. “Inside Wealth” readers include rich and non-rich alike (what I call the wealthy and pre-wealthy), anyone interested in how the wealthy influence the economy, markets, spending or culture. Some of the interest is prurience — people wanting to see a $600,000 watch that doesn’t tell time or the largest private jet in the world.
Readers like stories about the psychological side of the rich, and their kids. But readers turn to me most for the policy and economic side of wealth: deeper analyses of taxes, incomes, global shifts in wealth, luxury spending, wealth management, philanthropy, big political donors, and who’s making and losing big fortunes today.
Will business journalism begin to focus more on the wealth beat as the economy evolves?
All business journalists focus more on wealth as economy evolves. I think once the election is over, and when the economy improves, the coverage will become less political and return to more economic questions: who are the new rich? How are they spending and investing their money? How is the world of wealth and “Richistan” changing? I think we’re going to see a return to conspicuous consumption in the next few years, which will make for some interesting news stories.
Who do you see as your biggest competitors on the wealth beat?
When I started the wealth beat nine years ago, no one else was really covering the wealthy as a group. Today, there is lots of coverage and much of it seems to fall into one of two categories: spending porn or political rants. I believe that “Inside Wealth” uniquely covers the wealthy consistently and really delves more deeply into the economy of the rich.
What’s the one wealth story that a business journalist anywhere should be doing right now?
Profiles. Readers like nothing more than human portraits, with the good bad and the ugly of today’s rich. I love reading them, I love writing them, and while they are among the toughest stories to do, they are hugely rewarding.
by Chris Roush
Mina Kimes, a writer at Fortune, was interviewed by Aaron Lammer in a podcast about her career in business journalism.
Among Kimes’ comments in the podcast:
“I don’t know if I thought anything about business journalism. In high school, I was reading arts and music journalism.”
“It would be great if somewhere we could convince young people to pay more attention” to business journalism.
“I started reading The Journal on a regular basis…Gradually I acquired a working knowledge of how finance works.”
“A lot of editors encouraged me to be honest about my knowledge going into an interview.”
Listen to the interview here.
In 2009, she received the Nellie Bly Cub Reporter award from the New York Press Club for her story, “The End of Oil.”
Before joining Fortune in August 2008, Kimes was a reporter at Fortune Small Business. She graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, where she studied English.
by Chris Roush
More journalism needs to cover the federal and state governments as if they were businesses, said Matt Winkler, editor in chief of Bloomberg News, in a speech Tuesday night.
Bloomberg’s new service called Bloomberg Government, which launched at the beginning of 2011 set out to “cover the governnment as a business because it is a business,” said Winkler in a speech at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“Instead of covering the bloody sport of politics, what the coverage needs to do is really focus on government and its contractors and how the government does business every day,” said Winkler.
Winkler spent about 35 minutes discussing Bloomberg’s coverage of the U.S. economy since the federal government’s debt rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s in August 2011, and then he answered questions from two student business journalists before a crowd of approximately 200. Winkler also answered questions from the audience.
When asked why much of the election coverage focused on the unemployment rate, Winkler noted the importance of jobs in the economy but also suggested that business journalists spend more time examining home sales, housing starts, retail sales and new car sales.
A group of executive editors at Bloomberg News are constantly thinking about three or four big stories related to the campaign and assigning those stories to a team of reportings. “It’s collaborative, and the ideas are coming from a variety of places,” he said.
Winkler also lauded the work of Bloomberg reporter Greg Stohr, who was the first to correctly report the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare this summer. “The area where he as particularly astute and prepared was in reading the ruling on the mandate,” said Winkler. “He was determined to find the answer in the decision.”
Bloomberg is doing a better job of covering the current election than in 2008, Winkler said, because it is using more data to illustrate stories. “If we have made an improvment, it is in the ability to show with more data,” he said.