Tag Archives: Reporting tips

Hyundai Super Bowl ad

Tricks of Super Bowl ads

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The game is now in the history books, but the talk for many on Monday morning won’t be the plays. It will be about the commercials. At $4 million for 30 seconds, the trick is to get your money’s worth.

Businessweek did a piece on how some advertisers are trying to generate Super Bowl buzz without paying for it. Here’s an excerpt:

One creative way of getting an ad out on the cheap: Run a quirky, low-budget spot in a small market and watch it go viral. (Old Milwaukee beer pioneered this trick last year with an ad, featuring comedian Will Ferrell, that ran during a local ad block in North Platte, Neb.) According to Adweek, Old Spice (PG) will run a Super Bowl ad, in which wolves crash a party and hawks interrupt a poker game, exclusively in Juneau, Alaska. (The spot is already online.) The deodorant company says it chose Alaska because the state has the highest wolf population in the country. Because of the rise of small market ads like these, CBS said local ad sales at network-owned stations have hit a new record this year, with some markets charging up to $1 million per ad.

Many advertisers are turning to the web to try and generate buzz for their commercials. Here’s a story from Bloomberg:

The stakes are high for the championship football game’s advertising sponsors, who spent as much as $133,333 a second for a half-minute of airtime, a record sum marketers say is justified by the expected repeat viewings and buzz on the Web. Internet companies are taking on the role of referee, measuring viewers’ votes, searches and sentiments in an attempt to declare a winner among the Super Bowl sponsors.

The game, played in New Orleans and aired on CBS Corp. (CBS)’s network, is drawing major marketers like Coca-Cola Co. and Volkswagen AG (VOW) as well as lesser-known brands like Wonderful Pistachios and Gildan Activewear. BlackBerry (RIMM), struggling to rehabilitate its faltering brand, is advertising for the first time in the Super Bowl, promoting the long-awaited Z10 smartphone ahead of its U.S. release in March.

Many advertisers started streaming their Super Bowl spots ahead of the game to draw a bigger audience, both online and on television. Ads released before the Super Bowl typically generate more than 9.1 million online views on average, compared with 1.3 million for those appearing on the Web the day of the game, according to Lucas Watson, vice president of advertising at YouTube, owned by Google Inc. (GOOG)

And then there are the ads we’re still talking about. Mashable put together this list of the 10 best Super Bowl ads of all time. Coming in at number 1:

Who could forget the iconic Coke ad when Mean Joe Green tossed his jersey to a fan who gave him a coke to the Star Wars-themed Volkswagen ad from 2011 that quickly became a viral sensation?

It remains to be seen whether any ads from this year’s big game will rank among these classics, but there are already some promising contenders, including Hyundai’s playful 60-second spot featuring The Flaming Lips, Audi’s prom ad and Samsung’s commercial with Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd.

Then there are the companies that asked consumers to create their spots. This is from the Wall Street Journal

Rather than relying solely on traditional ad creators, many marketers have asked consumers to play a part in creating or choosing this year’s big-game commercials.

German car maker Audi posted three versions of its ad on YouTube and let consumers select which ending should air, while Ford Motor‘s Lincoln brand started a Twitter campaign that asked people to tweet their most memorable road-trip stories. It then had late-night talk-show host Jimmy Fallon select five of the tweets, which were used to create its spot.

Coca-Cola also let consumers vote on how its big game ad ends, while rival PepsiCo include hundreds of consumer-submitted photos in one of its commercials. About 100,000 photos were submitted as part of a contest Pepsi conducted.

When dozens of ads fight for attention, getting consumers involved “is an extremely efficient way to amplify your marketing,” said Paul Chibe, Anheuser-Busch’s U.S. marketing chief. The brewer is asking the public to name the baby Clydesdale that appears in its Super Bowl ad by sending their picks via Twitter and Facebook.

But it still remains to be seen if the ads actual change consumer-buying patterns. They definitely raise brand awareness, but will it translate into more sales? That’s what the coverage of the ads needed to focus on.

francine lacqua davos

Covering Davos and the woman angle

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Bloomberg TV anchor Francine Lacqua, who is based in London, gave an interview about Davos and whether the event really matters for women to The Jane Dough.  She talked about her reporting experience as a business journalist.

Sarah Devlin writes, “Bloomberg TV anchor Francine Lacqua, who has covered Davos on her show ‘On the Move’ for several years, noted that the conference presented an opportunity to revisit the question of quotas for executive boards, as one way of bringing the gender ratio at the top economic tier into balance. EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who originally proposed the idea of quotas, was able to revisit the question of their efficacy with Lacqua at the WEF.

“In addition to more discussion of women’s issues, Lacqua noted that her time as a financial reporter has revealed the importance of addressing widespread youth unemployment, which has been an enormous problem in the United States and abroad, affecting both young women and men over the past few years. This issue was also brought to the fore at the WEF.

“Ultimately, did Lacqua see Davos as an effective tool for change, or a glorified networking event? Definitely not the latter, she said; Davos has consistently been a forum ‘for the exchange of ideas.’ While change for women may be slow, their interests are gaining increasing representation on the global stage. It’s certainly a start.”

Read more here.

Solar

How to “cover” the solar industry

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Carter Lavin writes, tongue firmly in cheek, on Clean Technica about how business journalists should write about the solar industry.

Lavin writes, “The solar industry is convoluted and relatively esoteric, so when good business reporters write about the business, it’s not a surprise that they don’t get everything correct, but it is a shame. These articles all tend to point out and ignore the same facts — which is why they have all been wrong about the future of solar power. These articles are rarely factually inaccurate, but they often lack context, mislead with incorrect data usage, or do not account for many of the more powerful factors at play.

“In fact, these articles are so formulaic, common, and wrong that I decided to save everyone a lot of time and teach you how to make one. So here is how to write a hit piece on the solar industry.

  1. Start off with pointing out some of the industry’s success. Maybe you point to the rapidly growing employment in solar, the plummeting costs of systems, or solar’s widening geographic appeal.
  2. Transition (often with a weather pun) about dark days ahead, clouds on the horizon, or a storm’s a brewing.
  1. Politics!

DO: Say that the industry is reliant of government support and point out some federal government support the industry receives, like the solar investment tax credit. Then say that it looks like they will not get extended because of whatever the political issue de jure is. Past examples have been the recession, the debt ceiling, the election, and the fiscal “cliff.”

Read more here.

Ford-Logo1

Ford earnings mixed as Europe struggles

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Writing about earnings should be one of the most straightforward business stories. But for larger multinational firms it can sometimes be a bit more difficult. Take for example Ford’s fourth-quarter results, which came out on Tuesday.

Here’s how the Wall Street Journal presented the earnings:

Ford Motor Co. posted fourth quarter net income of a $1.6 billion on another strong performance in North America, but the second-largest U.S. auto maker forecast a wider, $2 billion operating loss in Europe this year.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based company forecast that its total 2013 operating results will be about the same as 2012′s $7.96 billion. Ford said it would lean heavily on its home region to supply this year’s profits amid depending woes in Europe, investments in Asia and currency hits in South America.

“North America had spectacular results,” said Bob Shanks, the chief financial officer in an interview. But “clearly we have a lot of difficult times ahead of us” in Europe. “We do think it will probably bottom this year and start to go up.”

The New York Times had this to say about the full year results and the company’s recent performance.

For the full year, Ford said it earned $5.66 billion, a 5 percent drop from $5.97 billion in 2011, not including the tax-valuation changes that had increased the 2011 earnings to $20.2 billion.

Ford’s overall revenue in the fourth quarter was $36.5 billion, a 5 percent increase from $34.6 billion in the same period a year earlier. For all of 2012, revenue was $134.3 billion, a 1 percent decrease from $136.3 billion in 2011.

Despite the domestic results, the stock market appeared to focus on the European weakness, sending Ford’s stock down 4.2 percent.

The fourth-quarter results were a microcosm of Ford’s recent overall performance.

Healthy sales of new models in North America resulted in good profit margins in the region. The company introduced several new products, like the Ford Fusion midsize sedan, in the United States, where the overall industry grew by 13 percent last year.

That the overall auto market in the U.S. is expanding is interesting news, but not enough to keep Bloomberg from leading with the European recession news:

Ford Motor Co. (F), the second-largest U.S. automaker, said it expects to lose about $2 billion in Europe this year as a likely recession in the region continues to sap demand for cars.

Ford Europe lost $732 million in the fourth quarter and $1.75 billion for the full year, more than its previous forecast given in October of about $1.5 billion. The deficit will be worse in 2013 than Ford’s previous projection for a similar loss to a year earlier because a Europe-wide recession is likely this year, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told reporters today.

“We’re seeing weakness in the industry; certainly it will be lower than last year,” Shanks said during a briefing at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. “It’s just a very tough economic environment in Europe. We have a lot of difficult times in front of us.”

The entire top of the Bloomberg story talks about the results in Europe and the poor economic outlook. There’s no mention of the U.S. or of better sales there until much lower down in the story.

There was some other news in the WSJ story that could also give investors pause:

Ford ended 2012 with a world-wide underfunded pension obligation of $18.7 billion, compared with around $15 billion at the end of 2011, despite $3.4 billion in cash contributions to the pensions in 2012.

Mr. Shanks said the company is planning to increase its cash contributions to pensions and expects the pension obligation to be shored up by the middle of the decade. The widening pension disparity came because of the extremely low interest rates available on government bonds in the U.S. and Europe.

Ford soon will pay profit-sharing checks of about $8,300 to its 45,000 hourly workers in the U.S. represented by the United Auto Workers union. Ford pays the profit-sharing based on the pretax operating profit generated by the North American division.

That’s another way that cash will need to be allocated, giving Ford less to use for developing new products. No one would argue that funding the pension plan isn’t imperative, just that it will eat into resources that might otherwise be available.

Combined with weak outlook and drop in sales from a large region, Ford’s earnings will likely keep investors guessing as to where the auto market is heading.

frankieflack

Frankie Flack: Why quote approval is sometimes necessary

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Editor’s note: Here is the latest missive from Frankie Flack, our anonymous New York-based PR executive.

In July of last year Jeremy Peters of The New York Times penned a piece titled “Latest Word on the Trail? I Take It Back” that struck like a sudden earthquake in the journalism and public relations field.

Peters deftly put on paper the all-too-common recipe for making news in our modern era and major media organizations quickly changed their tastes. Specifically, Peters laid out how “quote approval,” the process in which PR can review quotes prior to publication, had become so pervasive it was just an accepted reality of doing business. The AP, New York Times, National Journal and others all put out statements clarifying the appropriate use of this practice.

As someone who frequently requests quote approval and knows many others who do the same, I can say firsthand the impact was immediate, but perhaps not dramatic. A few times I was told “I just can’t do that anymore,” and even more frequently I was asked “is it really necessary?”

Six months later I can say those concerns have largely passed.

There are undoubtedly many sides to this debate, but in my opinion quote approval is a necessary evil of business journalism. I am sure that this practice is overused and in some cases outright abused, but in many ways it offers critical benefits.

I want to be specific about business journalism here not only because it is what I know, but also because I believe quote approval is used differently versus other topics, especially politics. Most of all, business does not require media for survival while good press is the lifeblood of politics. This creates sharply different motivations for how sources view and try to use the press.

Quote approval is beneficial almost entirely because business, particularly finance, often requires a sophisticated understanding of complex topics. Furthermore, this language is almost intentionally confusing. Gillian Tett of The Financial Times has theorized, I believe correctly, that the complex language of finance is purposefully exclusionary. Using quote approval allows both the journalist and PR person to ensure that quotes are captured accurately.

Certainly reporters and editors who know the space can argue against this, but unfortunately the wall of financial language can even block the most experienced. In fact, just this week, an editor at a trade newsletter was working on a story and interviewed a client of mine about a technical trading product. It was clear she knew this space well, far better than me. However, during follow-up we found out a critical concept on how the product works was misunderstood.

Arguably more importantly, quote approval is a necessary evil now because it is the only way to get good sources to talk. There is no question, lawyers, bankers, fund managers and other key sources have become accustomed to the practice. Jack Shafer probably made this point best in his column for Reuters in which he looked at the mismatch of resources. Too many journalists chasing too few sources. As someone who has represented major players and marginal ones, I can say that the lesser known source does not enjoy the same privileges.

The reason this happens is mostly because these sources are generally wary of the press and feel more comfortable speaking openly if they feel like they have a safety net. For example, lawyers are trained to be precise with their language to an unmatched degree. The idea of words hitting paper without proper review would keep them up at night. Furthermore, as mentioned above, business does not require media coverage, so the incentives are skewed in any media/source relationship. To be blunt, good sources typically have far less to gain from a reporter then the reporter does from the source.

These are two key reasons why quote approval needs to exist in business journalism, but it does not provide blanket approval. I believe that quote approval exists for accuracy and should not be allowed when the core intent of the quote is altered after the fact.

PR people need to be able to manage their clients expectations both in setting ground-rules and when editing a quote. I often tell clients that they can check the quote for facts but are not allowed to wordsmith.

As mentioned above, the reason quote approval works in business journalism is largely for accuracy.

Journalists should also be clear about the rules and not be afraid to enforce them. Don’t give us the space to abuse the practice, because I guarantee the line will only continue to be pushed.

Rich Edson

A job for outgoing people

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Rich Edson, Fox Business Network’s Washington correspondent, was interviewed by Leslie Stone of Opportunist magazine about his career.

Here is an excerpt:

Opportunist: When you joined Fox, was it difficult to build your network of sources and leads?

Edson: This is a job for outgoing people. You’ve got to be able to begin conversations and call people and invite them for coffee. You have to meet that first person who can introduce you to the other people and you have to figure out who can help you and who probably can’t or won’t. You are competing with people who have been there for decades, but over the last six years I have done a pretty decent job of branching out. The longer I am here the more I realize D.C. is a pretty small town. People know each other.

Opportunist: Describe your typical day.

Edson: I am one of those people who, the minute the alarm goes off, looks at their Blackberry. [Laughs] I check it to see what kind of stories have happened overnight and which ones we are covering. I read the newspaper before breakfast. Then, I walk to work.

 

Google-logo

Different perspectives on Google’s earnings

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Google reported earnings Tuesday, and depending on which version of the story you read, you might come away with a different perspective on the search giant’s performance. There were several metrics to measure for the company, so it’s interesting to see how the major business papers covered the report.

The Wall Street Journal led with the fact that profit rose on increases in ad revenue. Here’s its take:

Google Inc. posted fourth-quarter results that reflected enduring strength in its core business and something of a rebound in online advertising prices, helping send the Internet company’s shares higher in late trading.

Google said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter profit improved 6.7% over the period last year, as the weight of recent, $12.4 billion acquisition Motorola Mobility lightened somewhat.

Still, analysts expressed some reservations about the online search firm’s increasing presence in lower-margin businesses such as Motorola’s mobile devices.

“The quarter is good, but it doesn’t change the framework with which we evaluate Google, which shows faster growth out of lower-margin parts of their business,” said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan.

While the profit rise was downplayed in its story, the Financial Times cast even more doubt on the sustainability of the results.

The slide in Google’s advertising prices caused by the growing popularity of mobile internet use moderated in the final months of last year, helping it to top Wall Street’s forecasts for earnings and revenues in its latest quarter, according to figures released late on Tuesday.

However, the US internet company suffered another decline in the Motorola mobile hardware business it acquired last year and warned of the risk of large future losses as it spends at least another year sorting through Motorola’s old product pipeline.

The signs that Google’s core advertising business was showing more stability amid the shift to mobile contributed to a 5 per cent rise in its shares in after-market trading.

Larry Page, chief executive, warned that the company was in “uncharted territory” as it worked out how to make money from booming mobile internet use, but added: “I focus mainly on products and assume usage will follow our great products.”

He also said that Google was working on simplifying the systems used by its advertisers to make it easier for them to run their mobile campaigns.

Bloomberg had one of the more optimistic stories. Here are a few excerpts from its coverage.

Google Inc. (GOOG), owner of the world’s largest search engine, reported profit that topped analysts’ projections as advertisers boosted spending to reach consumers during an extendedholiday shopping season.

Fourth-quarter profit, excluding certain items, rose to $10.65 a share, Google said in a statement. Analysts had projected per-share earnings of $10.50, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Google gained after retailers poured money into online advertising and extended the gift-buying season. Total spending in the U.S. e-commerce industry jumped 14 percent during the last two months of 2012 as retailers began promoting Web deals earlier, according to ComScore Inc. That’s helping compensate as the company relies more on mobile advertising, which tends to be less lucrative than ads on traditional computers.

Rates for mobile ads can be about 55 percent less than for promotions on desktop machines, according to Covario Inc., an online marketing agency. Still, the decline in the average amount advertisers paid each time a user clicks on a promotion slowed. The so-called cost per click decreased 6 percent, following a 15 percent decline in the previous period. The total number of clicks advanced 24 percent, after a 33 percent increase in the third quarter.

Revenue, excluding sales passed on to partner sites, was $12.2 billion, compared with $12.4 billion projected by analysts. Sales from operations excluding the Motorola Home set- top box unit, which Google agreed to sell last month, were $14.4 billion.

The New York Times chose to focus on the mobile aspect of Google’s earnings.

Although Google is scrambling to meet consumers as they flock to mobile devices, the question is whether it is moving fast enough.

When Google announced its fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday, investors were watching closely for positive signals of Google’s progress in the evolution to a mobile world.

There was some evidence that Google was making progress on a crucial challenge: a decrease in the price that advertisers pay Google each time someone clicks on an ad, known as cost per click. The trend has been driven by the increasing use of Google on mobile devices — where advertisers largely pay less for ads — at the expense of the desktop computer.

On Tuesday, Google said the price per click rose 2 percent from the previous quarter, though it was still 6 percent lower than in the year-ago quarter, making it the fifth consecutive quarter of year-over-year decline.

The earnings report was greeted warmly by investors in after-hours trading, though analysts emphasized that the results were mixed. The company exceeded their expectations on profit, but disappointed on revenue. That was at least in part because analysts are still figuring out how to account for Motorola Mobility, the struggling cellphone maker that Google acquired last year.

No matter which version you prefer, Google’s results were pretty good. It will be interesting to see in the coming quarters if it is able to continue the growth.

Obama

Obama starts second term

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The news Monday was mostly all about President Obama’s inauguration and his speech outlining plans for his second administration. Many of the issues that the country will face will have an impact on businesses, including climate change, gun control, tax reform and creating a more equitable society.

While the story is mostly political and national, the president’s speech and the tone he struck will have an effect on boardrooms as well. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the inaugural coverage.

Here are a few details from the New York Times:

Following an election dominated by a clash of economic philosophies, Mr. Obama used his second Inaugural Address to renew his demands for a new national focus on the widening gulf between rich and poor. He called it “our generation’s task” to make the values of “life and liberty” real for every American.

Four years after Mr. Obama delivered an inaugural speech during a time of economic freefall that limited his ambitions, the 15-minute address on Monday was a call to action on behalf of the middle class by an impatient politician. Mr. Obama declared that the country was “made for this moment,” but he acknowledged that the often divisive and combative politics of today have sometimes fallen short of the size of the country’s problems.

Bloomberg pulled out these quotes from the President’s speech about government spending, a debate that will need to be resolved this week:

“The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us,” Obama said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

His speech highlighted the twin challenges Obama sees for himself in his second term: guarding mainstay Democratic programs while pressing forward on more modern goals, including expanded rights for gays, immigrants and women.

As part of their coverage, the Wall Street Journal did a round up of issues likely to come up in the President’s second term. Read the full article, but here are a few excerpts.

Tax Reform

House and Senate committee leaders say they will try to pass far-reaching legislation to overhaul the tax code this year, but prospects appear to be dimming amid continuing partisan budget battles and limited attention from the Obama administration so far.

Members of the GOP-run House Ways and Means Committee and the Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee are aiming to produce bills that revamp the tax system, lower rates for businesses and individuals, and narrow tax breaks. Both also say the goal is to increase economic efficiency and make U.S. businesses more competitive globally.

Immigration

Four years ago, advocates thought they were on the brink of passing legislation overhauling the nation’s immigration system. They wound up disappointed.

Now, political forces in both parties appear to be aligning. Mr. Obama, who didn’t make an immigration-law overhaul a priority in his first term, has put it high on his agenda. And the November election, in which Mr. Obama overwhelmingly won the Hispanic vote, prompted many in the GOP to conclude they must change their rhetoric and policies.

Gun Violence

In the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama is pushing for the biggest changes to gun laws since the early 1990s. He unilaterally launched an effort to update records in the system used to screen gun-buyers and restarted federal research into gun violence. But he’s acknowledged that his most consequential proposals require congressional approval—extending background checks to all gun buyers, banning high-capacity magazines and banning some semiautomatic rifles that are often called assault weapons.

While not much of the coverage was explicitly about business, the beginning of a new administration will touch everyone. The agenda will affect many industries and have implications for everyone from CEOs to workers.

boeing-787-dreamliner_100416655_m

Boeing’s 787 headache

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The news reports about troubles with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner have been abundant since the fleet was grounded. Two separate incidences – one in the U.S. and one in Japan – led to regulators stopping the planes from flying on Jan. 16.

And Boeing is still in the news.

On Sunday, the U.S. investigation released additional findings. Here’s the story from the New York Times:

Federal investigations said Sunday that they had ruled out excessive voltage as the cause of a battery fire on a Boeing 787 in Boston this month, widening the mystery into what led to the grounding of the world’s most technologically advanced jet after a second battery-related problem last week.

With investigators focused on the plane’s lithium-ion batteries, the National Transportation Safety Board said an examination of the data from the plane’s flight recorder indicated that the battery “did not exceed the designed voltage of 32 volts.” The fire aboard a Japan Airlines plane on Jan. 7 at Logan International Airport in Boston occurred after the passengers had gotten off.

Last week, a battery problem on another 787 forced an All Nippon Airways jetliner to make an emergency landing in Japan. That episode prompted aviation authorities around the world to ground the plane, also known as the Dreamliner. The Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it would not lift the ban until Boeing could show that the batteries were safe.

The safety board did not address the grounding issue or provide a timetable for its investigation, which industry experts said could take months.

But with investigators on a global quest to find out what went wrong, the safety board’s statement could mean that there might not be a rapid resumption of 787 flights. The 787 first entered service in November 2011 after more than three and a half years of production delays. Eight airlines currently own 50 787s, including United Airlines.

Bloomberg Businessweek ran an excellent graph of how the troubles are affecting Boeings suppliers. I like that instead of writing paragraphs about how much their stock prices dropped, they show the different components and the decline. It’s highly effective.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Boeing had to formally suspend deliveries of new 787s since they can’t test them. They also added this information:

As part of its expanding probe, the safety board also is looking at external factors. On Sunday it said investigators already have examined wiring, circuit boards and other battery-related components removed from the aircraft. Investigators also intend to test components that feed power into the battery, according to the update.

On Tuesday, according to the NTSB, a group of safety experts will meet in Arizona “to test and examine the battery charger,” which is manufactured there by Secureplane Technologies Inc., a unit of Meggitt PLC.

The safety board took the unusual step of releasing an update to its 787 investigation just after midnight, during a three-day weekend including a federal holiday. The world-wide grounding of Boeing 787s is now stretching into its fifth day, as the company and U.S. and Japanese investigators work to find the causes of the two incidents.

Forbes contributors and staff writers have also been prolific on the topic. Some of the stories have been too long and haven’t hit the point of their headlines, such as this one about Boeing having a public relations problem. While the story might not actually specify the problem, it is a nightmare.

The more journalists continue to write about this, the worse it’s going to be. Boeing’s problem is that they’re unlikely to comment on ongoing investigations and they’re in a tough spot given how much press the Dreamliner got when it was first introduced. The only thing they can really do is hope the investigations find easy solutions to the problem and absolve the company of any knowledge of issues with the planes.

No matter what happens, I’m sure there will be more ink on the topic before it’s all over.

Charles Duhigg

No biz reporter ever says, “I want to cover the insurance industry”

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Jim Romenesko has excerpted some parts of an interview that New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg did with Longform.org about journalism and his career.

Here is an excerpt:

On interviewing with the New York Times

“I went in and I said, ‘I want to apply for the telcom job.’ We talked about telecom. I know nothing about telecom, but I sort of read clips on the plane. But then [Times business editor] Larry Ingrassia said, ‘So if you could have any beat at the New York Times, what would it be?’ I kind of knew [this was coming] because this is an inevitable question. I said, If I could cover anything, I would cover the insurance industry, and I would cover the insurance industry like it’s this passionate, passionate story — the same way this guy David Cay Johnston had covered taxes — because everyone owns insurance and no one ever thinks about it, and there’s people’s lives at risk, and there’s companies that essentially want to extort you for your premiums.

“The reason I said that is because I knew that no one had ever said that to Larry Ingrassia. No one ever says, ‘My passion is to cover the insurance industry,’ and the number one thing you want to do when you’re writing a story or when you’re applying for a job or doing anything else, you want to be surprising. People love surprises.”

Read more here. Editors note: I covered the insurance industry for the Tampa Tribune and BusinessWeek from 1990 to 1995, and started a magazine called Insurance Investor in 1999. It lasted until 2002. I thoroughly enjoyed covering the insurance beat.