Tag Archives: Reporting tips

private company

Check financial numbers of private companies before printing them

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Business journalist Francine McKenna wishes that more of her industry colleagues would attempt to verify claims of revenue and net income by private companies before printing them.

McKenna writes, “Maybe some journalists are intoxicated by access to the non-public numbers some would pay a lot to know for sure. Maybe it’s just too hard. Worst case scenario journalists can be used as cogs in the equity market pump and dump machine.

“Summary level revenue and profitability numbers for public companies, those listed on U.S. stock exchanges, are easily verified. Go to the SEC filings —10-K annual reports, 10-Q quarterly filings, 14A annual proxies, 8-K filings of other legally required to be reported events — to see if what an executive says matches what he or she told regulators and markets in the filed financial statements. Even earnings calls and earnings releases should match what’s eventually filed or executives must later must explain why not.

“Readers may think that online or in print, whether in a magazine or a newspaper, writers have to check the truthfulness of what politicians and business executives say before they print it. More and more they don’t. Intensely partisan rhetoric during the last election cycle led to complaints on both sides that major media allowed politicians and their operatives to make claims about each other in debates, in print and online that weren’t true. Lies took on a life of their own. ‘Unspilling the milk’ was almost impossible. A cottage industry of political fact-checkers —FactCheck.org, Politifact, and media-watching bloggers and journalists — scoured public statements and news and magazine articles for blatant, and not-so-blatant, examples of lies and fibs that slipped into campaign season reports.

“There’s no such service dedicated to checking non-public and pre-IPO financial puffery and blustering. The hype before the Facebook IPO is an example of unverified financial information gone wild. When the New York Times broke the story of Goldman Sachs’ investment in Facebook on January 2, 2011 it was obvious a certain segment of the investing population willingly ignored the lack of audited, verifiable, complete financial information when offered a ‘hot and exclusive’ opportunity. The media was more than willing to repeat unaudited, unverified, and often incomplete information in its stories, true or not. Reuters eventually reported that disclosures provided to Goldman Sachs’ chickens, I mean clients, intended to entice them to make a $1 million minimum investment, weren’t even audited results.”

Read more here.

Bryant Ruiz Switzky

How to get a biz reporter to write about your company

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Bryant Ruiz Switzky, a senior staff reporter at the Washington Business Journal, where he covers banking, finance and corporate accountability, writes about what a company should do to get coverage by the business media.

Switzky writes, “If you’re trying to get on the good side of the business press, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Journalists are people, not impenetrable institutions.

Most publications list the reporter’s email address and/or phone number next to every story they write. But few readers actually call or write to us, probably because they think of us as an institution. We’re not. We’re just normal people, sitting in front of our computers, trying to find interesting things to write. We find our stories primarily by talking to people. If you want us to find your story, find the reporter who covers your industry in your area and call them up.

2. It is not news that your customers love you.

If you ask, most business reporters will say they’re looking for news. That means something that is happening or is going to happen that matters (or should matter) to business people in the publication’s coverage area. Think things like mergers, expansions, changes in company leadership — stuff you can’t manufacture if it isn’t already happening. It is NOT news that your company exists and that you “really care” about serving your customers.

3. Tell me something I don’t know.

Just because there’s no immediate hard news happening with your company doesn’t mean we don’t want to talk to you. If you want to get our attention, tell us about something surprising, interesting or troubling happening in your industry or at one of your competitors. We journalists are a curious lot. Pique our curiosity and you will be on our radar. When we need someone to comment about trends or big news in your industry, we’ll happily return the favor and reach out to you for comment. If we do reach out to you, call us back right away. We’re probably on deadline.”

Read more here.

frankieflack

Frankie Flack: The trouble with broadcast business news

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I’m a big fan of business news in all forms, print, online, radio and television.

However, I have to admit that, for me, business news is just better in print.  This is really fundamentally driven by the different business models of print and broadcast news that forces them to go after consumers in different ways.  One thing that broadcast media does tend to do better is foster debate among experts and demonstrate intangible qualities of business leaders.

But this isn’t a lesson on business models in the media world.

The result is that at the end of the day this creates a different dynamic between PR professionals and the anchors, producers and bookers involved in creating business broadcast news.  While there are slightly different dynamics with those three audiences, there are some general principles to keep in mind when working with broadcast journalists.

The first is that speed is paramount.  This applies to any interaction with media, but is enhanced even further with broadcast.  News stories are only a matter of minutes long, leaving little room to capture all the nuance of complicated issues.

When working with bookers, PR professionals should focus on understanding the segment being discussed and not necessarily balancing out the story with backgrounding, etc.  It is important to understand if the segment is one-on-one, who the anchor/s will be, where it will be held, when the guest needs to be present, etc.  The more the PR person knows about the segment the better they can prepare their guest to manage any issues.

Things change a bit when working with a producer, who has more editorial control over exactly how the segment will be positioned.  Here PR professionals should work much in the same way they do with print reporters, offering background information, answering questions on background and generally helping to shape the story.

In the typically rare instance of working directly with the anchor, the PR professional should quickly deliver a top line message but also (if relevant) push the anchor to ask key questions of the competition.

Most of all, PR professionals must always keep in mind that broadcast journalists are going to be incredibly quick and must keep the most salient one to two key points top of mind.  This is not necessarily the same key message for print, but the one message you would want to seen on the screen.

While my humble opinion puts print above broadcast, it is undeniable that broadcast news creates a dynamic that tests business executives in ways print simply cannot.

This is a critical dynamic that PR professionals have to carefully consider in all their interactions with broadcast journalists.

 

AA040013

Private equity investor: Biz journalists can be your friends

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Luke Johnson, who runs a private equity firm, writes on Tuesday’s Financial Times about how those in his field should talk more to business journalists.

Johnson writes, “Journalists will very rarely simply push the angle you want. They often approach a business story from a sceptical view. Inevitably, they want the personal element in any article – they are probably more interested in your house, car and net worth than the products you are trying to promote.

“Every profile is a trade-off: information you are willing to share against coverage they are willing to devote to your business. Ultimately, the writer and their editor decide what goes in the piece. And never think you can manipulate a journalist to print your version of the truth: competent ones will cross-check the facts.

“Many captains of industry assume the press are their enemy. In fact the opposite can be the case. Sir Richard Branson has always assiduously courted journalists and his activities have, in my opinion, been reported in a friendly way as a consequence. Indeed, positive appearances in the media have been a vital way of building the Virgin brand.

“Often I am rung up because a journalist has heard a rumour about an acquisition we might be about to make. Usually I come out with a bland response such as, ‘We never comment on market rumours,’ whatever the truth of the suggestion. Occasionally, one feels obliged to offer more, for good or bad reasons. You can talk off the record or on an unattributable basis, and all respectable writers will honour that curious code. Inevitably, if you help a reporter they are more likely to give your side of events a sympathetic airing.”

Read more here.

Charles Glasser

Confidential sources:The good, the bad, and the ugly

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In this five-part series, we’ll look at some of the challenges that young business journalists face in today’s media landscape. A common theme running through all five installments is the recognition that avoiding errors is a journalist’s first responsibility. News moves faster, farther and wider than ever before, and given the ever-increasing volatility of markets, the effect of incorrect news reporting can have shattering consequences: not just on the share price or business prospects of the company being written about, but on the media organization that faces legal liability and the exorbitant cost of legal defense. The third installment is about how the use of confidential sources – despite a shield law – may create liability for the reporter or publisher.

Few journalists – and more importantly, few thoughtful readers – can doubt the important role that confidential sources play in journalism. From Watergate more than 40 years ago to current revelations that the president of the United States may have lied to the public and press about the extent of National Security Agency spying on U.S. citizens, the law historically recognizes that confidential sources are crucial to the democratic function of a free press:

“Without an unfettered press, citizens would be far less able to make informed political, social, and economic choices. But the press’ function as a vital source of information is weakened whenever the ability of journalists to gather news is impaired. Compelling a reporter to disclose the identity of a source may significantly interfere with this news gathering ability; journalists frequently depend on informants to gather news, and confidentiality is often essential to establishing a relationship with an informant.” Zerilli v. Smith, 656 F. 2d 705 (DC Cir. 1981).

At present, congressional and Senate committees are working on passage of a federal shield law, which, if properly drafted, will allow journalists (including bloggers doing journalism) to refuse to disclose their sources in most federal cases. Many states already have some form of shield law, and for those of us who believe in the press’ role as public watchdog, that’s a good thing. But reporters and editors – as well as their lawyers – would do well to remember that even with a shield law in place, the use of confidential sources has to be subject to careful review and thoughtful consideration past any shield law. The failure to do so can have disastrous consequences for journalists and publishers.

“TRUST ME, I’M A JOURNALIST”

When a confidential source is utilized to publish a story that creates a defamatory assertion or implication, the fact that you may not have to disclose your source is only half the analysis. If you are sued for libel, and the plaintiff alleges clearly enough that you got it wrong, the burden shifts to you to show that either: a) the sued-upon fact isn’t wrong; or b) if it is wrong, you will need to convince a finder of fact that you had the appropriate basis for relying on a source.

Now ask yourself how the following would sound in court: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I know I said Mr. Jones was a swindler. I have a source that told me so. I promised the source confidentiality, so I can’t tell you who it was. But trust me, I’m a journalist.” This is straight out of the Lionel Hutz playbook.

While it’s true that in varying degrees, journalists have a right to protect source confidentiality, the law recognizes that plaintiffs who allege damage to reputation also have rights. The notion of being able to face and question your accuser and his or her credibility is rooted in due process and fair play. This has led to the development of what some academics call “the no source presumption.” This means that in many cases, if a reporter facing a libel suit refuses to disclose his or her source, the jury is allowed to infer – or may be instructed by the judge – that the reporter never had a source at all.

This played out in a California courtroom in Dalitz v. Penthouse International, Ltd., 168 Cal. App. 3d 468 (Cal. App. 1985) where reporters Jeff Gerth and Lowell Bergman (the latter of “60 Minutes” fame) accused a handful of people of being “mobsters, gangsters and members of organized crime” and implicated the plaintiffs “in the Watergate scandal, nationwide bank failures, securities frauds totaling some $50 billion, criminal misuse of Teamster Pension Funds and other swindles of many kinds.”

The reporters refused to disclose their sources, and instead of holding the reporters in contempt (California has a shield law), the trial court instructed the jury to assume that there was no source for the sued-upon allegations other than those disclosed in the story itself. The appellate court upheld this presumption, noting that:

“Without the disclosure of these sources, we are left to believe merely on faith that the reporters in fact had confidential sources and did not simply embellish and expand upon the information contained in the voluminous mass of books, articles and newspaper clippings with which they have so copiously provided us.” Id.

THE “NO-SOURCE” PRESUMPTION EXPLAINED

Aside from judicial skepticism about reporters’ honesty, courts are sensitive to the notion of a person who alleges reputational harm being able to face one’s accuser. Moreover, in libel cases, the ability to question the state of mind of a reporter and to examine from whom and how they gathered their facts is a matter of due process for the plaintiff.

In DeRoburt v. Gannett Co., Inc., 507 F. Supp. 880 (D. Haw. 1981) a Guam-based newspaper accused the president of Nauru of having made improper loans and having inappropriate relationships with various political entities. The newspaper refused to disclose the identity of the confidential sources. The federal court addressed the inherent unfairness to the plaintiff saying:

“The media defendant cannot have it both ways: he cannot enjoy the protection afforded by the [The First Amendment] and at the same time enjoy a privilege that prevents the plaintiff from obtaining the evidence necessary to carry that burden. Were the media defendant allowed to have it both ways, he would have absolute license, and the libel plaintiff would have no recourse in the courts.” Id.

Instead of holding the reporters in contempt, the court used its discretion in applying the “no-source presumption” and held that:

“When a defendant in a libel action, brought by a plaintiff who is required to prove actual malice […] refuses to declare his sources of information upon a valid order of the court, there shall arise a presumption that the defendant had no source. This presumption may be removed by a disclosure of the sources a reasonable time before trial.” Id.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE: SOURCE PLUS INDEPENDENT REPORTING

This is not to say that a story relying on confidential sources can’t be defended without giving up the source, but it takes skillful and expensive lawyering, and more importantly, pulling this off will usually require convincing a judge that the reporter did not rely solely on whispers in the dark. In other words, a solid foundation of good reporting and fact checking can support this kind of story and keep the sources’ identity confidential.

This was the case in Trump v. O’Brien, 29 A. 3d 1090 (NJ App. Div. 2011), when Donald Trump sued New York Times  journalist Tim O’Brien for allegedly underestimating Trump’s net worth in his book “TrumpNation.” Trump, suing in libel, sought disclosure of the identity of three confidential sources utilized by O’Brien, his notes regarding his interviews with those sources, and various other non-confidential materials relating to O’Brien’s research, writing and editorial processes. O’Brien refused to disclose the sources, and the appellate court found that both New York and New Jersey’s shield laws applied and that O’Brien had no duty to disclose the sources.

Trump argued that this was unfair, and that O’Brien’s relying on sources that Trump couldn’t cross-examine ought to be evidence of the knowing falsity or reckless disregard for the truth (“actual malice”) that public figures are required to prove. The court instead looked at the totality of the reporting, and found that the passages in question were not solely the product of repeating defamatory statements from unnamed people.

The court took notice of the fact that O’Brien did not merely take the anonymous sources at their word but in fact the re-interviewed his confidential sources prior to publishing their net worth estimates. O’Brien also showed the court notes of his meetings which the court found significant, because all three interviews showed “remarkably similar estimates of Trump’s net worth, thereby suggesting the accuracy of the information conveyed.” Id.

According to the court, O’Brien made efforts to verify independently the information gleaned from his sources, and he did not adopt the low estimates of net worth set forth by his anonymous sources as fact. Instead, the court held, O’Brien utilized their lower figures as an illustration of the spread in estimates of Trump’s wealth, while suggesting that, in his own view, Trump’s net worth was far less than he claimed it to be. As a result, the case was dismissed, the court holding that: “[There was no] evidence to support Trump’s conclusion that the confidential sources utilized by O’Brien were fictitious, and no evidence to suggest that O’Brien’s reliance on the confidential sources suggested actual malice on O’Brien’s part.”

In short, careful and skeptical use of confidential sources, backstopped by independent fact checking and analysis may convince a court that your story, although derived from confidential sources, did not blindly adopt their statements as fact. That way, the confidential sources are not so central to the plaintiff’s case that the protections of the shield law should be surmounted by a sense of fairness due the plaintiff.

CHECKLIST FOR CONFIDENTIAL SOURCES AND THE SHIELD LAW

• Is your confidential source making a statement upon which you may be sued? If it is a potentially defamatory allegation, you should consult your newsroom lawyer prior to publication.

• Have you exhausted efforts to independently verify the information that your source gave you? Consider going back to your source and asking if there is any help they can provide.

• Remember that even if your state does have a shield law, they may not be applied in federal court. Don’t be overly emboldened by the shield law: ask yourself “if I have to prove my story in court without giving up my source, am I able to do so?”

• The promise of confidentiality is often considered a binding contract, and sources who are burned have the right to sue a publisher or reporter for financial compensation for lost wages, business opportunities and other expenses. The only way to avoid this possibility is to obtain a written waiver from the source allowing you to name him or her in the event you are sued.

• Never sign an agreement offering to provide your source legal defense in the event they are sued for talking to you. Courts have held this to be evidence of an improper motive on the sources’ part and a form of journalists paying people to say defamatory things. Consult a newsroom lawyer before having any conversations with sources in this regard.

Charles J. Glasser, Jr. spent the last 12 years as Global Media Counsel to Bloomberg News, responsible for litigation, ethical newsroom issues and pre-publication review, and was responsible for handling the work of more than 2,100 journalists on a 24-hour basis. Prior to joining Bloomberg, he represented a wide variety of news organizations including The New York Post, Readers’ Digest and NBC News. Prior to becoming an attorney, he was a journalist for 16 years. He is the author of “The International Libel and Privacy Handbook” and is currently a consultant on media law and corporate communications issues, and can be reached at charlesglasseresq@gmail.com or via www.charlesglasser.com.

 

dusty-ricketts

Biz editor to companies: Let me come work for you

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Northwest Florida Daily News business editor Dusty Ricketts has a plea to the companies in his area: Let me come work for you.

Ricketts writes, “Thankfully, I haven’t been fired as the business editor of the Daily News, but I am starting a new series that will run monthly in the business section.

“Other than a short stint of working on Destin Harbor scheduling fishing trips for some of the charter boats and a disastrous attempt at trying to sell lawn care over the telephone, my entire professional career has been spent in the newsroom of one newspaper or another.

“It’s time to change that, at least a little.

“This is my pitch to the business owners and managers in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties to put me to work.

“Let me come in and work a half day or full day for you. After it’s over, we talk about things like how I did and if I am hirable, and then I could come back to the comfort of my newsroom and write about the experience.”

Read more here.

Nadia Damouni

How a Reuters reporter got the Blackberry scoop

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On Friday, BlackBerry shares jumped 9 percent after Reuters reported exclusively that the company was considering going private. Nadia Damouni, Reuters corporate board correspondent, offers an inside look at the reporting behind the scoop.

Q. How did you get this exclusive?

A. BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion, has been a company that I have covered and followed for years — from the time I first alerted the world that Amazon had approached the device maker in 2011, earmarking the first signs that parties were making takeover overtures, to last week’s story that the board was open to a leverage buyout. Realizing that the company had a dire recent quarter made me increase efforts in reaching out to all my sources — ranging from corporate strategy heads, board members, private equity firms, investment bankers, lawyers and investor contacts. One of the most important components of getting a full and accurate picture was bringing in the beat reporter, in this case Euan Rocha and my private equity counterpart Greg Roumeliotis.

Q. What types of reporting/sourcing were involved?

A. These types of stories do not fall into your lap. It requires a huge amount of networking and building up trust among sources. That means going out, meeting with people face to face and being smart about sharing tips that you have garnered. One source can give you a nugget, and from there on it is up to you to put pieces of the puzzle together. In this case we spoke to a wide variety of sources from private equity to corporate strategy and board sources to deal makers.

Read more here.

icfj

Database journalism training offered for biz journalists

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The International Center for Journalists is offering an eight-week, online course for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking journalists working within the United States on how to find business and economics stories in data and using databases to find such stories.

A new and growing body of expertise and digital tools – data journalism – can help business and financial journalists better serve these audiences. In the McGraw-Hill Data Journalism Program, ICFJ will help journalists master this new set of tools and produce data-driven stories that raise financial literacy in underserved communities.

The program will give journalists reporting for minority and other underserved populations a variety of data journalism tools and techniques, including how to mine economic and financial databases. During training on ICFJ’s digital training platform journalists can take a course on finding, interpreting, visualizing, and reporting on this data.

The online courses will take place from Oct. 7, 2013 through Dec. 1, 2013. All applicants will be asked to propose a project that they will develop throughout the length of the course. A mentoring period to help participants finalize their projects will then take place from Dec. 2, 2013 until Jan. 26, 2014.

The English course will be led by UNC-Chapel Hill business journalism professor Chris Roush, and the Spanish course will be led by personal finance journalist Xavier Serbia.

Click here to apply now.

Reuters

Reuters reporter talks merger scoop

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Reuters reported exclusively Monday that American Airlines and US Airways will win EU approval for their $11 billion merger, creating the world’s largest carrier. The report, by senior competition correspondent Foo Yun Chee, was widely cited in the press and American Airlines shares jumped 1.75 percent following the scoop.

In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Yun Chee offers an inside look at how she scored the exclusive news.

Here is an excerpt:

Q. How did you get this exclusive?

A. I monitor numerous mergers even before they reach the stage where they have to apply for antitrust approval because this helps me to understand what possible competition hurdles are ahead for the companies. When I read that the carriers were likely to face tough scrutiny from U.S. antitrust regulators, I sounded out my sources in Brussels for a read-through of the situation for the companies in Europe. Understanding the key issues right from the start was crucial as it demonstrated to my sources that I knew what was going on and ultimately helped me land the scoop.

Q. What types of reporting/sourcing were involved?

A. I read the companies’ reports, other media stories and analyst notes. I also talked to various people involved in the case to build up a picture of how the antitrust process would develop and conclude.

Read more here.

Scams

New Mexico daily launching “Scam of the Week” feature

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The Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico is launching a new feature called “Scam of the Week” aimed at helping readers guard against fraud, identity theft and other unsavory business practices.

Assistant business editor Nick Pappas writes, “The new feature, which will appear in the Money section, will identify specific scams, explain how they work and offer expert advice on how to avoid falling prey to them.

“And depending on the type of scam, readers will be directed to contact the appropriate state or federal agencies, such as the Consumer Protection Division of the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission.

“Readers also will be encouraged to contact the Journal directly if they hear about or become the target of what they feel to be a bogus business offer. At that point, we’ll do our best to check it out and report back on its legitimacy. So watch for ‘Scam of the Week,’ starting Sunday in the Money section.”

Read more here.