Tag Archives: Reporting tips
by Liz Hester
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.
by Liz Hester
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Liz Hester
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.
by Chris Roush
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. Editor‘s 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.
by Liz Hester
The New York Times scored a major scoop Monday night when they broke the news that AIG was thinking of joining a lawsuit against the U.S. government. Here are some of the details from its story published Jan. 7 at 10:30 p.m.:
Fresh from paying back a $182 billion bailout, the American International Group has been running a nationwide advertising campaign with the tagline “Thank you America.”
Behind the scenes, the restored insurance company is weighing whether to tell the government agencies that rescued it during the financial crisis: thanks, but you cheated our shareholders.
The board of A.I.G. will meet on Wednesday to consider joining a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government, court records show. The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed. It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue — the taking of what became a 92 percent stake in the company, the deal’s high interest rates and the funneling of billions to the insurer’s Wall Street clients — deprived shareholders of tens of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for “public use, without just compensation.”
Maurice R. Greenberg, A.I.G.’s former chief executive, who remains a major investor in the company, filed the lawsuit in 2011 on behalf of fellow shareholders. He has since urged A.I.G. to join the case, a move that could nudge the government into settlement talks.
The choice is not a simple one for the insurer. Its board members, most of whom joined after the bailout, owe a duty to shareholders to consider the lawsuit. If the board does not give careful consideration to the case, Mr. Greenberg could challenge its decision to abstain.
Having been on the receiving end of many phone calls about matching and advancing scoops such as this, I know it wasn’t a fun evening for many insurance reporters. But let’s take a look at some of their work advancing the story.
The Wall Street Journal opted for a straight, short match of the story, giving credit to the New York Times. They did have the detail high up that the suit was filed on behalf of Starr International, controlled by Greenberg. Here are a couple of paragraphs:
In July, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Greenberg’s lawsuit, which accuses the U.S. government of engineering an unconstitutional bailout of the insurer, could proceed. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruling allowed most of the case brought on behalf of Starr to proceed, while dismissing some claims.
Starr sued the government in 2011, saying its taking of a roughly 80% AIG stake and extending tens of billions of dollars in credit with an onerous initial interest rate of roughly 15% deprived shareholders of their due process and equal protection rights.
Bloomberg took a different approach in their story, advancing it by taking the angle that AIG joining the suit would be difficult and quoting a former bailout executive.
American International Group Inc. (AIG), the insurer that’s weighing whether to join a shareholder suit alleging its 2008 bailout was unconstitutional, would face tough odds in court, a former government watchdog said.
AIG’s board is scheduled to meet tomorrow to review whether it should join a case brought in 2011 by former Chief Executive Officer Maurice “Hank” Greenberg. The ex-CEO said that the rescue cheated shareholders by diluting their stake in the company. The insurer needed help after it was unable to raise money in equity and bond markets to pay clients who had bought protection against losses on mortgage-related securities.
“The idea that AIG would have been better off by going bankrupt, for the shareholders is a very, very hard thing to sell, I think, to a judge,” Neil Barofsky, the former inspector general of the U.S. Troubled Asset Relief Program said today on Bloomberg Television. Greenberg has “one of the best lawyers on the planet,” he said, “but I just don’t see how you get past the fact the board voted” to accept U.S. aid.
The lawsuit presents both legal and public-relations challenges for a company that repaid the remainder of a $182.3 billion bailout last year. The New York-based insurer last week began an advertising campaign to thank taxpayers for their support and highlight that the U.S. made a profit on the rescue.
Reuters did a round up of what political leaders were saying at the top of their story:
A leading congressional Democrat called criticism of the deal’s terms “utterly ridiculous,” and former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer – who probed AIG when he was in office – called the prospect of a suit “insulting to the public.”
The White House declined to comment on the potential for a lawsuit but defended the bailout.
Meanwhile, newly elected Senator Elizabeth Warren, feared by Wall Street as a potential thorn in its side on the Senate Banking Committee, called the suit talk “outrageous” and said the company should not “bite the hand that fed them for helping them out in a crisis.”
No matter the angle, it was a good win for the Times and promises to yield coverage after the board meets. Stay tuned on this one.
by Chris Roush
Wanchee Wang of the University of Pennsylvania alumni magazine profiles Bloomberg Television anchor Betty Liu about her career in business journalism.
Wang writes, “‘I always think about viewers when I’m doing an interview,’ Betty Liu C’95 is saying. ‘If they’re going to spend five minutes with me and listen in on an interview, what do they want to get out of it? There’s always a way you can ask a tough question without putting them off. There’s an art to it and I definitely had to learn the art.’
“She’s a fast learner. As the host of Bloomberg TV’s In the Loop with Betty Liu, she brings the day’s economic news to a global audience that has more than its share of affluent, highly educated, influential businesspeople. They rely on Liu and her team of reporters to give them the financial news and analyses in a straightforward, objective way. Since the show’s debut in 2007, Liu has interviewed the likes of Warren Buffett, Jack Welch, Ted Turner, and Rupert Murdoch. And she’s not afraid to ask tough questions—or take on new responsibilities. Last year, in addition to In the Loop, she premiered a new TV show, Titans at the Table, and a Bloomberg Radio showcalled In the Loop at the Half.
“‘I love what I do and I think that shows,’ says Liu. ‘Even though I accidentally fell into business news, I have grown to love every part of it — so I want to do more of it. Luckily I have an opportunity at Bloomberg where if I have an idea, if they like it, they’ll go for it.’
“The idea behind Titans at the Table, which airs four times a year, was to replicate the casual networking-over-a-meal that happens on Wall Street and throughout the business world. Liu (or occasionally another host) interviews leaders and captains of industry over dinner at restaurants ranging from The Modern in Manhattan to Gino’s East in Chicago. Her guests have included hedge-fund managers, banking CEOs, even Chicago mayor and former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel.”
Read more here.
No company enjoys admitting that it is having financial troubles or is in danger of shutting its doors, and typically does everything in its power to spin a positive outlook to the media and consumers.
This desire to maintain a successful image makes it even trickier for a reporter to cover foundering companies.
In my weekend reading, I came across an article from The Wall Street Journal, “For Four Retailers, Do or Die.” The article highlighted Best Buy Co., J.C. Penney Co., RadioShack Corp. and Sears Holdings Corp. as four retailers who, going into 2013, have 12 critical months ahead of them to either turn around or fail.
In addition to these four companies that have gotten the brunt of tough coverage from analysts and retail reporters in the past year as they’ve faced financial woes, smaller chains such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. and Barnes & Noble Inc. have also experienced trouble.
As roundups of the year are published and commentators are predicting which companies will may disappear in 2013, such as this one by 24/7 Wall St., I’m left wondering how business journalists should best approach stories about struggling retailers and also how they should handle the relationship with those companies.
What is the best way to approach the public relations team and company executives for commentary and honest answers when both parties know that the article most likely won’t make the company involved look good?
I’ve looked at some stories that have been published during the past year to see how news outlets have covered these retailers and how journalists have worked with the company to quote it in the story.
From most of the stories that I read, the best stories that covered difficult subjects removed any opinion about a company and inserted indisputable facts and figures first, before quoting analysts or investors, who obviously influence the tone of a story. Many of the stories cited sales figures, comparing them to previous years and to competitors, or took a look at market share.
The reporters would also look at retail trends in recent years and illustrate whether retailers had kept pace or stayed ahead of trends or had fallen behind and started too late.
The most reliable of the stories also made mentions of attempting to talk to a company, or, at best, quoted executives at the company or public relations officials with whom the reporters had had personal conversations.
Bloomberg published a story in October about Abercrombie’s declining sales and bizarre requests by its Chief Executive Officer Michael Jeffries during corporate jet flights. The only comment from the company present in the article is an e-mailed statement provided by the company that said the board supported Jeffries’s strategy for the company.
“In an e-mailed statement provided by the company, lead independent director Craig Stapleton said the board supports Jeffries’s strategy. The company doesn’t comment on rumors and speculation, General Counsel Rocky Robins said in the same e- mail.”
This type of general e-mailed statement provides no information, and refusals by a company to comment at all seems far too common in company coverage stories. Those kind of statements aren’t beneficial to the company and its public relations team, to the reporter or to the consumers of news.
A lack of comment doesn’t allow the company to share its side of the story and only makes it look guilty or having no good answer or rebuttal to the questions a reporter is asking. A simple statement, such as the e-mailed one in the Abercrombie story, is better than no commentary, but not by much.
If companies are offered a voice in a story about them — and they should be if a story is fair an accurate — then they should take it.
The best type of comment, of course, is one that provides both accurate information and insight into a company’s situation from either a PR person for the company or from an executive. This is more rare, and sometimes when this does happen, the person will ask for anonymity in a story.
In the past, I’ve covered a company whose public relations team called me with some negative information about the company and provided me with supporting quotes, but would not let me give the names of my sources in the story. No matter how much I asked, they refused to budge.
In this case, unfortunately, the PR team seems to have the upper hand, as the reporter wants to scoop the information and can typically get permissions from editors to publish the story. In August, The Journal wrote a story about Best Buy’s turnaround plan, quoting “people familiar with the matter,” which is one of the most common ways to quote an anonymous source.
Other popular ways that I’ve seen reporters quote a company in a story that has negative undertones is typically to pull quotes from a conference call, such as this story about J.C. Penney’s marketing strategy by The Journal in June.
A significant number of business stories quote conference calls, which I don’t believe is the best way to get the voice of a company into a story. This shortcut can be beneficial when a reporter is pressed for time and needs to get a story out quickly or has repeatedly tried to get a company to comment to no avail.
Using a conference call or investor conference quote as a replacement to interacting personally with public relations seems lazy and takes away the possibility of developing a relationship with the company and receiving newsbreaking information in the future.
While calling to ask probing or negative questions about a company isn’t always the easiest, it provides the opportunity to receive the most accurate and original answers, which can lead to the best story.
by Chris Roush
Steve Sink, the retiring business editor at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in New York, wrote his farewell column and offered advice to those remaining in the industry.
Sink wrties, “I’m grateful to Editor Karen Magnuson for taking a chance on a 57-year-old who insisted he still had plenty of gas left in the tank.
“I started writing this column in May 2007, at Karen’s urging, so there have been roughly 300 of them.
“Your emails and calls and letters (yes, some people still write letters, God bless ’em) have made doing the column a pleasure. A reader in Hemlock, Livingston County, wrote to me recently that she appreciated my ‘intelligence, broad mindedness and openness to varied views.’ I think she wanted to change my mind about hydrofracking, but hey, I’ll accept the kind words with gratitude.
“Others have said I do a good job of making complex subjects understandable, even interesting, and I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel because that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do. My approach has been simple — find people smarter than I am (not difficult), get them talking about their field of expertise, and relay what I learn to you.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Jimmy Settle, the business editor of the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle in Tennessee, writes about how business news coverage is really about people more than money.
Settle writes, “The fact that Hemlock Semiconductor is building a $1.2 billion polysilicon plant means that, not only is the company going to be a major employer paying good wages, but it is going to bolster the local tax base enormously, supporting schools and a whole host of community needs while bringing the benefits of education into more homes – which will, in turn, enhance and improve our regional quality of life.
“These are the often-understated, underlying reasons why we have business and financial news in the first place – to tell us how we’re doing as a community and at the household level, and to provide some forecast for where we are going.
“Business news is, most importantly, about people, and both defining and tracking their basic needs.
“With the news that things are continually improving in the Clarksville-area economy – generally speaking at least, it is my hope and prayer that this will bring everyone some peace and comfort heading into 2013.
“I appreciate you, the reader, and the resident of northern middle Tennessee. You are the economy. You are what makes this community what it is.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Nine of 15 cabinet offices have yet to release details of their out-of-town travel records six months after Bloomberg News filed requests for those documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
Jim Snyder and Danielle Ivory of Bloomberg News write, “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services are among those who haven’t complied.
“The law requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 working days. Watchdogs say the delays show that the president hasn’t fulfilled his promise of greater transparency, and one group found that more than half of 99 federal offices ignored a directive to overhaul the way they respond to filings.
“‘I’m concerned about the overall transparency arc for Obama’s second term,’ said John Wonderlich, policy director at Washington-based open-government group the Sunlight Foundation. ‘Has he given up on that mantle of being the transparency reformer?’
“Bloomberg reporters in June filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act for records on taxpayer-supported travel in fiscal year 2011 for 57 Cabinet departments and major government agencies.”
Read more here.