Special to SABEW
PHOENIX — The Society of American Business Editors and Writers has selected 20 business journalists for a weeklong seminar in Washington, D.C., in February that will immerse them in data and accounting skills.
Journalists will learn and work with experts at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Census and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to explore the large cache of data each agency produces, as well as understand the importance of that data to the public. They will also get special briefings from the Council of Economic Advisers and the Federal Reserve, and get briefings on new investment data from the Investment Company Institute.
Additionally, the group will receive training in regulatory affairs from editors at Bloomberg Government. In addition, journalists learn from experts at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) on government accounting and audits.
The seminar, funded by the Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, will be held Feb. 9-13. The Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation has been a loyal SABEW funding partner since 2010.
“We were overwhelmed by the number and quality of applicants this year,” said Marty Steffens, SABEW Chair and University of Missouri business journalism professor, who will lead the training. “We received high praise from last year’s participants, many of whom recommended the training to other SABEW members.” Steffens and Kevin Hall, chief economic correspondent for McClatchy News Service in Washington, are chief organizers of the event.
The 2015 fellows along with some of their expectations for the session:
Becky Bowers, editor, Real Time economics, Wall Street Journal, Washington
In September, I joined the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal as editor of its Real Time Economics site. But while I’ve been designing my own crash-course in the data that underpins our coverage, nothing can replace the kind of intense workshop offered by the Goldschmidt data immersion program. Real Time Economics, as a blog that lives outside the WSJ.com paywall, strives to analyze and interpret economic data for a broad audience. We’re widening our reach on social media and in search, where readers go to figure out the confounding post-recession world. Investing in my expertise raises the literacy of our entire team — and by extension the wide digital audience we’re working so hard to reach.
Emily Bregel, investigative reporter, Arizona Daily Star, Tuscon
As an investigative reporter, I’ve often relied on census.gov for detailed, timely statistics. But I know I’m scraping the surface of the wealth of information available on the Census website and other federal sources. Like many journalists, my economics education is limited to what I’ve picked up on the job. But I know a deeper understanding of the day, and how to parse it, would make a real difference in my investigative capabilities. My reporting has focused on socioeconomic challenges, including entrenched poverty in Tucson. I want to know what public data is available as I report on our business and nonprofit sector and explore potential solutions to our area’s entrenched poverty.
Scott Calvert, mid-Atlantic reporter, Wall Street Journal, Baltimore
In my two decades as a reporter—much of it at the Baltimore Sun prior to my move to the WSJ earlier this year—I have never been a business reporter. But whether working for the metro desk, as a foreign correspondent or on investigative projects, I have often made use of economic data. But I have long wished I knew more. I have also worked on reporting projects involving data analysis. A Sun co-worker and I won the 2011 SABEW Best in Business award in the real estate category for a series of data-driven stories exposing problems with a major property tax break program in Baltimore.
At the Journal, finding stories nobody else has reported is highly prized. A great way to do that, of course, is to mine data and see what picture emerges from the numbers, then flesh it out by interviewing policy experts and “real people.” But first you have to know where to look.
Tom DiChristopher, enterprise writer and web producer, CNBC
I have been writing long-form journalism for more than six years, and hope that by gaining fluency in government data and the processes that produce them, I will be able to more consistently develop stories rooted in the trove of information that the relevant agencies compile. I also expect this experience will help me advance stories beyond headlines on data release days and allow me to serve as a newsroom resource to colleagues who want to deliver timely, sound reporting. Having worked as a broadcast news producer for CNBC for more than a year, I also know how to create compelling, data-driven video. I plan to use this training and the resources available to me at CNBC to continue producing web video.
Stephanie Forshee, research director, Puget Sound Business Journal, Seattle
I am extremely passionate about analyzing numbers and finding the important stories behind the data. I am also part of the new wave of researchers to join the staff of the American City Business Journals with a reporting background, vs. expertise only with research. I spend every waking moment, it seems, searching for new ways to become a better journalist and storyteller. By attending this training in February, I would be able to immerse myself even deeper into the numbers (from the databases that resonate most with readers), and I expect I will be able to come out a much stronger reporter.
Upon my return home from the workshops, I feel that my affiliation with American City Business Journals provides me a huge platform to share my experiences with at least 40 other groups of researchers and reporters at business publications across America’s major markets.
Shane Ferro, economics writer, Business Insider, New York
I couldn’t do my job without government data. I already use it daily. Knowing more about it is probably the best way for me to get much better at what I do. I’d love the opportunity to dig deep into government releases, accounting, and regulations, so that I can be a better reporter and my readers can be better informed.
Quentin Fottrell, consumer reporter, Marketwatch
I write daily articles for The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch site on anything that impacts consumers, so I have an unusually wide beat. That could anything from marriage/divorce and the impact of digital media on our lives to healthcare and the housing market. I often use raw government data to tell a long-term story on subjects such as how long Americans stay in one job, to illustrate how even economists grapple with statistics or the long-term factors effecting women’s participation in the workforce. Of course, I sometimes use information from third parties – academic and industry reports – that analyze government and Census Bureau statistics. Recently, these have included the unemployment rate of millennials and the economic benefits of same-sex marriage. Ultimately, my role at MarketWatch is to inform our readers about wider economic issues in a way that’s easy to understand, and to also explain why they should care about certain statistics that might seem overwhelming. Sometimes, that starts with one data point.
Ron Hansen, economy reporter, Arizona Republic, Phoenix
Knowing more about the operations and offerings of these various agencies would help me better relate what is happening in Arizona’s economy to my readers. During the Great Recession, only one state lost a greater share of its work force than Arizona. This state has recovered more slowly in jobs and spending. Readers here want to know when things are getting better. Having a firmer grasp of the important measures of the economy will give me a fuller understanding of where to look for signs of changing conditions. I have great interest in economics and an unusually deep understanding of numbers and data tools. I teach computer-assisted reporting at Arizona State University’s journalism school, so any information I pick up from the Goldschmidt immersion trip could be shared more widely with aspiring journalists as well.
Stephanie Hoops, business reporter, Ventura County Star
I’m a business reporter with the Ventura County Star and am eager to learn the difference between government and nonprofit accounting, hear from the Federal Reserve and learn about each of the areas to be discussed. Like many newspapers, in recent months we implemented changes and downsized. I am the remaining person left on our business desk and am hungry to breathe new life into my coverage and get ideas from other business journalists. I’d be overjoyed to get an invitation to attend your program.
Irina Ivanova, healthcare reporter, Crain’s New York Business
I’d like to broaden my economic knowledge to be able to look at national issues—not just New York, which is so often a world unto itself. I hope to also get a better understanding of how federal policy plays out on the micro level of states and cities. I’ve made small steps in the data space, helping revamp a data-driven newsletter for Crain’s and reporting a video about the city’s jobs numbers that won a Neal award. I’d like to keep learning and do better in this vein.Topics I’m now pursuing—and that could benefit from a good dose of federal data—include how the Affordable Care Act is saving New York money on Medicare; changes nonprofits are making to respond to stricter compensation laws, and labor unions’ love-hate relationship with health care reform. I hope also that, in the course of these workshops, I can form relationships with those who keep the data and draw on them in future reporting.
James T. Madore, economic reporter, Newsday
I write about the New York-area economy for Newsday, a 450,000-circulation daily newspaper on Long Island. I also report on the connection between government and business, particularly economic development initiatives such as the tax-free zones program, START-UP NY. I’ve been on the beat since returning to the paper’s headquarters after serving as statehouse bureau chief from 2007 to early 2011. I’ve never covered the economy and my educational background – 20th century British history – doesn’t help much. And like most papers, Newsday has lost many seasoned journalists to buyouts so guidance from peers is limited.
Kim Peterson, market and economy reporter, CBSMoneywatch, Gilbert, AZ
I cover markets and the economy for CBS, covering everything from why the Pentagon is helping raise baby goats to why the labor force participation rate is at its lowest level since 1978. I’m good at pulling numbers together on deadline, and yet I just feel like I’m skimming. Like a fisherman with the wrong bait, I can sense that the big ones are there for the taking, just below the surface, and yet I can’t reach them.
This workshop will go a long way in helping me change course. It will teach me how to get at the numbers and, perhaps more importantly, who I can call to help me get there. It’s so hard to cultivate this knowledge on my own, when I’m writing two to three articles a day with little time to even breathe.
Margot Roosevelt, economy reporter, Orange County Register
With 3 million residents, we are the third most populous county in California, and the sixth most populous in the US. Orange County is more than a third Latino and nearly a fifth Asian. Forty percent of businesses are owned by immigrants. Every month, I cover jobs numbers from the state’s employment dept., which relies on BLS and the Census Bureau. I marvel at the many ways those numbers can be analyzed and interpreted. I haven’t begun to plumb the depth of data that the many economic agencies have to offer.
BLS statisticians have helped me with the numbers to write stories about long term unemployment, joblessness among veterans, prejudice against ex-offenders, the dearth of opportunities for recent high school and college grads, the flight of manufacturing. Your workshop would give me the tools to delve into the data myself, to go beyond relying on what a given BLS analyst tells me, and to reconcile the sometimes conflicting sets of indicators from different agencies.”
Samantha Sharf, markets and personal finance reporter, Forbes
I’ve come to love dissecting the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly jobs report and have become fascinated by the revisions to the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ GDP estimates. At the same time I wish I knew more. The Goldschmidt training would help me deepen my general economics coverage but also provide the skills necessary to further study the Millennial generation. I also write about personal finance for young people. In this beat I offer tips guiding this generation through their unique financial challenges. I also have the opportunity to bust myths about them. In a recent cover story I explained how contrary to popular belief coming of age during the recession left Millennials fiscally conservative and I explored how this fact is shaping the latest financial tech boom. Writing that story was the most riveting experience in my career in part because of the experience of watching my more experience co-writer pull meaning from data that I would have not known to look for. I want to be able to do that and know the Goldschmidt training would be a huge step in the right direction.
Dave Shaw, senior editor, Marketplace, Washington DC
As the editor of the Washington and healthcare desks at Marketplace, the suite of public radio business programs heard by nearly 12 million people each week, I face the daily challenge of translating abstruse and often esoteric information into a form that will be of interest to a general audience. Marketplace programs often rely on government data, so learning the menu of available information, as well as the mistakes economists and others make in interpreting that information, would inform my work every day. I’ve been in my role at Marketplace since last summer, and I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a “reformed generalist,” which is to say I have broad training and experience in how to create compelling and interesting journalism, but I am still gaining the subject matter expertise that helps me sharpen my story pitches about business and the economy.
Sean Sposito, data specialist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
I’m the point person for how the business desk quantifies its reporting. Whether that’s census stats or more arcane municipally collected information, such as an inventory of condition of the city’s housing stock, I’m the go-to-guy. (But) in terms of the numbers behind federal economic data, I don’t have a lot of experience. I’ve never covered the federal reserve, and I’m blind to the ways the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Census and a number of other private companies technically tracks numbers through public and proprietary means.This training could help me fill in those gaps. In short, this fellowship could help the newsroom gain a better understanding of how to cover the state as it moves past the recession and economically redefines itself.
Janet Tu, economy reporter, Seattle Times
I am a veteran journalist who has developed expertise in several different fields, from religion to Microsoft. But the data that will be used on the economy beat is new to me. I’m hoping the training will lay the groundwork for developing my expertise in this field, so I can better help Seattle Times readers understand the economic trends and forces that affect their lives. Stories I already have in mind for which such data would be needed include those covering the long-term unemployed, people cobbling together several part-time jobs to make ends meet, what “middle class” is in Seattle – and in America – these days, and what the income and wealth gaps look like in Washington state and the U.S.”
Becky Yerak, financial service reporter, Chicago Tribune
I cover financial services. That beat has expanded to include “earning, spending and borrowing” related to consumers and businesses. I’m so committed to developing my skills that I regularly spend about half of my vacation, on my own dime, to attend journalism conferences. I’ve heard speakers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and have listened to presentations from journalists who use Census data. Last month, I did a story on how much Chicago companies spent on research and development. To put the numbers in perspective, I used Bureau of Economic Analysis data to show how U.S. companies overall were spending on “intellectual property,” including R&D. In 2013, I wrote about a toy manufacturer, and, for context, I included Census data showing trends in the number of toy plants and employment levels over decades. In September, I reported how Illinois companies were cutting their taxes, getting an accounting crash course.Just think – I’m already using data from BEA, Census and others with little training. Imagine how many more stories I could produce after Goldschmidt. The prospect of asking the American Institute of CPAs about corporate taxes has me excited.
Amy Zipkin, freelance, Westport, CT
Amy Zipkin is a freelance business journalist who reports on management, workplace and careers, business travel and personal finance. Her bylines include The New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal special sections among other publications. She blogs about business trends at www.amyzipkin.com.