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Reynolds Week 2010 Blog


Fellowships offered for January business journalism seminars in Phoenix

Hani Shawwa, a producer for Reuters Insider, sorts through company statements during the 2010 Strictly Financials seminar in Phoenix.

ATTENTION: Experienced business journalists and prospective business journalism professors.

The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism is offering 24 fellowships worth $2,000 each for four days of study in business journalism – Jan. 4-7 in Phoenix.

Fellowships cover training, lodging, materials and most meals. Fellows receive a $500 stipend to offset travel and other costs.

The seminars will occur during Reynolds Business Journalism Week at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The journalists’ Strictly Financials seminar teaches the essentials of covering financials, from stock markets and bonds to financial statements and company research. | More on the Strictly Financials seminar

The Business Journalism Professors seminar will cover the essentials of teaching a hands-on, university course in business journalism. | More on the Business Journalism Professors seminar

The fourth annual, concurrent seminars (with 12 Fellows attending each one) will be led by award-winning professors and journalists, including Jimmy Gentry, journalism professor at the University of Kansas.

One highlight will be a discussion with the legendary investigative-reporting duo of Don Barlett and Jim Steele, along with the 2010 winners of the Reynolds Center’s Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism.

Rachel Tobin Ramos, a 2010 fellow and business reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said, “It gave me much more confidence in my financial reporting, has allowed me to ask better and smarter questions, and overall improved my coverage. I cannot thank the Reynolds Center enough for this amazing course.”

A 2008 fellow, Roger Desmond of the University of Hartford, won a university innovation award for starting a business journalism course. He said the award “came with some extra money for research and travel, and of course, I owe it all to you!”

TO APPLY, Deadline Nov. 1: For information on the two seminars, including how to apply online, go to the call for Strictly Financials or Business Journalism Professors.

Questions? E-mail Andrew Leckey, Reynolds Center president,or call 602-496-9186.

The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, located at ASU’s Cronkite School, was launched in 2003. More than 10,000 journalists have benefited from its free training. A calendar of upcoming free workshops, as well as daily tips on how to cover business better, are at BusinessJournalism.org.

The Center is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.


Reynolds Week 2010 seminar videos – Day 4

These classroom videos are from Reynolds Week 2010, Day 4 lectures. The videos are captured by automated equipment in the classroom and are unedited. You can fast-forward through breaks and there is a notation after each VIDEO link that points out when in the video the lecture begins.

Click on the link and then click on whether you want to view the video a high-speed or slow-speed version.



1. ‘Credit Crisis and Market Crash of 2008: What’s Next?,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 8, 2010, 8:15 a.m.
VIDEO – this session begins at about 19 minutes.

2. ‘Credit Crisis and Market Crash of 2008: What’s Next?,’ continued, Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 8, 2010,10 a.m.
VIDEO – the session begins at about the 10-minute mark.



1.’Finding Business in Every Beat,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 8, 10 a.m.
VIDEO -the session begins at the 21-minute mark.



Reynolds Week 2010 seminar videos – Day 3

These classroom videos are from Reynolds Week 2010, Day 3 lectures. The videos are captured by automated equipment in the classroom and are unedited. You can fast-forward through breaks and there is a notation after each VIDEO link that points out when in the video the lecture begins.

Click on the link and then click on whether you want to view the video a high-speed or slow-speed version.


1. ‘Decoding Financial Statements, ‘ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 2010, 8:15 a.m.
VIDEO - the lesson begins at about 35 minutes, nearly at the end of this first video.

2. ‘Decoding Financial Statements’ continued, Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 2010, 10:15 a.m.
VIDEO – the lecture is in session at the start.

3. ‘Investing in a Time of Uncertainty,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 2010, 3:15 p.m.
VIDEO – the lecture begins at about 21 minutes.


1. ‘Mission Possible: Assignments that Build Skills,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 2010, 8:15 a.m.
VIDEO – the session begins at about 44:30.

2. ‘Preparing Students for Business Journalism’s Future,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 9:45 a.m.
VIDEO - the event is in session at the beginning of this video.

3. ‘What They Don’t Tell You about Teaching Business Journalism,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 11 a.m.
VIDEO – the session starts at the video’s beginning.

4.‘Teaching the Effective Use of Data in Business Coverage,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 1:15 p.m.
VIDEO - the session begins at about 24 minutes.

5. ‘Covering Business and Government after the Financial Debacle,’ Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Jan. 7, 3:15 p.m.
VIDEO - the session begins at about 15 minutes.


What are the next folos on the financial meltdown?

Gary Trennepohl, president of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa

Gary Trennepohl, president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, offered these potential stories to the Strictly Financials fellows, following up on the credit crisis and market crash of 2008:

  • What is the future for the smart securitization of assets? Who will regulate them, and who will rate them?
  • Is there another crash coming in the housing market?
  • What will happen to commercial real estate? Some are calling it the next shoe to drop. Commercial property prices have declined 42 percent over the past two years. Fifty-five percent of commercial mortgages that will mature in the next five years are underwater, meaning the property is worth less than the amount of the loan. The delinquency rate in October was 5 percent, versus 1 percent a year ago. (These stats are from The Business Insider, Nov. 16, 2009: MIT statistics.) Most commercial real estate lending is done by local banks, who avoided the problems with mortgage-backed securities. How are banks in your area affected by commercial real estate loans? Is your pension fund, hedge fund or other institutional investor exposed to real estate losses?
  • What happens when people walk away from their mortgages?
  • Will another financial crisis ensue as mortgages are recast with more favorable terms for borrowers? This is one reason the government is so concerned about keeping interest rates low, which also means a weak dollar.
  • Will the Federal Reserve regulate the market for credit-default swaps by forcing trading in them to an exchange? Who will regulate them? A credit-default swap is a contract between two entities called counterparties. The buyer pays premiums to the seller, who in return promises to pay the buyer if an underlying bond or loan defaults.

Where will grads find journalism jobs?

Jodi Schneider

Jodi Schneider, a senior editor for American Banker in Washington who handles newsroom recruiting, predicts that jobs for new grads will be in specialty pubs and Web sites, not small-town newspapers.

In addition to understanding their niche — such as energy or politics — and multimedia, new grads need the ability “to decipher complicated information in whatever field they’re in,” she said in a session for business journalism professors during Reynolds Business Journalism Week.

“They still need to know how to be journalists. They need to know the difference between primary and secondary sources….They need to be able to ask the right kinds of questions. They need to be able to source. They need to be able to use documents well.”

“It’s not real sexy necessarily,” she said of the niche-site jobs, but it’s a way to have a job out of school and get started on a path to bigger and better jobs in media.

The traditional path of moving from smaller to bigger newspapers is less viable because few newspapers are hiring, she said.

In her previous position, Schneider was in charge of newsroom training for Congressional Quarterly.  She is also a former local business editor at the Washington Post.


Why should journalists use social media?

Robin J. Phillips

For journalists, social-networking sites can be used as a communication tool, a source for news stories, a breaking-news platform, another place to publish content and a way to grow audience.

Robin J. Phillips, Web managing editor for BusinessJournalism.org, made those points to a combined lunch-time session of business journalists and business journalism professors during Reynolds Business Journalism Week.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are just tools. We are the social media,” she said.

She noted that Twitter has carried the first reports of major news events, including the first photo of the USAirways crash in the Hudson River and the news of Michael Jackson’s death.

To get started, she suggests taking a look at what other business journalists are tweeting. Muck Rack has one of the better lists of business journalists who tweet. BusinessJournalism.org also maintains a list of business journalists on Twitter. See whom the journalists you like are following and follow them.

She offered several ways to search for sources using social media:

  • An Arizona Republic reporter found 1982 graduates for a story on how college grads did in the last big recession by searching Facebook for those identifying themselves in their profiles as having graduated that year.
  • www.search.twitter.com will search for specific words in tweets, such as unemployed, and can be parsed down to a specific geography by using the advanced search.
  • HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, offers a way to get specific sorts of people to respond. Using an URGHARO, or urgent HARO, Megan K. Scott at The Associated Press was able to get several skiers to respond to a question about their helmet use within a matter of hours for a folo on Natasha Richardson’s death.

She advised that users of social media are looking for loyalty, news, instant impact and real people. She said to lead with the good stuff, write killer heads and be real.

More than 300,000 businesses are on Facebook alone, and some larger companies, such as Ford Motor Co. and Virgin America, have employees assigned to monitoring what’s being said by their customers on social media and responding to it.

You can follow the Reynolds Center on Twitter @BizJournalism.


Can you beat the stock market?

In short, no, says Gary Trennepohl, president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

Speaking to Strictly Financial fellows, he says that the market is so efficient that it’s almost impossible to beat it.  New information is widely, quickly and cheaply available and is rapidly reflected in security prices.

There are two main camps of analysts of stocks:

  • Technical analysts believe that all information about a security is reflected in its previous prices. They use past prices in an attempt to predict future price movements in the stock. They tend to be short-term traders and are sometimes called “the elves.”
  • Fundamental analysts focus on accounting data and economic factors to calculate the true value of a stock. Most brokerage research reports are fundamental analysis. Warren Buffett is a fundamental analyst. They believe that the market is rational and that value is derived from expected earnings, dividends and cash flow.

In both cases, he says, the information that both rely on has already been incorporated in security prices.

He says investment income is maximized by holding a well-diversified portfolio over time and minimizing trading costs and search costs.

“The market is so scrutinized and so well-followed, it’s almost impossible to generate” a return greater than the market over time, he says.

“Nobody who is doing a legitimate investment business is going to be doing 20 percent a year” in returns every year, he says.

He also notes that daily stock stories that attempt to show a causal relationship between events and market movements are jumping to conclusions. He suggests stating what the market did that day and what other events occurred that day, but not saying one is the result of the other.





Use ratios to decode financial statements

Gary Trennepohl during Reynolds Week 2010

Gary Trennepohl, president of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, offers these tips to the Strictly Financials fellows in how to decode financial statements. Trennepohl is the former dean of the College of Business Administration at the OSU campus in Stillwater.

He suggests using these ratios to judge a company’s profitability.  For all, the higher the number, the better. They include:

  • net profit margin = net profit after tax divided by sales. One way to increase this number is to reduce costs while keeping output the same. Another is to increase sales by raising prices or expanding into new markets or product lines.
  • return on assets = net profit after tax divided by total assets. This is a measure of the return on the investment in the company. How does that compare to what someone could have gotten if he had put the money in a CD at the bank? This ratio measures how well the company is managing its assets.
  • total asset turnover = sales divided by total assets.

Here are some other ratios that affect profitability:

  • inventory turnover = costs of goods sold divided by inventory.  The higher the number, the better.
  • accounts receivable collection period = accounts receivable divided by (sales/365 days) or sales per day.  A company would like it to be zero, but does it at least match the company’s collection period, usually 30 days?

And these ratios can help analyze how a company is financed. A company can sell stock or bonds to raise capital. Debt is generally cheaper than equity.

  • debt ratio = total debt/total assets. A lower number is less risky. It will lie between 0 and 1.
  • debt/equity ratio = total debt/total equity. This ratio gives the same info as the previous one, but the number is not bounded. Again, a lower number is less risky.
  • equity multiplier = total assets/common equity. This tells us the impact of leverage on earnings.

And here’s a very important ratio: return on equity = net earnings (or earnings available to common shareholders) divided by common equity. It establishes the rate of return generated for common stockholders. The higher the number, the better, if it’s consistent through time. Fifteen to 25 percent is typical.

He also says to use  this profitability model to see how a company is generating profits. It is useful because it separates return on equity into three components:

  • financial leverage (equity multiplier)
  • operating efficiency (net profit margin)
  • asset utilization (total asset turnover)

Return on equity is a function of all three factors. Return on equity equals net profit margin (or net profits/sales) times total asset turnover (or sales/total assets) times the equity multiplier (or total assets/common equity).


Award honors two inspirational business series

Rob Barry, Donald Barlett, James Steele

Rob Barry, left, and Donald Barlett listen while James Steele discusses investigative reporting. Photo by Molly J. Smith

This year’s winners of the Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism are the type of journalists that get your blood pumping.

Their work exposes fraud, holds powers accountable and highlights the voiceless. They’ve got enough passion for the craft to inspire the jaded and the series they penned in 2008 prove that investigative business journalism can thrive, even during a time newsroom cutbacks and industry uncertainty.

The team from The Miami Herald – Jack Dolan, Matthew Haggman and Rob Barry –  used computer assisted reporting to identify mortgage brokers with criminal records who were ripping off Florida residents. Reporters from Bloomberg Markets investigated the shady fees that AARP collects on members’ insurance policies.

On Wednesday, the winners were highlighted in a panel discussion with Don Barlett and Jim Steele as part of Reynolds Business Week. The fellows from the Strictly Financials and Business Journalism Professor seminars listened as the journalist talked about the reporting behind their stories and the future of investigative business journalism.

“The good news is, there is more investigative journalism being done now than ever before,” Barlett said during a panel discussion about the projects and the pool of submissions for the award.

Meet Don Barlett & Jim Steele

In this video, Jim Steele explains why investigative business journalism is vital in newsrooms.

Don Barlett details the challenges of investigative business journalism and offers advice for reporters tackling in-depth stories.

To learn more about the investigative dream team of Barlett & Steel, check out this story.

Winners of the 2009 awards

Here’s a brief overview of this year’s winners and a list of the projects that received honorable mention.

Reporters Jack Dolan, Matthew Haggman and Rob Barry from The Miami Herald discuss their series “Borrowers Betrayed,” which won the gold award in the Barlett & Steele contest. Also, make sure to check out the full series.

Gary Cohn and Darrell Preston, silver award winners from Bloomberg Markets magazine, share the story behind their project “AARP Stealth Fees.”

Previous winners

A complete list of the 2008 and 2007 projects that grabbed the Barlett & Steele awards and also past honorable mention finalists.

Learn about the reporting behind BusinessWeek’s “Prisoners of Debt” series by Brian Grow, Robert Berner, Keith Epstein and Gery Smith, which took the top honors in the 2008 awards.

Walt Bogdanich discusses “A Toxic Pipeline,” a series he wrote with Jake Hooker for The New York Times. Their work received the first-place award in 2007.

Fred Schulte and June Arney of The Baltimore Sun talk about their series, “On Shaky Ground,” which grabbed the second-place $2,000 Barlett & Steele award in 2007.

Submit your work

Here’s the details on how enter your work in the 2010 Barlett & Steele awards.