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SABEW 2013: Photos


Inside award-winning breaking news: How to prepare, plan and execute

American Airlines

Photo: Aviation Queen / Benet Wilson

Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Andrea Ahles, Box Cox, Gordon Dickson, Scott Nishimura and Mitchell Schnurman won a Society of American Business Editors and Writers Best in Business award last month for their day one coverage of American Airlines’ bankruptcy filing.

The package included stories about the filing, the incoming CEO and labor unions. It became the front-page centerpiece and the business news cover, and it filled two inside pages.

“The filing was touching our readers in more than ‘this company filed for bankruptcy,’” says Andrea, my former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It was a comprehensive package because we knew we had to get story out there.”

Big day one packages like this can’t be executed without a plan.

Today’s First Tip: Have a plan to deal with major stories on your beat.

While the filing was expected, no one knew exactly when it would happen. So Andrea, Bob, the managing editor, the photo editor, the digital editor and a designer all met to iron out a plan a month before the filing.

“Usually bankruptcies don’t come out blue,” she says. “It’s a question of when.”

Bob has experience writing about unions so he handled the union angle. Andrea knew the airport board had a scheduled meeting that day so Gordon covered it.

Second Tip: Push to get stories online quickly then think about the print version.

Andrea Ahles

Many pieces of the story were posted online, giving editors earlier access and keeping readers up to date. For instance, Andrea says she had an 8:30 a.m. interview with the new chief executive. By 9:15 a.m., she had the Q&A posted on the paper’s Sky Talk blog. Her editors pulled that post for the paper.

Andrea says she started focusing on the print edition of her story around 4 p.m. She knew the print edition had to differ from online versions, but the information would be the same.

Third Tip: If it’s your beat, backread all the copy in a package.

“I backread all of the stories to be sure everybody was on same page,” she says.

Her day ended at about 11 p.m., she says. She’ll remember it not only because the filing had a major impact on Fort Worth, but also because it was her birthday.



Young journalist asks: ‘Where are all the journalists of color covering business?’

Christopher Nelson, freelance journalist and graduate student at Georgetown University Law Center, came back from this year’s SABEW convention pumped up about journalism but wondering about what was missing.

Chris Nelson at SABEW

Chris Nelson, right, in a hands-on course at SABEW, in Indianapolis.

Nelson attended SABEW’s (Society of American Business Editors and Writers) annual convention in Indianapolis as one of two fellows sponsored by Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.

“It was an enriching experience, a welcome opportunity to have an up close and personal introduction to the world of business and economics reporting,” Nelson wrote afterward. “Still, one thing struck me while there: the lack of people of color at the conference.

“Given the importance of reporting on the economy, including jobs numbers, the growth or lack thereof of national and international companies, consumer spending, tax policy, trade policy, and myriad other issues, it was quite startling. So I decided to explore the topic of diversity in business reporting.”

And that he did for NABJdigital Blog: Where are the journalists of color covering the business beat?

Nelson explained:

“After being fortunate enough to receive a Reynolds Center fellowship which allowed me to attend SABEW for the first time, I felt it very important to share my observations. In my first post - Learning about business news – I wrote about my conference experience generally.

In my second post, I focused on something which struck me while attending SABEW, a seeming lack of diversity in the business reporter ranks.

As a former board member for the National Association of Black Journalists, I know of the importance of a) raising an issue thus challenging people’s awareness levels and b) being solution-oriented discussing available resources which could likely help inspire someone who hadn’t thought of business reporting to think of it as a beat which presents wondrous opportunities.”


SABEW’s executive director Warren Watson said the organization has many opportunities for networking, training or job opportunities.

“It is an embarrassment to all of us that we have such a lack of diversity in business journalism,” Watson said. “It’s really an issue we need to figure out.” He said SABEW encourages journalists of color to try business journalism and to reach out to existing members to get involved.

Benét Wilson, a freelance aviation writer/blogger and chair of NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force, stressed how a knowledge of business is important for every beat and can open doors for journalists of color.

“I have been a business journalist for a large part of my career,” said Wilson who is also a Reynolds Center blogger. “Every beat you cover – from entertainment to the court system –  includes an aspect of business. Many of us are already being pushed to follow the money, so there’s never been a better time to cover this niche on your chosen beats or in general.  The opportunities are endless, with newspapers, magazines, trade publications and websites looking for talented journalists, especially those of color, who can break down the numbers.”


Will Sutton, Reynolds Visiting Business Journalism Professor, Grambling University

Will Sutton

Will Sutton, Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism at Grambling State University, also approached the topic with a solution-oriented approach.

“As a longtime diversity advocate, editor and journalist, like Nelson, I was appalled but not surprised when looking around the Society of Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) conference in Indy,” Sutton said.

Sutton, a member of SABEW’s diversity committee,  added a little historical context: “There was a time – when I was president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) as well as before and after – that NABJ had a business journalism task force. It was a small but growing and dedicated group of black professionals. Unfortunately, the effort waned.”

Like Nelson, Sutton decided to write something about the lack of diversity in business journalism.

“Yes, I can put on my angry black journalist hat and blast all types of people for what’s not being done,” he said. “I’m pretty good at it when I want to be. However, I decided to write something about what’s wrong and how to fix it. I’m even better at that when I decide to be.”

Stay tuned here for a piece from Sutton. And he says, meanwhile, if you have comments, ideas and suggestions, he welcomes them. Email Will Sutton at suttonw@gram.edu or find him on Facebook or Linkedin/WillSutton.






Tips for covering the new American austerity

An expert panel explored a new austerity in America, focussing on its potential impacts on higher education and retirement, during a session at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference in Indianapolis.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of student aid sites FinAid and FastWeb, said the government has reduced the availability of student grants, a move that could have disastrous effects in the future.

Click to see larger image

Without grant money,  Kantrowitz said students will most likely choose from three options. They could take out more loans, leading to heavy debt. They could attend less expensive schools or community colleges, which would hurt the graduation rate for some institutions and reduce the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees. Or students may opt out of attending college altogether.

Workers with bachelor’s degrees typically earn a 70-80 percent higher wage than employees without higher education credentials. If the number of students attending college decreases, the government will feel the pinch by receiving lower taxes from a group of workers with reduced salaries. 

Nevin Adams, director of education for Employee Benefits Research Institute, said austerity also could hurt retirees, because many workers are currently unprepared for retirement. Current retirees and workers approaching retirement are not as confident they will have enough money to sustain themselves as they were several years ago.

To counter this fear of running out of money, many workers plan on staying in the workforce longer, Adams said. But he added that the majority workers are actually taken out of the workforce earlier than age 65, often because of their or a family member’s health concerns.

Click to see larger image

To compound the problem, Adams said, many workers haven’t found out how much they will need to save and, by the time they find out, it is often too late to make a significant impact. This forces more retirees to rely heavily on Social Security checks.

But Adams noted that retirees are slightly more confident than workers entering retirement. They appear to have more optimism that they have enough money to live comfortably.  He said this shows that once workers begin to live in retirement, they realize they may not need as much money as they originally thought.

Tamara Draut, vice president of Demos, a research and public policy institute, said she isn’t sure austerity in America is a new trend. She pointed to income rates steadily declining, and noted that before the recession many children made less money than their parents.

If austerity becomes more prevalent in America, Draut said she is worried about families who were struggling even before the recession.


Immigration reform: Tips for covering a tangled debate

Robert Harris, an immigration attorney, offers coverage tips for business journalists at the 2012 SABEW conference.

A panel discussion at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference challenged a room of business journalist to expand their coverage of immigration reform.  It’s a complex issue and a hot coverage topic that will continue to grow during the 2012 elections.

The panel, which included Robert Harris, an immigration attorney based in Ohio, Jenifer M. Brown, an immigration attorney and partner at Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller, and Steve Guerra, general manager of Azteca America’s Atlanta affiliate, discussed immigration reform angles journalists should cover in the coming months. The discussion was moderated by Kevin Hall, a national economics reporter for McClatchy Newspapers.

A common theme was the panelists’ view that a border fence will not solve core problems. Here are other highlights from the session:

Economics 101

Robert Harris suggested journalists could pursue several key topics within the immigration debate that receive limited attention. They include:

  • The impact of investing in a child’s education through high school and then later deporting them.
  • The fallout of the reduction of cheap labor in agriculture and other areas.
  • The accurate amount of contributions to state’s sales tax and social security made by illegal immigrants.

“The real issue is the distributional affect is uneven,” Harris said. “There are people who win a lot and there are others who are hurt a little.”

Harris suggested journalists keep basic economic principals in mind to avoid reporting the common misconception that illegal immigrants are the sole cause of our nation’s recession.

“We desperately need some kind of immigration reform to clarify what the issues are and how we can deal with them as far as just building a fence whether it’s a real fence, a virtual fence, an emotional fence our GDP will fall, how much isn’t clear, but it wont cure the recession,” Harris said.

Kevin Hall (left) moderated the immigration reform session at the 2012 SABEW conference that included panelists Steve Guerra, Jenifer M. Brown and Robert Harris.

The waiting game

Jenifer M. Brown detailed the difficulty faced by immigrants who pursue coming to the U.S. legally. For example, this fiscal year there are no remaining HB1 visas allowing U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

In order to grant a visa, Brown said she has to prove there is no alternative U.S. resident capable of performing the task of the international skilled worker. Brown said STEM majors (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) typically make up the majority pool of those granted visas.

The visa quota situation is a challenging hurdle, Brown said. She added that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services remains skeptical about fraud  in the applications, which also slows down the process.

All about the numbers

The panelist mentioned the importance of verifying the numbers in immigration studies because they could be self serving for the organization that produced them. The help round out the data check out these resources:


Story ideas: Hot topics in the business of aging

As baby boomers age, they become the target for industries ranging from health care to dietary supplements, and also an important business topic for financial reporters. Currently more than 5.7 million Americans, or 18.5 percent of the population, are older than age 60, according to 2010 Census data.

Panelists discuss the business of aging at the 2012 SABEW conference in Indianapolis.

During a session on the business of aging at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference, a panel of experts detailed hot trends that reporters should have on their radar. The conference, which brings together business journalists and industry experts, was held March 15-17 in Indianapolis.

The session’s panelists include Paul LaPorte, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lori Bitter, an expert on marketing and the economics of baby boomers, Carla Penny, a member of the American Association of Retired Persons’ National Policy Council, and Malaz Boustani, associate director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.  The discussion was moderated by John Wasik, an award-winning business columnist.

Here are a few highlights from the panel discussion:

Many baby boomers are retiring at a younger age because of the economic crisis. This can threaten their economic security  later in life – Carla Penny:  Early retirement is typically taken at age 62, and after retirement many people rely on Social Security. This decreases retirees’ lifetime benefits. Older widows, who live alone on their spouses’ Social Security, are a central concern. Also, taking early retirement is particularly hard for baby boomers, because they need to use their social security benefits to support themselves, as well as their long-living parents.

Caregivers play a vital part in the business of aging –  Lori Bitter: Caring for family members results in a significant  loss of productivity. There are currently 65 million U.S. caregivers, which results in lost wages of about $3 trillion for families in pensions and Social Security. Bitter also said there are not enough caregivers for the rising number of aging baby boomers.

Electronic devices are not a perfect substitute for family caregivers - Lori Bitter:  Devices are available to help seniors monitor their blood pressure, food intake and weight. The electronic tools comprise a significant marketplace. General Electric and Intel have emerged as two pioneers in researching and developing these virtual health systems. However, finding a way for seniors to afford the devices is a challenge. If the government is not ready to subsidize, the devices are typically too expensive for individuals to purchase. Also, compliance with the device is another challenge. On average, the devices are not used for a long time and as a patient heals, the monitor device is often returned.

Thirty million people over age 55 years are now employed. The number of working seniors will continue to grow – Paul LaPorte: Labor force participation, consisting of those who are employed or actively looking for a job, for Americans age 55 and over has trended upward since 1993. The rate is currently about 40 percent and the number could continue to grown in the future.  Reasons for the growth include the need for income and increased life expectancy.

Delirium has a significant impact on the U.S. health care system – Malaz Boustani:  Delirium is a confusion syndrome, which is common among hospitalized patients with an episode of acute illness. More than 7 million hospitalized Americans suffer from the disease every year, which costs the health care system between $38 billion to $152 billion annually.

Health care system is moving to accountable care – Malaz Boustani:  Hospitalists can no longer make money simply by offering a service, they need to create a value for the service, and take care of a panel of people related to the patient and the disease. To survive in the health care system, hospitalists need to balance serving the patient, and simultaneously serving the entire patient population. Also, the concept of “who’s the patient” is different. Patients now include the sick person, as well as their family. Hospitalists should take care of them all.

Additional resources for covering the business of aging:


Ford’s James Farley Jr. details the company’s challenges and recent success

James Farley Jr.

James Farley Jr. Photo by Ford Motor.

After facing several trying years battling the faltering U.S. economy, the outlook at Ford Motor Co. has a glimmer these days. And James Farley Jr., the company’s vice president for marketing, is part of an executive team that helped make it happen.

From the company’s revamp of its overhead capacity numbers to a realization of the common qualities global customers seek in a vehicle, Farley detailed the strategic decisions that have helped guide the company toward a more vibrant future.

Farley shared Ford’s recent challenges and successes with a group of journalists gathered in Indianapolis for the 2012 Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference.

Paul Ingrassia, deputy editor-in-chief at Reuters, led the conversation with Farley on Thursday afternoon that was packed with nonstop questions from business writers and editors. Below are some of the highlights:

On Ford shrinking its overhead capactiy: “We have finally addressed the overhead capacity. The U.S. quickly went from 16 or 17 million (units of) vehicles to 10 million…The volume dropped 70 percent. We really had to look ourself in the mirror and address the over capacity in the industry.”

On understanding the commonalities global customers seek in a vehicle: “We found many customers wanted the same thing in an automobile. That really changed things. It forced all of us, especially at Ford, to look at our European cars and wonder ‘why we couldn’t offer the same automobiles in multiple markets?'”

james farley session

Paul Ingrassia of Reuters moderates a discussion with Ford's James Farley Jr. during the 2012 SABEW Conference.

On the company’s commitment: “If we don’t make our cars better than someone elses, we’re not going to make it…We made a bet on excellence in the product.”

On if the durability of Ford’s comeback…will it last? “It’s too early to tell. I wish I could say yes, but we as a team are looking at the first chance of building a sustainable company for years to come. The capability is there for the first time. The culture is there for the first time… I think we have opportunity.”

On demand of alternative vehicles, from small to electric:  “The bottom live is changed behavior. In the last 90 days we’ve seen people running into small cars. Twenty five percent of our industry now is small cars.”

On his all too famous quote that he would “beat Chevrolet on the head with a bat” after he accepted a job Ford: “We are in a competitive industry. It’s as simple as that. When we had to let people go, I saw the families in the supermarket. They could come up to me and say, ‘why did you fire my husband?’

I’m a human being. It’s hard for me to overlook the impact of a bankruptcy on the people…I was disappointed as a professional working in this industry for over 25 years that some of the greatest companies were not making it.”


Danger! Numbers in the newsroom — tips from Sarah Cohen on taming digits in stories


What do you think of when you see that number? A nickel? Five fingers?

How about 5-to-4? What comes to mind?

A Supreme Court decision? A baseball score?

What if the number is bigger, say 313? Can you picture that?

How about 313 million, the current population of the United States? How easy is that to visualize?

Sarah Cohen, Knight Chair of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University

Sarah Cohen

That’s how Duke University Knight Professor Sarah Cohen made the point that when numbers get very large – or very small — they get harder to picture and understand.

In those situations, one way to help your audience understand numbers is to provide an anchor. Speaking at a session today sponsored by the Reynolds Center at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Conference in Indianapolis, she outlined these possible anchors to give meaning to numbers:

  • A standard or goal – Ask yourself, “What would good look like?” For example, what would good GDP growth look like?
  • Historical numbers— Is there a golden period to which current numbers can be compared? Perhaps in the economy that might be the late 1950s and early 1960s.
  • Portion of whole – For example, at the time of the Million Man March in 1995, a turnout of 1 million black men would have represented 1/12th of all the black men in the country at the time.
  • Other places – How do other similar towns or companies compare?

Other tips on numbers in the news from Cohen, who was an economist before becoming a Pulitzer-winning journalist at The Washington Post, included:

  • To make a very small number more understandable, divide it into 1. For example, .0081 is the proportion of the U.S. population who die every year. 1/.0081 translates to 1 in every 124 Americans die each year.
  • If you have a story filled with numbers – and not people — it needs to be really, really short.
  •  Unless you’re dealing with really small numbers, decimal points may not be meaningful. “I’m a big fan of rounding,” Cohen said.
  • Limit yourself to no more than 12 digits, including dates such as 2012, in a single paragraph.

More resources to make numbers meaningful in your stories:


Financial journalists: WSJ, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Gretchen Morgenson top influencers

A new survey of financial journalists shows that as a whole, they are neutral at best and cautious on their outlook for the U.S. economy and the U.S. financial services sector over the next year.

According to the annual Gorkana 2012 survey of financial journalists, those who work primarily in television/ radio have a significantly more positive outlook on the economy than those who report primarily for the Web, magazines/trade publications, or newswires. Veteran financial journalists have a more positive outlook on the U.S. economy than do journalists with less experience in the field, the survey said.

Gorkana survey’s financial journalists annually to determine how these professionals view the economy, the health of the U.S financial system, the outlook on financial journalism in the country and much more.

2012 Gorkana survey of financial journalists The survey was completed in December 2011 and sent out to 3,192 professionals. The organization received 349 responses from business news organizations, compiling and analyzing the data into the presentation given at the 2012 Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual conference in Indianapolis, Ind.

Robert Ingram, the director of Gorkana, and Matt Ragas, Ph.D., an assistant professor at DePaul University presented their report at SABEW’s annual convention in Indianapolis.

“It’s natural for financial journalists to want to see where and how they stack up compared to their peers, and this survey provides one of the first detailed looks into this area,” Ragas said in a prepared statement. “For PR professionals, this is a valuable peek behind the curtain.”

Check out the full report: The 2012 Gorkana survey of financial journalists. (PDF)

Key findings of the survey include: 

Outlook on the Economy: 46 percent of respondents had a neutral view on the economy for the next year, 36 percent had a negative outlook. The data showed that more experienced journalists had more positive views than their less experienced counterparts. Ingram and Ragas speculated that more experienced journalists have been seen the economy bounce back in the past, thus giving them a more positive outlook.

Health of Financial Journalism in the U.S: The majority of respondents had a neutral view of this topic — 44 percent. A smaller percentage, 34 percent, had a positive outlook on financial journalism in the country. The data also showed that more experienced reporters were less optimistic about the field. “Maybe they’ve seen the field change and are not pleased with the changes,” Ingram said.

Most Influential News Organization: A large group, 71.9 percent, said the Wall Street Journal is the most influential financial news organization. Bloomberg news came in second on the survey at 60.1 percent.

Most Influential Financial Journalist: Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times came out on top with 23.9 percent of the vote. Gretchen Morgenson, also from the New York Times, came in second with 21.1 percent. The New York Times dominates this list with half of the journalists in the top ten for this survey.

Sources for Stories: The survey listed many different resources and had respondents give points based on how often they used the listed source. Journalists used the numbers 1-7, 1 being not at all and 7 meaning very often, to provide feedback. The majority, 59.5 percent, said they got story ideas from other publications and readings.  Only 5.1 percent said they used corporate social media sites to get ideas, surprising both Ingram and Ragas.

Gorkana provides products and services for public relations specialists and journalists in an effort to  better communication in these fields.