How young reporters have gotten ahead in business journalism
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers hosted a conference call Monday afternoon to talk with young financial journalists about their impact through strong beat reporting.
Jon Chesto, Boston Globe business reporter, moderated a panel that brought together Jillian Berman, New York-based reporter for MarketWatch; Sarah Frier, technology reporter for Bloomberg; and Jen Wieczner, a senior finance writer at Fortune.
Here are takeaways from the discussion:
All three reporters talked about their big breaks in business journalism, which mostly involved taking risks and diving into new beats.
“At Bloomberg, I was sort of thrown into the fire,” Frier said. “At my internship there, I was given the job of writing the daily municipal bonds column and not a lot of people even on my own team knew about municipal bonds. I got to kind of forge my own path there.”
Wieczner lost her first real job at SmartMoney when the publication laid off all its employees before it was combined with MarketWatch.com. Wieczner stayed optimistic and accepted a job covering health care for MarketWatch, a beat she didn’t have much experience reporting on. Wieczner spent the next year in one of the biggest beats at MarketWatch when she eventually received a call from Fortune and made the switch to high-profile reporting.
Berman started her career as a general assignment reporter for Huffington Post and eventually moved on to cover student loan debt for MarketWatch. It was a beat MarketWatch saw on the horizon as a big deal, Berman said.
All three emphasized the importance of taking on new beats as a young reporter because it creates opportunities, even when it’s unfamiliar territory.
Be adaptable with your voice
Voice is something many reporters work on throughout their entire reporting careers. When writing a story, Frier said she always goes back and asks herself what she would want to read.
“Being at an organization like Bloomberg, there’s so many different formats that your writing takes,” Frier said. “It’s kind like the form follows the function, whatever you need your message to do.”
Similarly, Wieczner and Berman said voice is something they are always working on and trying to improve. Wieczner said magazine writing tends to be a little bit different than online in that it’s less conversational.
“I like to have a certain rhythm and play with the order of sentences or the order of paragraphs,” Wieczner said. “I don’t like to repeat words. I’m always looking for a different way to say something so it doesn’t sound repetitive. I like to make sure that every sentence has something to fact check in it.”
Berman said her early career mentor at Huffington Post pushed her to be more assertive with her writing and she struggled but eventually felt more comfortable after some practice.
“When you feel like you don’t know things super well and feel like you don’t have a ton of experience, it’s hard to go out on a limb and sort of put yourself in stories,” Berman said. “The takeaway is if you’re going to try to have a personality, it’s more comfortable to do it with a topic you know really well.”
Frier advised young reporters to not be afraid to advocate themselves during the editing process and to always ask questions.
Importance of social media
Frier, Wieczner and Berman said Twitter is a useful tool for sharing stories and keeping up with competitors. Frier said she feels like her stories don’t exist unless it’s on Twitter.
“If there’s really one thing I need from social media, it’s showing that my stories exist because people don’t really go to website to find stuff anymore,” Frier said.
Wieczner believes Twitter’s metabolism is a little bit quicker than Facebook, which is why she checks multiple Twitter feeds throughout the day.
“I’m definitely on Twitter reading, retweeting and looking around more than I’m actually tweeting myself,” Wieczner said. “There’s some times I’ll go a few days without tweeting and some days where I’ll tweet 20 or 30 times a day.”
More unconventionally, Berman said she also uses Reddit to gain a better sense of what people are saying about certain issues, especially student debt since it’s her beat.
“You have to wave through it and if you’re going to use any of that information, you have to actually go interview the person,” Berman said. “But it’s a good nose on the ground for finding out about the kind of stuff people are dealing with.”
All three reporters have been recognized for their reporting in business journalism throughout the years. Frier has received multiple awards from SABEW in her more than six years at Bloomberg. Berman is the 2017 winner of the Larry Birger Young Business Journalist contest and Wieczner received the 2017 American Society of Magazine Editors “Next Award.”
Alex Gailey is a senior journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill.