Meet Ashley Stewart, ACBJ’s best technology reporter
Ashley Stewart is the technology and finance reporter for the Puget Sound Business Journal, a weekly business newspaper that is part of the American City Business Journals chain.
Stewart joined the paper in September 2015 after graduating with a degree in journalism and political science from the University of Washington.
Earlier this month, Stewart was named the best technology reporter at the company, as voted on by the editors of the papers.
Stewart spoke by email with Talking Biz News about her job. What follows is an edited transcript.
When did your interest in covering business or technology stories develop?
Business journalism gets in front of decision makers who run the economy. I covered government throughout college and realized business is where challenges, and solutions, often start.
What attracted you to the Puget Sound Business Journal?
I interned at the Business Journal in college and appreciate the paper’s approach to covering business. The focus is on people and how business affects lives and the makeup of our region. Plus, it’s a great place to start out as a new reporter. I’m constantly encouraged to get out of the newsroom, form source relationships and kill stories – even when I’m hesitant – to focus on ones that matter.
What were some of the steps that you learned to cover your beat?
It was more important for me, first, to learn what not to cover. Covering technology is like trying to drink from a fire hose and it can be tempting to write the stories that land in your inbox. I’ve learned to prioritize scoops and exclusive interviews instead of chasing stories others might already have.
How willing were people at the companies you cover to help you learn what you needed?
I’ve found most value in sourcing outside of the traditional PR channels. I try instead to talk to employees, former employees and people along a company’s supply chain. It’s been especially important for covering established companies, which often have relationships with veteran reporters who have access to top executives. It can be hard for a new reporter to break in.
What’s your typical day like?
Ideally, I have long-term projects and public record requests out there at all times. For daily stories, I consult a morning checklist of public records (SEC filings, lawsuits, etc.) and check in with sources throughout the day.
You’re covering some big companies such as Microsoft. How do you decide what to cover with them?
I’ve had to learn to let go of a lot of stories and focus on ones with local consequences. Our newsroom has stopped covering earnings releases, for example, to chase stories readers can’t get anywhere else.
You’ve recently broken some big Microsoft stories. Without divulging sources, how did you do that?
Sourcing from as many angles as possible.
How much time do you spend talking with sources on the phone and in person?
I schedule as many casual meetings throughout the week and focus on building relationships versus probing for tips. Marc Stiles, our real estate reporter, is an expert at this. I’ve learned from him to regularly check in with sources and end every conversation with, “What else should I know?”
What do you like about covering the tech beat?
Technology impacts every person, policy and industry, especially in a city like Seattle.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out in covering technology?
Find out the most important technology stories for your region and stick with them. Let others pass.