WSJ’s Benoit is Talking Biz News’ Business Journalist of the Year
If Wall Street Journal reporter David Benoit is the future of business journalism, then the business journalism is in good shape.
Benoit, who took over the shareholder activist beat at The Journal two years ago, has had a strong year. Within the past month, he broke the news about the DuPont-Dow Chemical deal, and he then followed that up with stories about how the deal came about and one investor’s fight to oust Dow’s CEO.
Earlier this year, Benoit’s coverage included how investors were encouraging Yahoo to split itself up and how some activist investors were taking a more passive approach to some company stakes. In August, he wrote about how some activist investors were in cahoots with big mutual funds to put pressure on companies.
“He’s prolific,” said Dana Cimilluca, the deals editor for The Journal and Benoit’s boss. “The amazing thing about David is that he gets scoops and he has this great feature writing capability. He’s rare in that he is very good at both things.”
“The thing about him is that he is so mature and he is doing it all at such a young age,” added Cimilluca.
His coverage has been consistent and thorough, and he has regularly beaten his competitors. And that’s why we’ve selected Benoit as the Talking Biz News Business Journalist of the Year for 2015.
Other business journalists seriously considered this year were CNBC’s Steve Liesman and David Faber, The Journal’s John Carreyrou for his coverage of Theranos, Charles Levinson of Reuters, whose work was recently included in “The Best Business Writing 2015,” Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken of the CNNMoney investigative unit, and the now-deceased Don Walker, formerly of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
In fact, in the six-year history of this award, there haven’t been such strong candidates across multiple media. Any of the journalists mentioned above could have been selected based on the merits of his or her reporting. Our decision was purely subjective.
We selected Benoit, 29 and a native of Needham, Mass., because his outstanding coverage has been consistent across the year and contains a mixture of scoops and deep dives into the issues on his shareholder activist beat.
We also checked on Benoit with multiple people, from colleagues to competitors and public relations practitioners, and they mentioned his work ethic, his ability to get reluctant sources to talk, and his fairness in dealing with sources.
Finally, we appreciated his humbleness. Many of Benoit’s big stories for The Journal contained multiple bylines, and he immediately recognized his co-workers when we contacted him to talk about his work for the year.
“I’m quite thankful to even be considered,” said Benoit. “Like I said, I work with rock stars and many people here deserve recognition, but it’s nice to hear someone at least thinks well of me.”
Benoit is a Boston College graduate and a Red Sox fan. (When asked about the Sox signing pitcher David Price this off-season, Benoit gave a classic business journalist response: “I’m a little nervous. It’s a lot of money.”)
After graduation in 2008 with degrees in English and history, he got a job at Dow Jones Newswires covering spot news. “I kind of fell in love with the financial journalism world,” said Benoit. “It’s been a fascinating, crazy wild ride.”
He then covered banking for Dow Jones from November 2010 to January 2012 when he moved to the Journal side writing for the Deal Journal. He took over the new shareholder activist beat in November 2013.
When named to the beat, then-Deals editor Jamie Heller wrote in an email to the staff, “David has already distinguished himself with his scoops and deep reporting on these investors, on stories ranging from Dell and Apple to Safeway and Sotheby’s. We look forward to more such coverage when he dedicates himself fully to this new role.”
“This beat is a ton of fun,” said Benoit. “It’s got big, crazy characters, high-stakes drama. People are interested in it right now, so it’s a fun thing to talk about. And I write about virtually every company from Dupont to GE.”
His beat includes well-known activist investors such as Carl Icahn and Nelson Peltz. “These guys are not really used to someone knowing things about their investments,” said Benoit. “I spent a lot of time trying to convince these people that because I am dedicated to the beat, we’re focusing on this, we’re the spot where we can tell stories in a way that not anyone else can. That helped in the beginning.”
Those results have paid off this year. For example:
- In April, Journal editor Gerard Baker lauded Benoit and Don Clark in an email to the staff after they “broke news on Qualcomm when they got an exclusive view of a quarterly letter to Jana Partners investors urging Qualcomm to consider a breakup and other options to boost the chip maker’s sagging stock price.”
- In May, reporters Vipal Monga and Theo Francis teamed up with Benoit to write a front-page story that disclosed how companies targeted by activist investors spend more money in buying back their stock than reinvesting in their business.
- In October, Benoit and Monga wrote a front-page story looking at whether activist investors are good or bad for companies. It included an online interactive graphic that Benoit helped put together. “The debate about activism, whether it’s a good thing longterm or not, those projects put some data behind it that hasn’t been done,” noted Benoit.
And then there was breaking the news earlier this month that Dow Chemical and DuPont wanted to combine operations.
“He’s amazing,” said Cimilluca. “He’s always got something going, often ambitious. Even the stuff that is the hardest and requires the most work, he doesn’t shy away from. He’s just a great egg. He’s always got a smile on his face and is cheerful and enthusiastic.”