Media Moves

Bloomberg’s Mider on covering the tax inversion story

October 13, 2014

Posted by Liz Hester

Zachary Mider is an enterprise reporter at Bloomberg News covering company stories, many of which are research based.

This year, he has helped lead Bloomberg’s coverage of the tax inversion issue and last year he focused on billionaires avoiding personal taxes. Since joining Bloomberg in August 2006, he’s covered mergers and acquisitions, insurance and general assignment stories. He came to Bloomberg from the Providence Journal in Rhode Island.

Zach spoke with Talking Biz News about his Bloomberg career and what it’s like covering an ongoing, breaking news story with many angles.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

It’s great to be at a place with a bright future. We’re investing in the business and news, and trying to be better tomorrow than we are today. We’re adding people and resources. When I want to write something, I can do it and I’m not being asked to do the jobs of three other people who were laid off. I’m really grateful since that’s not how it is across the news business. It’s great to be at a place that is prioritizing news.

How do you stay motivated, particularly given the pace of working as a wire service reporter?

I like to be the one to find things out. I don’t know if I were an editor if I would be able to satisfy my curiosity. I like getting to ask the questions and do the research myself. That’s what I like to do more than anything. There are some reporters who are more writers who do the reporting because they have to, and there are others who are reporters who do the writing because they have to.

What really motives me is to find out information and learn for myself. Being an editor, I would have to rely on someone else to that for me.

You’ve been taking the lead on the tax inversion issue, how do you approach a long-term story like that? How did you get into this coverage?

I’ve been writing about tax inversions since the beginning of the year. I didn’t realize it at first, but pretty soon I determined that this had the potential to be a story that would get attention in Washington. There are a lot of tax avoidance techniques that have been around for years and people in D.C. don’t focus on them; you don’t hear the President talking about it. But inversions kept coming up as an issue and there was lots of interest in Congress. There’s a real-time political story playing out as well as an investing story about what companies are doing. It feels more live and that’s exciting.

As for finding the issue, it sounded like from talking to people in New York that a lot of companies were considering doing these transactions. I realized that if enough companies and big enough companies do it, it inevitably would spill over and become an issue people talk about. That happened in May when Pfizer tried to do it. Then Walgreens said they were considering it, and Medtronics did it, then Burger King. These are companies that people have actually heard of. There are a lot of these deals in the pipeline, so it seemed like something that was worth spending time on.

But the inversion coverage isn’t just me. We have Rich Rubin in DC. Jesse Drucker in Italy is also hard at work on this issue. And before the end of the year there may be others involved. There are a lot of people at Bloomberg who have had a hand in the coverage. It’s certainly not just me.

How do you work to develop sources, particularly on stories like the inversion issue that include companies, government agencies and subject matter experts?

When it comes to the D.C. angle, we have a terrific tax policy reporter, Rich Rubin, who’s got it covered in terms of talking to the administration and Congress. I focus on the companies. What I’ve learned about the tax world, and this is true of a lot of areas, is there are a lot of really smart people who do taxes for a living. Not a lot of people talk to them, and not a lot of press are trying to understand what they’re up to and dig into the substance of the issues.

I always try to learn a little bit about what people are doing, enough to have conversations and show them that I appreciate the complexity of the work they do. Sometimes that helps people feel like I’m listening and worth spending time talking to. These issues are extremely complicated. These people are very intelligent, highly trained lawyers who speak almost their own language. If you pick up a few words of the mysterious language, you can convince people it’s worth returning phone calls and that you want to get it right.

What do you think of the overall coverage of the inversion issue?

I like to think we’ve done a terrific job. When I see comments on Burger King’s Facebook page, it shows there are a lot of people who are vaguely aware of the issue, but not a high degree of actual understanding. We try our best to use as simple words as possible and to be accurate. Outside of the professional Wall Street tax community, people don’t always get it. This issue is more understandable to a layperson than most tax issues. There are a lot of tricks that cost the government as much as inversions, but they’re harder to explain.

How do you think journalism will change in the next five to 10 years?

The world is getting more complicated. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. The returns on doing coverage of complicated issues in ways that clarifies them and makes them understandable to regular people will be at bigger premium. Taxes are a great example. The tax system is getting more complicated. There’s $2 trillion sitting offshore that companies haven’t paid taxes on yet. The premium for people to understand complicated issues is higher than before. Journalism is going to have to get more sophisticated to keep up with the changing world.

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