With roots and connections to every niche of business journalism, covering personal finance should be the biggest beat in the business, a panel of top journalists in the field said Friday morning.
But a misunderstood lack of variation in subject matter — on the surface — makes it seem repetitive and less relevant than other beats, they said.
“If you cover personal finance, you know there’s only about 14 stories out there,” said Liz Weston, a syndicated columnist on the topic. “We just keep changing the anecdotes.”
The panelists, moderated by MSN Money’s managing editor Marty Wolk, spoke Friday morning about the intricacies of the beat, why it interests them and why it’s important to the reader. The panel was at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference, being held Friday and Saturday at Arizona State University.
Interest in personal finance stories has been increasing, Wolk said, particularly as baby boomers near retirement age and realize that they’ll need to figure out how to pay health care costs and living expenses without a working income.
He said the task beat writers face is covering every scheme out there that separates people from their money.
“You need to define it more broadly,” he said. “You need to think about all the different ways that people spend their money, invest their money, and have their money at risk, even without really knowing it.”
CBS News writer and syndicated personal finance columnist Kathy Kristof said stories come from understanding and showing how broader policy changes and larger events affect individual readers.
“Each of us has a different story to tell,” she said, using the Affordable Care Act as an example of something that’s simultaneously helping some people and hurting others.
“The same event can affect your readers in a number of different ways, so if you know that, and you can dig into it, and you can know your beat so well that you can take that spectrum and explain how and why and what they can do about it… That, to me, is what personal finance is really all about.”
Cassella is a UNC-Chapel Hill business journalism student attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship.