Reporters from Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and Quartz sat down with Maria Aspen, senior editor of Inc., to discuss the financial technology beat at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in New York City.
Fintech is nothing new, but the rapid rate of innovation in recent years has news organizations devoting more resources to the beat.
“There’s always been fintech,” said Aaron Lucchetti, deputy banking editor of the Wall Street Journal. “The tech industry has worked with banks and financial services for decades.”
Lucchetti said the growth of fintech is a direct response to the financial crisis.
“More companies are thinking about taking on banks and disrupting them,” he said. “They think less about being a supportive actor to help banks. So there’s this ‘frenemy’ relationship between these companies and banks”
Reporters on the fintech beat shared how they stake out their territory in newsrooms with teams already devoted to covering finance and technology.
“You have to figure out where the beat starts and ends,” Bloomberg reporter Matt Leising said.
Leising said Bloomberg’s team structure can make communication across the fintech beat challenging.
“Things fall through the cracks and I’ve had to learn to let go when I miss something,” he said.
Lucchetti said the Journal newsroom collaborates across beats to cover the many angles of fintech. The Journal has two reporters devoted to fintech, but reporters across beats look for fintech angles.
“When a story like Apple Pay comes along we get all the reporters who write about Apple together with our fintech reporters, and we either have them collaborate or give them notice that this story is going to come from the fintech beat reporters,” Lucchetti said.
The panel said it is difficult to determine which companies will stick around. While most fintech companies come out claiming they will change the world and uproot the way finance is done, most end up failing or bought out.
“Knowing who they are selling to is really key,” said Ian Kar, a finance reporter formerly at Quartz. “Knowing whether they want to change finance or sell to xyz for millions of dollars.”
While a background in technology helps, the most important asset is an understanding of what consumers want. The panelists urged fintech reporters to get comfortable with asking dumb questions.
“I would ask does anyone give a shit about this,” said Kar. “Why do I care about this?”
Leising compared the scope of fintech to a coral reef. From regulation to traditional finance to technological innovations, the fintech beat can be all consuming.
“It’s just layer behind layer behind layer,” he said. “It’s just day in and day out of asking questions.”
Stephanie Lamm is a senior at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism. She interned last summer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette business news desk.