Going against the conventional wisdom
By Sarah Frier
Pay attention when things don’t make sense.
That’s how New York Times investigations editor for the business and finance desk Walt Bogdanich comes up with his story ideas. If a source says something unexpected in conversation, if he sees something out of place, if he finds a strange fact mentioned in passing in another story, he tries to find out whether there’s a story behind it.
That’s how he’s earned three Pulitzer Prizes, multiple George Polk Awards and other awards. Bogdanich doesn’t decide to find a story within a subject, and he doesn’t try to find a story in a massive database. He acts when he’s inspired, and loves to look into what nobody else is — whether it’s state pharmacy boards or railroads.
“I hate the conventional wisdom,” he told reporters Saturday at the annual conference for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. “Always go against it.”
Everything has a money angle, Bogdanich said. You can find it after you find the story.
“I start out with a story with a human dimension that interests me, a matter of significance and people in power with information they don’t want you to know,” he said. “And once I find that story, then I find the business angle.”
Other advice from Bogdanich:
- Put down the phone and stop emailing people. You’ll get more out of an in-person conversation.
- Don’t wait to roll out one big investigative piece. News should come out once you have it. “We’re not in an era where being dated is a good thing,” he said.
- You’ve got to take time to understand public records and the regulatory bodies in an industry, especially when covering private companies. There may not be information from the SEC, but there’s public information somewhere.
- The key to getting interviews: “Figure out the person’s motivation for speaking to you,” Bogdanich said. “Everybody’s got it — vanity, anger, revenge. Sometimes people will speak because it’s the right thing to do.”
Find your inspiration by reading Bogdanich’s most recent stories here.
Sarah Frier is a business journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill who will intern at Bloomberg in New York this summer. She is also editor of The Daily Tar Heel.