OLD Media Moves

NYTimes biz editor assesses coverage of scandals

June 3, 2006

New York Times’ business editor Larry Ingrassia took questions this week from readers about the newspaper’s business section, and a reader from Michigan asked him to assess how his reporters covered the recent corporate scandales.

Ingrassia replied that the Times was at the forefront of covering scandals at companies such as Computer Associates but that its coverage could have been better with the Enron story.

He wrote, “The Times has a tradition of watchdog journalism that extends to our business coverage. It’s one of many things that our reporters do, but it’s an important thing.

“I’m probably biased, but I think The Times has done quite a good job covering corporate corruption. But of course we can always do better.

Larry Ingrassia“In some cases we do an exceptional job, like our coverage of the accounting scandal at CA Inc., formerly named Computer Associates, the big software company on Long Island. Times business reporter Alex Berenson gets credit for initially putting the spotlight on the problem, in a story that ran way back on April 29, 2001, ‘A Software Company Runs Out of Tricks; The Past May Haunt Computer Associates.’

“That richly detailed story noted that much of the company’s growth ‘was a mirage’ because the company ‘has used accounting tricks to systematically overstate its revenue and growth for years,’ according to former employees. That story led to a four-year investigation that has resulted in resulted in guilty pleas by many former executives – including the former CEO Sanjay Kumar last month; federal prosecutors actually have credited The Times story.

Gretchen Morgenson was at the forefront of covering questionable practices on Wall Street during the bubble years, and won a Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting in 2002 for exposing many of the conflicts the enriched brokers and their firms while impoverishing individual investors.

“These are just a couple of many examples of our coverage of corporate scandals.

“What about Enron? Well, we all could have done better. Yes, there were some stories raising questions about its growth and its black-box accounting before the energy company began to collapse in the fall of 2001, but we wish we would have understood the depth of the problems before then. Ditto with WorldCom and Tyco, among others. But, especially from 2002 on, covering corporate corruption has been a top priority for The Times and many other publications.”

Read more of Ingrassia’s answers here, including to questions about why the newspaper dropped its daily mutual fund listings, how it competes against Internet sites, and why the paper began its Deal Book blog by business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin.

A reader from Texas also asked Ingrassia about how the NYT competes against the Wall Street Journal. Ingrassia, whose brother is a high-ranking editor there, replied, “The Wall Street Journal? I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of it. Ahem. I know it well, of course. I worked there for quite a while before becoming business editor here at The Times a couple of years ago. And I can tell you from personal knowledge that Journal editors often found The Times very competitive on major business stories – and still do.”

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