OLD Media Moves

Reuters reporters, beat stories, exclusives and what editors want

February 11, 2010


The following e-mail was sent to Reuters reporters from Martin Howell, the news editor for company news in the Americas, about what the wire service wants from its business reporters in terms of beating the competition:

“We are spending a lot of time writing and approving notes recording beats and exclusives. Every week we produce 40-50, of which only about 10 are sent out to sales to market to clients either regionally or globally. We are, in many ways, victims of our own success — when we starting doing this we were lucky to have a handful filed each week.

“The rest are, let’s be frank, possibly only read by me and the person submitting. That is not a very good use of your time or mine — each beat note probably takes 15-20 minutes work on average, including collecting timings, writing, editing and approving — do the math yourself on how many hours that eats up each week.

“I would like to reduce the number filed to about 20-25 a week on average (more , of course if we have a great week) — those would consist of major beats and some beats that are worthy contestants to be major beats but don’t quite get across the bar.

“This does mean that performance goals will change. We will include targets for major beats but not ordinary beats. Most beat reporters will have a target of nine major beats for 2010. As I have said before, we won’t be absolutely rigid about this – if someone has seven major beats and eight that weren’t quite major beats but were still strong enough to be recorded as beats then they still probably achieved the target. Also if a correspondent made a big contribution to special reports that involved many weeks of work then that would clearly be taken into account in any assessment of their performance on beats and exclusives.

“In addition, I suggest that if reporters want to let their EIC know about some great work they have produced that wasn’t quite worth a beat note, that they drop their direct manager an email (copying me in if you want) with the word BEAT in caps in the headline and then a one liner about it.

“So, what do we want filed and what don’t we want filed as B&E notes:

“We want:
–Exclusives that lead to significant share price moves. By significant we generally mean 2 percent plus for a big cap company and 5 percent plus for a small cap.
–Timings beats in minutes not seconds that lead to stock price moves as above. We have to be particularly careful about our timings information against Dow Jones, which can be unreliable depending on how it is measured, and to be safe we shouldn’t record a beat win against Dow if it is less than 5 minutes without an additional assessment by an EIC.
–Stories that really set the news agenda, even if they don’t move share prices. Here are two examples — Jim Wolf’s great exclusive in December on Obama eyeing arms sales to Taiwan, and Jim Finkle’s exclusive on an unknown flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser that allowed Chinese cyber attacks on Google and other businesses.
–An analysis/preview/column story about an important investment theme that is well ahead of our rivals.
–Major developments in a long-running deal story even if shares don’t move much — e.g. three out of five bidders have dropped out of the race for XYZ Corp, or ABC Inc has launched a proxy battle to seize three board seats on XYZ Corp.
–A major company files for bankruptcy, though we should always try to include debt price movements in these stories to show market significance.
–Some stories about our clients — banks, brokers, wealth managers etc. — that garner a lot of attention even if shares don’t move. An example would be if UBS suddenly signed up 400 Merrill brokers.
–Timings wins of more than a few seconds from a massive court case, like Madoff, Bear Stearns.
–Big beats and exclusives on regulatory proposals and rules, or political developments, that could have a significant impact on companies/investors.

“What we don’t want to be filed as beat notes:
–Modest/incremental developments in a deal story that don’t move prices of securities.
–Timings wins of only a few seconds.
–Conference call detail that only makes a modest difference to a share price that is already moving, e.g. earnings beat expectations (shares rise 3 percent), outlook on conference call that we snap (shares add another percent to be 4 percent higher).
–Stories that required major corrections.
–When we beat Dow and Bloomberg but were beaten by local media.
–Stories that don’t explain the market significance of a development — I have seen beat notes that claim we broke major news in the final paragraph of a 60 line story.
–Interview stories that are solid/interesting but don’t break any major news.
–Beats when we only have timings against either Dow or Bloomberg, not both.
–A beat based on the story being picked up widely by other media

“There will, of course, always be occasions when the rules above need to be flouted. If you think that is warranted please consult me or another EIC before filing your beat note. Indeed. ask an EIC or Bureau Chief whenever in doubt.

“Oh, and one other request — PLEASE, PLEASE eliminate jargon (ours or anyone else’s from beat notes) — such as “snaps” (use the word headlines), or urgent (use our first story).

“Please let me know your thoughts — I am sure there are some things I have forgotten to address. The aim here is to free us all up to do more news reporting and editing, while creating helpful tips about our best stuff for our sales/training and marketing teams, and allowing us to make sure our best work gets taken into account in performance assessments.”

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