OLD Media Moves

The most embarrassing thing in business journalism

June 16, 2006

Some may argue the point, but to me the most embarrassing thing that can ever happen to a business reporter is to get beat on a story. It’s even more embarrassing when you get beat on a story that involves reading an SEC filing of a company.

Add to the fact that it’s The Wall Street Journal beating you. Then mix in the fact that the SEC filing that you didn’t read involves the company that owns your newspaper, and now you know how a business reporter at The Chicago Tribune feels.

Phil RosenthalAccording to Tribune business columnist Phil Rosenthal, that’s what happened earlier this week when the Tribune was scooped by The Journal with the story involving the Trib parent and its recent brouhaha with one of its largest shareholders.

Rosenthal wrote in Friday’s paper, “The biggest slip-up so far was not something we did. It was something we didn’t do. We failed to notice the Securities and Exchange Commission filing disclosing the Chandlers’ dissatisfaction with the buyback. We learned of it on Page 1 of the Wall Street Journal.

“While some accused us of deliberately hiding the news, we just blew it.

“There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting scooped on your own company, yet if we somehow had the story first, some would say it was simply handed to us.”

Read more here.

I emphasize this to my “Business Reporting” students every year: You HAVE to read every filing of companies on your beat, and you HAVE to check for new filings every day. Set up an e-mail alert. An alarm clock. Whatever works for you. But do it every day. And even sometimes on the weekend. It doesn’t take long.

And it prevents that feeling that you’ve been punched in the stomach the morning you see a story in the competition.

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