Behind the scenes at Investor’s Business Daily
Susan Warfel is managing editor of Investor’s Business Daily, a national business newspaper based in Los Angeles. She plays a lead role in guiding coverage of the financial markets, the economy, business, government and other news for the paper and its companion website, Investors.com.
Her responsibilities include staff development and planning of new features and sections. She also oversees newsroom business matters, technology and Web traffic development strategies.
Warfel joined IBD during the start-up phase in 1983. She began as a reporter and later was promoted to senior editor, with responsibility at various times for many areas of IBD’s business coverage. She has been managing editor since 1996.
Before joining Investor’s Business Daily, Warfel was a business reporter at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from the University of Southern California.
Warfel spoke by email with Talking Biz News earlier this week about her career and about Investor’s Business Daily. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did you get interested in business journalism?
I fell into business journalism while I was still in college. My first internship was at a local business weekly, the Los Angeles Business Journal, and I found the work to be both interesting and challenging. At the time, the U.S. was in a recession, so there were a lot of industries under pressure in our area. Yet there were people trying to grow and expand their businesses who had a lot to talk about too. Plus, the analytical side of the reporting appealed to me.
One of the first jobs they gave me on the job was to compile the annual top 50 companies list and then to write the cover story based strictly on the list rankings. I’m dating myself now, but at the time this was a manual job of picking through annual reports and other financial statements and then figuring all the growth rates and ratios on a calculator. This sounds tedious, but it was actually a great way to learn how to use corporate financial data and extract meaning from them.
On top of all that, business journalism was one of the few areas of the industry that was growing. Really, I think a lot of news organizations were just waking up to the fact that economic issues affect everyone.
What attracted you to Investor’s Business Daily?
It was mostly two things. One was the entrepreneurial environment. I was one of the journalists hired during the start-up phase, so I’ve been here since the very first issue of the newspaper. It was exciting to be part of the planning and launch of an entirely new news product.
But even more than that, I saw the paper as a place where I could grow as a business journalist. The editors and reporters who had been hired to start the paper had deep experience at business magazines or other news organizations. I felt I could learn from them.
And the parent company of IBD had a vast stock market database and expertise about stocks and investing. The knowledge base was much greater than at the general circulation metro paper where I had been working.
Whom do you see as IBD’s target audience?
Our core audience is made up of self-directed investors, especially those who favor growth stocks. These are people who take a hands-on approach to their investments rather than leave all the decision-making to someone else.
And many of those readers of Investor’s Business Daily and Investors.com include financial professionals, such as financial advisors, money managers and traders. Our readers also include many business owners, managers and other professionals.
How does IBD differ from The Wall Street Journal?
We cover many of the same areas: business, the financial markets, technology, the economy, management trends and public policy. But we have a much tighter focus on leading growth companies – the type of companies with stocks that our readers might own or be thinking about buying. We also have our own unique stock data and qualitative ratings to help readers make good investment decisions.
There is a strong educational undercurrent to much of our coverage. We explain sound investing principles and guide readers to the most useful statistics and best-performing stocks and funds to help them succeed financially.
Who are your biggest competitors?
We compete with the Wall Street Journal and some other print publications, but increasingly our competition comes from financial websites.
Our mission is to provide readers with timely information about the most important financial news of the day, coupled with the best financial data and screening tools to help them find stocks to invest in and monitor the stocks they own or are following.
What does IBD do that sets it apart from other business news outlets?
We’re not like other business news outlets and don’t want to be. Yes, we cover the same big breaking news events, but we add unique perspective about the performance of the companies and industries we’re writing about. Maybe that big tech company announcing an earnings increase has the weakest profit growth in its industry group – investors would want to know that. They might have been thinking this could be a time to buy that stock because of the earnings report.
And as I already mentioned, we provide a lot more coverage of the best-performing stocks, whether or not they are household names – and often they aren’t.
The difference starts with our in-house knowledge about stocks and investing. We let the data guide us to what we should be covering. And we use charts extensively to analyze what’s happening both at the company and market level. What really sets us apart is our coupling of fundamental analysis of companies’ earnings, sales and other financial performance measures, along with technical analysis of their stock price and volume, using charts.
A lot of business news media are emphasizing more video. Are you doing the same?
Yes, we are. We’re experimenting with different approaches to see what investors prefer and what’s most useful to them. Our readers are busy people and are not looking to us for entertainment. We incorporate stock charts in our company news videos to help readers see what they should be looking for on the charts. We’ve experienced some success but realize that we, like the industry, still have a lot to learn.
Where would you like to see IBD improve in the next five years?
These are exciting times in our industry. Our challenge is to continue to deliver a top-quality financial newspaper while substantially building our Internet readership and revenue. This will require continual investment, change and improvement, and not just in our website, Investors.com.
Our journalists also have to keep evolving their skills, and we work with everyone on that. We provide frequent training and reviews of SEO principles and best Web writing practices. And we’re open to ideas from all corners of the newsroom.
As for our site itself, we are investing in technology with the goal of speeding up publishing times, gaining more content presentation flexibility and giving journalists more control over the packaging of content. We have been rolling out improvements, including responsive design and a redesign of our investor education section. Other design changes will follow, including a new presentation of our videos.
Five years down the line, I hope our newsroom will be delivering more company news coverage on the Web, more quickly, with perhaps more updates during the day. And I’m sure we’ll have even better financial data and screening tools. But “more” is not necessarily the answer to Internet readers’ needs, certainly not by itself. We must continue to provide unique content that informs growth-oriented stock investors and helps them make smart decisions.
A lot of business news sites still give away content for free. Why has IBD stuck with a pay model?
We have unique information that readers can’t get elsewhere. And readers can use that information to improve their investment returns, so they are willing to pay for it. Why would we give it all away for free?
But I want to make something clear. We actually have several levels of access on Investors.com. Most of the current articles are available to anyone, along with basic charts and data. We want to be able to introduce new readers to our content.
IBD subscribers get full access to all current and archived articles and exclusive data features, including our Stock Screener and IBD Stock Checkup rating system. We also offer premium online products, which are separate subscriptions.
How do you respond to criticism that IBD doesn’t do much investigative reporting about companies?
Our newspaper and website are full of valuable information that investors can’t get anywhere else. We do not pretend to do everything for everyone. We are frequently the first news organization to write about a little-known stock before it makes a big upward move. And we note warning signs in a stock – often technical, based on stock price and volume patterns that other journalists don’t follow – before other news organizations notice any problems. We make no apologies for our focus.
How big is IBD’s editorial staff, and how do you decide what to cover each day?
We have about 65 people on our editorial staff. Each reporting and editing team – markets, technology, business and so on – has a fair amount of autonomy in planning and assigning stories. But we have a news meeting each morning where we review all the teams’ budgets and go over the breaking news of the day – what Investors.com has covered so far, as well as other financial and general news organizations. We’ll make requests and decide on our A1 story lineup. Executive Editor Chris Gessel and I participate in those meetings, along with our news editors.