For one reporter, the old journalism adage “follow the money” was more than research advice. It was a career goal.
Dianne Finch, multimedia manager at the MIT Knight Science Journalism Program, began her reporting career covering business news, and now encourages young reporters to do the same. She explained her career moves, advice and upcoming business reporting course at Elon University Oct. 26.
“If you do understand it, you definitely have more opportunities,” Finch said. “And even if you don’t want to write about money for the rest of your life, at least understand it enough so you can talk about it in an interview. That helped me get every job that I’ve had.”
According to her, whatever beat a reporter has, money will be an important factor. She said it affects all of our lives in so many ways, so a journalist covering everything from entertainment to the environment needs a solid economic background.
And the skills are transferrable. Finch said the course she will be teaching in the spring semester will focus on understanding finances and collecting information. Learning how to gather, synthesize and present quantitative data is valuable for writers on any beat.
“Don’t ever believe anyone that says business reporting is boring,” Finch said. “There’s drama in it. One thing to think about is what happened in the financial crisis in 2008 and how it affected the lives of every single person in America, and pretty much every country world wide.”
Since it truly affects everyone, economic reporting must be in every journalist’s toolbox. But according to Finch, it isn’t yet.
“You need to understand at least the basics of accounting,” she said. “You need to know the different because revenue and net income. You need to understand the basics of economics, the difference between a private company and a public company.”
Equipped with this knowledge, reporters can work on stories that touch real lives. With a solid background, business reporting can be as fun as any other beat, according to Finch.
“There are people involved in all of these businesses, and once you start interviewing them you’ll know, they have dreams,” she said.
But just like other beats, talking with human sources means business reporting is never easy.
“These big CEOs can be just like children sometimes,” she said. “They have their passions too, they’re not all bad people.”
They’re not all bad, but they drive our economy, and affect us all. That’s why Finch said business reporting is so important. It’s in everything we do, and therefore needs strong reporters acting as watchdogs.