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How Financial Journalists Work

| | Posted in: Investing Expertise

How do journalists develop the information that appears in the financial media? In their November 2018 paper entitled “Meet the Press: Survey Evidence on Financial Journalists As Information Intermediaries”, Andrew Call, Scott Emett, Eldar Maksymov and Nathan Sharp report results of a survey of and follow-up interviews with financial journalists on inputs, incentives and beliefs that shape their reporting. Using 462 responses to a 14-question survey (emailed to 4,590 financial journalists) received during April 3, 2018 to May 3, 2018 and 18 follow-up interviews, they find that:

  • Regarding respondent demographics:
    • Median age is 40-49.
    • 62% have at least 10 years experience as financial journalists.
    • 59% have less than a year experience in other business-related fields.
    • 24% (31%) have a bachelor’s (master’s) degree in journalism, and 15% have a bachelor’s degree in business or economics.
    • 58% (4%) report liberal (conservative) political views.
  • Regarding very likely inputs for firm coverage:
    • 75% interact with media relations.
    • 72% check stock market reaction to earnings releases and compare reported earnings to analyst estimates.
    • 64% (35%) listen to (seek to ask a question during) earnings conference calls.
    • 63% use private contacts with management.
    • 57% interact with financial analysts, especially those with firm-specific experience and those who have been helpful before.
    • 53% consult analyst reports.
    • 49% use SEC 10-K or 10-Q reports.
    • 34% (29%) interact with institutional (activist) investors.
  • Regarding very likely use of social media:
    • 72% to share or promote articles.
    • 59% to track what other journalists are writing.
    • 45% to identify issues or events to cover.
    • 32% to stay informed about firm news/disclosures.
  • Regarding very important job evaluation criteria:
    • 94% say accuracy.
    • 81% say timeliness.
    • 79% say exclusive content.
    • 77% say depth of reporting.
    • Only 43% say number of readers.
  • Regarding very important personal incentives:
    • 83% say holding firms accountable.
    • 82% say providing insight/analysis of news.
    • 36% say promoting social/economic justice.
  • Regarding perception of what is very interesting to readers:
    • 84% say corporate fraud.
    • 71% say mergers and acquisitions.
    • 69% say insider trading.
    • 60% say IPOs.
    • 58% (56%) say CEO turnover (pay).
  • Regarding most important target audience:
    • 49% say professional investors.
    • 34% say retail investors.
  • Regarding very likely consequences of negative articles about a firm:
    • 53% report hearing from the firm’s media relations officer.
    • 22% say loss of access to firm management.

In summary, survey results indicate that (somewhat adversarial) accuracy, timeliness, exclusivity and depth of reporting about firms are principal motivators of financial journalists.

Cautions regarding findings include:

  • While the number of survey responses is moderate, there could be self-selection bias in results. For example, respondents may represent especially scrupulous journalists.
  • The same concern applies (more strongly, because of the small number) to follow-up interviews.
  • Actual behaviors may differ from survey/interview responses.


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