The Business of Financial Reporting

Jun 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

With unemployment high and the stock market all too uncertain, Americans are paying more attention to financial issues these days-and local TV news is working to cater to their needs.
“Business news can be a great local franchise,” said Brahm Resnik, who reports business and consumer news for the Arizona Republic on NBC affiliate KPNX-TV in Phoenix. “Today everyone is a consumer in the extreme. We are consumed with spending money, making more money and investing our money, and we all want to know how to do it better.”
Wendy Bell, morning and noon anchor at WTAE-TV, the ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh, agrees. “beat is phenomenally important. It’s the No. 1 thing people who watch local news are interested in. In the five years I’ve been at WTAE the station has made [the beat] much more of a priority. Everything we do has a real practical application for a wide range of people.”
Local financial and business reporters typically steer clear of the kind of news hard-core financial junkies find on CNBC or in The Wall Street Journal in favor of more practical, Everyman pieces. “Stocks, bonds, annuities-they don’t work on TV, and they’re just a small slice of the story,” Mr. Resnik said.
They also tend to stay away from national stories unless it’s to give a local spin to headline news stories.
Mr. Resnik said that during the war in Iraq, for example, he connected the larger picture to the Phoenix market by developing packages on “companies with a big stake in the war: General Dynamics with its search-and-rescue radios, Apache Helicopters made at the Boeing plant here and ArmorWorks, which makes the bulletproof armor the troops wear.”
Ilyce Glink, financial reporter for Chicago independent WGN-TV, which is a superstation, lends a local perspective to headline news, such as United Airlines’ bankruptcy, by examining “the fallout to people in supportive businesses and surrounding communities and the impact on the overall unemployment rate in Chicago.”
In Memphis, Tenn., Steve McManus, on-air financial contributor at Fox station WHBQ-TV, does cover national stories, but he gives priority to local business leaders. “FedEx and International Paper are here in Memphis, so I always take a look at them if they’re announcing earnings, buying back stock, any business trends.”
And sometimes the national story has a stronger focus locally. That is the case for Joe Smith, business reporter for NBC affiliate KGW-TV in Portland, Ore. There, the unemployment rate-“the highest in the country”-is often his top story.
Key Local Issues
Issues related to Portland’s role as a transport hub are also key. “When the port lockout happened last September it was almost a daily story for me,” he recalled.
But often reporters just try to offer viewers practical advice on everyday financial matters. For example, Ms. Glink frequently reports on “news you can use,” from how to apply for the earned income tax credit to shopping co-ops to save money. She did a story on a Chicago program that prepares income tax returns for people earning $35,000 a year or less, showcasing a city service that many didn’t know existed. When she profiled two local people who took advantage of reverse mortgages for seniors, Ms. Glink got phone calls from as far away as Puerto Rico.
Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County has the nation’s second-most-elderly population, so Ms. Bell targets her two- to three-minute stories to an older demographic. “I’ll report on how not to get ripped off and common sense money management but not about investment tips or technology,” she said.
Given its growing popularity, financial and business reporting straddles all dayparts. Mr. Resnik does three live one-minute, 45-second reports for “12 News Today,” which airs weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., with a business update at 11 a.m. daily.
Mindful of the early hour and viewers’ “still hopeful” attitudes as they begin a new day, Mr. Resnik tries “to leaven the mix with the bright and offbeat. I’ll do the main headlines, like a big trucking company here stripping their chairman of his title, gas prices, low mortgage rates, and finish with LeBron James signing a huge shoe contract. At the end I toss back to the anchor, so I want something light, not a conversation stopper.”
Mr. Resnik’s “Money Minute” segment is his fourth live segment on “12 News Today.” It also airs on the Saturday morning show and appears online at AZCentral.com and in the Arizona Republic.
Like Mr. Resnik Mr. McManus tries to keep things upbeat for his 6:45 a.m. Tuesday slot on the high-rated “Good Morning, Memphis,” where he spends four or five minutes talking with the anchors about investments. “I try to make things as interesting but as light as possible so early in the morning-no price-earnings ratios, but good, timely information people feel they can act on.”
Mr. Smith does a 31/2- to four-minute “Your Money, Your Business” segment for KGW’s daily “News Channel 8 at 6:30” morning newscast. Depending on breaking news, he also can appear in the noon, 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. newscast. His reports usually re-air on weekend morning news shows and on Northwest Cable News, another property of KGW owner Belo.
Ms. Glink appears Tuesdays on the “WGN Morning News” and “WGN News at Noon” and Thursday nights on “WGN News at Nine.” The midday and 9 p.m. telecasts air nationally.
Overall, Ms. Bell sees “an interesting dichotomy between financial and business reporting on TV and in print. Newspapers give you a lot more factual information. TV has a greater challenge. We have to entice people to watch, and how do you make saving money visual?”
A dilemma indeed, but Ms. Bell appears to have a solution to capturing local viewers’ attention: people-on-the-street interviews. “They’re usually a big part of my stories. Involving average people brings it all home and makes viewers realize we’re all in the same boat.”