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Marketplace’s Heidi N. Moore on covering banks and the switch to radio

Heidi Moore

Heidi N. Moore, Marketplace Radio

From breaking the news about Barclays buying Lehman Brothers’ investment bank to being a commentator in The End of Wall Street, Heidi N. Moore has been in the thick of it during the highs and lows of the world financial crisis.

And while Moore has spent over a decade covering mergers, acquisitions, and banks for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Washington Post, she never forgets regular folks who want to be able to talk about finance in a conversational way or just understand it better, that’s why it’s a core part of her mission as a financial journalist to explain things.

Thorough all this reporting and writing Moore has also learned how important it is for journalists to be able to adapt to different formats in which they communicate.

And adapting is what she’s doing.  Currently, Moore is set up with a soundboard and a hybrid system (that she jokes she could produce Jay-Z’s next album) as Marketplace’s New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent.  Here, she discusses her transition from print to radio and offers tips on covering banks.

1) How was the move from print to radio and what was the most challenging part?

The transition was made much easier because Marketplace provided so much training and support. The way you tell stories on radio is almost completely different from print, more narrative, your voice carries a lot more of that’s going on, and we’re very concise. Those are the three things I’ve been learning, working on and watching my colleagues do with great admiration.  Larger version of 5 questions with logoWhen transitioning from one media type to another remember:

  • Appreciate each medium for what it can do.
  • Try to master as many media as you can.
  • Know one, two or even three beats within each medium pretty well.
  • Be rigorous,– always have a good idea of what needs to be in a story and what doesn’t.

And in regards to the most challenging part, you can never really master radio, I think, but you can do good pieces. It’s a constant creative process to do that all the time. In addition to getting the steps to be as efficient as possible I’d like to work on getting the voice right.

2) How should young business reporters approach the banks beat?  

For something like banking I really think it takes reporters who have a tremendous amount of curiosity.  Because the only thing you can really trade as a financial reporter is information the more research you do on your banks and the more different kind of sources you talk to like analysts, bankers, people who used to work at banks and regulators, the better a reporter you’ll be.

This is when you can start asking the right questions.  Companies have stories, histories, successes, and failures like people do and if you can see that narrative, in a bank, in the same way that you would see it in a person, then you have the makings of something that could be a story.   Here are a few more tips.

  • Be prepared.
  • Go into any request with confidence because once you get into the harder stuff like banking, derivatives, mergers and acquisitions, people may not want to talk to you.
  • Pursue stories that other people are not chasing.
  • Remember, your job is still to learn from other people.
  • Read books. Everyone who is a financial journalist should read Liar’s Poker, Barbarians at the Gate, Monkey Business, Predator’s Ball, those are the basics.
  • Always get your facts straight.

3) Where do you find ideas for your stories and what are you working on right now?

I pretty much research everywhere but often I’ll call a source and then I always ask them what else they are seeing out there.  I also use Twitter to expose me to other stories and as I read them I have questions so those questions become other story ideas.

Currently, I’m working on Greece, the Euro bailout, and a lot of enterprise stories,– stories that are out there and that I’m reporting on but are not hitting the news every day.  I’m taking a look at banks and how they’re surviving post the financial crisis and then into European government crisis.

4) How do you deal with the pushback that may come when you are writing stories where millions/billions are at stake?

One of the stories that really taught me how serious this business can get was when I covered the buyout of Clear Channel communications. It was my first front-page story at the Wall Street Journal. It was a scoop that this enormous buyout of Clear Channel Communications, the radio company, was falling apart. We printed the story and the firestorm that followed was incredible. I got 200 calls from merger arbitragers over the course of two days and hundreds of emails saying, —this is a billion dollar deal, how do you know this? And I stood by it.

For me it was a really strong lesson in that no matter how strong your credibility is people can still come after you because they don’t know you.  You have to be really confident and say, I did my homework and I know this.  One of the most crucial things in financial journalism is knowing how to stand up to people and of course knowing your business.

5) So then how do we get that firm, definite Heidi voice?

Part of it comes from the confidence of studying, being prepared, and part of it is also your presentation. I found that in dealing with people in finance they don’t know what you know but they know if you’re hesitant and they’ll capitalize on that.  If you handle yourself well by saying, here’s the background, here is the preparation I did for this interview, here are my questions, then you can kind of win them over.

Remember, you have to be the real thing; you have to know you’re the real thing and you cannot, under any circumstances, hesitate. Also, it’s all in the mastering the tone of your voice when asking these questions.  Handle yourself professionally, respectfully and in a way that shows you belong at that table.  If you’re hesitant, people will pick up on that and not only will you get fewer interviews but the quality of the information you get will be less.

Finally, what I love about journalism is that there is a real pride to it.  If you’re doing it right, you’re serving somebody well and you’re adding something to the human knowledge.  It’s hard to get that from any other job.

About the Author

Brenda Yanez is originally from Chihuahua and grew up in the White Mountains of Arizona. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona and moved to Scottsdale, her home for the past five years. She is currently a Master's candidate at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and enjoys telling stories through various mediums, exploring Arizona's hiking trails and taking trips to nearby beaches. @brenyanez

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