I covered bankruptcy for about three years, but I still learned a lot from Erin Ailworth, whose Boston Globe story highlighted A123 Systems Inc.’s financial problems that led to its filing.
For one, I learned you don’t always need PACER access to get the documents. Some companies use third-party websites to provide free access to court filings. Reporters can find vendors handling the filings by checking the company’s website, Erin says. A123 used Logan and Co. to post its filings.
The filings detail how the company landed in bankruptcy protection. Reporters should use the search term “declaration” to get the company narrative, Erin says. “The first 35 pages say, ‘Let us tell you how we got here,’” Erin says. “I covered the company for three years, but there were still some things I didn’t know.”
In addition to the declaration, Erin says reporters should always search for first-day motions, liabilities and a list of creditors. A123’s creditors’ list, which includes customers, was 86 pages, she says. “I enjoy digging through stuff like this,” Erin says. “You have to learn what to look for, but once you learn, your antennae goes up.”
Reporters also need to stay abreast of what’s happening in the courtroom. Being in the courtroom helped me score some big scoops. When being there isn’t an option, reporters can often dial into court hearings. But they also can purchase transcripts from companies like Veritext, Erin says. The 105-page transcript of the A123 hearing gave her more details than she’d gotten from lawyers. It also provided the quote in the last paragraph of her story.
Finally, don’t forget to check your archives and notes, Erin says. She checked the archives to find stories quoting the chief executive and governor. Then, she searched the notebook pile she keeps under her desk to find interview notes. Luckily, she labels interviews inside the notebook covers.
“Some reporters don’t like to keep all that stuff, but you never know what’s going to come up,” Erin says. “I knew I would cover the company long term so it made sense.”
Finally, Erin offered some great analogies to make covering bankruptcy less intimidating: “It’s like being a detective. The financial filings and court filings are like police records and incident reports,” she says. “Bankruptcy filings are kind of like writing an obit.”