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Alicia Wallace

Alicia Wallace is a Colorado-based business journalist who has covered a variety of industries - including tech; aerospace; retail; grocery; natural products; craft brewing; real estate; telecom - for the Boulder Daily Camera, the regional newspaper for Boulder and Broomfield counties.

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Small business columnist Karen E. Klein on obstacles, benefits of freelancing

Over the past 25 years, Karen E. Klein successfully reinvented herself from full-time reporter to full-time freelancer. In the process, she established herself as an authority on small business trends and landed contracts with the likes of Businessweek and the Los Angeles Times.

Karen E. Klein 5 questionsThe past quarter-century also brought some uncertain times to the freelance and journalism landscapes and Klein adjusted to maintain and grow her portfolio and reach. Klein now writes two columns per week for BloombergBusinessweek.com’s SmallBiz channel.

Klein supplements those columns by writing a cover story or profiles for a L.A.-based publication and with projects at Pearson Publishing, where she serves as a freelance development editor for business and tech books.

Klein, a former staffer for the Los Angeles Daily News, landed on the small business track after being persuaded by an editor for the Los Angeles Times. “I didn’t think I could write business, but she encouraged me to freelance for her on small business stories, starting with entrepreneur profiles,” Klein says. “I gave it a try – that was almost 20 years ago.”

Klein recently spoke with the Reynolds Center about her freelance workload and how she navigated sometimes choppy waves in the industry.

1) What did your transition to freelance look like?

I was a staff writer at the Los Angeles Daily News, covering federal court, when my older son was born in 1989. I decided not to go back to work full-time after my maternity leave and transitioned into freelancing in early 1990, starting with judge profiles for the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal publication, and stringing for the Los Angeles Times.

2) How have the broader economic waves affected your work?

Smaller version of 5 questions with logoAs publications cut back, some of them reduce or eliminate their freelance budgets. That has affected me, most notably when I lost a regular column I had done for the Los Angeles Times for almost 15 years.

On the other hand, with staffs being cut, other publications rely more on freelancers and I get to know new editors who begin to rely on my writing. I definitely notice that I get more work as the economy starts on an upswing.

3) How has freelancing changed in recent years as both companies are working with tighter budgets and more writers are flooding the market?


“Be creative with ideas.
Often, an outside-the-box
take on an ongoing story
or trend will be very
appealing to an editor”

Editors today often ask if I will write for very little — or no — compensation. This happens particularly with online publications. Others want to pay less than what I was making when I started in journalism 30 years ago. Fortunately, I’m in a situation where I can turn down work that does not compensate me adequately.

4) What steps can journalists take to succeed in freelancing?

Read the publications you’re interested in writing for – not just one issue, but several. Get familiar with the sections, find out who the editors of those sections are and what kind of writing they’re publishing. If you’re interested in a specialty field, like business, read other business publications and follow news and trends.

Be creative with ideas — often, an outside-the-box take on an ongoing story or trend will be very appealing to an editor. Get to know other freelancers, writers and editors in person at networking events and on social media. Ask them to recommend and refer you. People hire people they know and who’ve been recommended to them, especially in freelance writing. If an editor takes a chance on an unknown writer, the assignment may never get done, it may come in late or it may be filed in terrible shape and take a lot more work than expected to be publishable.

5) What are the obstacles and benefits to freelance, as opposed to a full-time reporting position?

Lack of a regular paycheck and fluctuating cash flow are tough to deal with unless you have another source of regular income in your household. It’s difficult to juggle writing stories and pitching new ideas simultaneously. Being rejected is hard, no matter how gracious editors are about it. Paying for private insurance is expensive as is paying self-employment tax and quarterly income taxes. Unless you’re an introvert like me, it can be tough to work in isolation and you’ll miss the camaraderie and stimulation of a newsroom. In my case, once my children were in school full-time, I sought out friendships with other writers through an independent writers’ group here in Southern California. That turned into a lifeline and many people I met there are my good friends to this day.
Major benefits: setting your own schedule, working from home, home-office tax deduction, freedom to work on side projects, attend conferences/networking events on your own time. If an editor is difficult to work for, you don’t have to keep writing for him/her. It’s nice to do a variety of things — writing, editing, ghostwriting — for a variety of publications, rather than working at one place on the same beat for years. Typically you won’t have extreme short, daily deadlines if you’re freelancing, so you can take a little bit longer to really delve into a story.

 

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A roadmap for discovering the identities of unknown retailers

Walmart

Alicia Wallace used unique details from documents to determine a Walmart Neighborhood Market was coming to her coverage area.

Not all retailers are keen on tossing together a flashy press release to announce a store’s arrival. Many prefer to fly under the radar due to a variety of reasons – from ongoing lease negotiations to competitive concerns.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean a dead end for reporters. Although all the information might not be out in the open yet, there are some unique avenues that can help journalists identify mystery retailers.

In an article I wrote late last year, “Walmart buzz grows around mystery grocer opening at Boulder’s Diagonal Plaza,” items such as paints, shelving and renderings of a cart corral were significant clues that Walmart – which had tried and failed many times to enter a Boulder market that was not receptive to the retailer’s presence — was behind a mystery grocery store under development.

Walmart’s potential arrival had significant impact on the city’s sales tax base and competitive landscape. It also raised concerns from citizens and municipal leaders, who claimed the retailer was trying to sneak into Boulder.

Below are some tips and hints that could be applicable in efforts to track down an unknown new business and to overcome obstacles that may land in your path:

Start at the store itself. Pay attention to any ongoing activity, types of materials being used in construction and any signs or posting that may lend some clues. Chat up a worker or a neighboring business owner.

Track down the property owner. This information can be accessed via the county’s assessor’s office. If the owner of the building is an LLC, that information can be plugged into respective secretary of state business search portals.

The secretary of state’s search actually came quite in handy for me on a previous article that Trader Joe’s planned to open its first store in Colorado.

Query your city’s licensing office. This helps confirm if certain companies have filed for applications for sales tax, business or liquor licenses.

Search the state regulatory listings. In Colorado, each pharmacist and pharmacy operation had to be registered separately.

Contact the city’s planning and development office. If activity is ongoing, then a building permit most likely was filed. Seek out planning and development documents for the respective property.

These documents typically have some identifying information about the tenant or the planned use. In the case of mystery grocery in Boulder’s Diagonal Plaza, these plans were absent of the retailer’s name.

The building permits and related documents could have a wealth of information even if it’s not the most obvious.

Make note of details that could be significant. Be careful to transcribe specific details exactly as they were worded in the plans. For the article on Walmart, these details included a store number, listing of the departments, the number of checkouts and a general feel for the layout. The mystery grocer’s fixture plan contained vast amounts of “wall mounted wire shelving 18×48 inches” and departments had items such as a check writing desk, RedBox, Rug Doctor and a Money Center Express.

If a paint scheme is listed, write down several of the paints, including those with unique names.

The Diagonal Plaza tenant’s documents did have a store number of “#3096,” which gave me the indication that it was part of a larger chain.

Something to keep in mind: You should have little problem in viewing electronic or hard copies of these planning documents. If you run against issues from the city and officials are denying your requests, ask them to provide the regulatory statute or code that they claim would prohibit this viewing. File an open records request or consult with your publication’s legal team.

The internet can be your friend. In the wire shelving example, I started out with a simple search of “18×48” and then expanded it to include “ ‘wall mounted wire shelving’ ‘18×48’ ” and then searched the names of various retailers.

alicia wallace

Wallace is a reporter at the Daily Camera in Colorado.

I used the same process for the paints and store number.

Try to leave no stone unturned. After not receiving responses from the property owner and Walmart, I contacted other grocers to inquire whether they planned to open a store at Diagonal Plaza. The majority of them did not lay claim to the store.

Don’t let context slip away. Secondary sources such as a city finance official or a retail analyst can provide perspective on the effects of a retailer’s arrival and also provide some clues to further identify a mystery tenant.

Search the company’s “careers” page to see if hiring is taking place in your city.

Sign up for job notification alerts for specific companies. After we were given a heads up that Walmart had made a job posting on Monster for a Boulder hire, I tracked down additional postings and wrote an article. That same day, Walmart announced it was opening a Neighborhood Market at Diagonal Plaza.

As with any document or internet search, be very cautious about the validity of the information and how you convey that in the article.

We felt that the wide variety of elements I obtained through online and in-person reporting were substantial enough to lay out in an article as several different pieces aligned with Walmart as opposed to other retailers.

Don’t give up. Continue to pursue the story and go through the checks again to see if new documents have been filed or new information is available. (And don’t miss the video below where I walk through the key details that helped me uncover the Walmart story.)

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Google Fusion Tables: A guide for business reporters

google fusion

An interactive map created using Google Fusion that maps planned developments in Boulder.

As business journalists, we handle scores of data and do our best to use those figures and statistics to both build and bolster articles.

Some of the benefits from the ever-expanding digital world include not only the increasing amount of information, but also the emergence of unique ways to visualize data.

I’ve found that Google Fusion Tables is one, relatively user-friendly, avenue to take shallow and deep sets of data and craft them in ways that are easy to read and digest. One benefit of Google Fusion Tables is the “fusion” element. There are reams of existing tables of public data – including geographic vector data – that could be used to enhance your table.

In my work at the Daily Camera in Boulder, I’ve used Google Fusion to create interactive maps to detail impending developments, patents granted across all U.S. counties and local craft breweries and breweries in development.

Need a visual? Check out my tutorial below. It’s a step-by-step guide detailing the building of a simple Google Fusion Table interactive map on U.S. patent data. (Depending on the device you’re using, it might be easier to read by entering into full screen.)

I’m a newbie. For the past few months I’ve simply scratched the surface of incorporating Google Fusion into my stories. But a handful of journalists have been utilizing the tool much longer and they shared advice for business journalists looking to dive in.

Maximize the base data

Sandra Fish, a Colorado-based journalist and journalism instructor, specializes in data analysis and interactive reporting. She has utilized Google Fusion for a several years.

“If you’re already using Google spreadsheets, you are almost using Google Fusion Tables,” said Fish, who writes for The Washington Post and other publications in addition to teaching at the University of Colorado.  “It’s just one more step into that.”

Primarily a political reporter, Fish has used Google Fusion to create interactive maps and charts that detail information such as the number of female Congress members over time.

“There are so many opportunities for a business reporter … especially in real estate,” she said.

Sandra Fish

Some quick ways to integrate Google Fusion Tables into everyday reporting include crafting tables, line graphs or interactive maps for topics such as unemployment rates, gasoline prices, stock prices and properties sold.

“You need that base data, though, to create this table that has richer information than you would get from a Google map that has just the addresses,” she said.

For example, Google Fusion allowed a group of Fish’s students who were working as part of the newly launched CU Journalism News Service to create an interactive map of the properties burned in the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs.

Fish shared the following nuggets of advice for business journos just starting to work with Google Fusion Tables:

Using the tool to spot patterns

At National Public Radio, a web team developed a plug-in that allows its StateImpact reporters to build Google Fusion Tables inside WordPress.

The addition of the visual elements assist in the broader StateImpact goals of providing data-driven, enterprise reporting on topics related to the economy and government on state levels, said Amanda Loder, NPR’s StateImpact reporter for New Hampshire.

Amanda Loder

“When you have a very small government that isn’t able to keep track of a lot of things, whatever data you can bring to the table is a huge thing,” she said.

Some of Loder’s articles that have incorporated Google Fusion Tables include pieces on the state’s vacation homes and home health care pay.

The tables and maps are useful in helping to see patterns and also could be used to find stories and sources, she said. For example, she added, mapping the concentration of vacation homes in New Hampshire could show which townships and populations are reliant on the boom-and-bust tourism cycle.

Intensity and heat maps can draw the eye and draw attention to activities within a certain area and quickly show that “something either really good or really bad is happening in this area,” she said.

Some additional tips from Loder include:

  • For comprehensive datasets for business reporting, visit the U.S. Census site.
  • You don’t need to incorporate a map with every story. “Do it when it makes sense to do it,” she said. “If a table tells the story better, just use the table.”

Understand the limitations

Lucas Timmons, a data journalist based in Canada, has used Google Fusion Tables for about two years and appreciates some of the functionality. However, there are some limitations, he said.

Lucas Timmons

“The benefits of (Fusion Tables) are that it’s free and has a pretty low learning curve. It also can make use of the Google APIs and works well with JavaScript, so you can build almost any type of visualization you want,” Timmons wrote in an e-mail.

“The downsides are that there is a 250 MB limit on data, the are few makers available for use on the map, dealing with the data in Fusion Tables can be cumbersome, and you’re tethered to Google with no guarantee the service will always be free, or will always be supported.”

Some additional links to Google Fusion resources for journalists: Data Journalism Blog, Online News Association and also Google’s Fusion Tables example gallery.

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Find and mine databases for fresh angles on tired topics

baltimore sun

Screenshots from The Baltimore Sun's "Taxing Baltimore" series

When Baltimore’s high property tax rates became a central topic in last summer’s mayoral election, reporters at The Baltimore Sun sought novel ways of examining the issue. The rates are “far and away, the highest in Maryland,” so it was not a new story, said reporter Scott Calvert.

In order to explore new territory and augment their reporting, Calvert and other journalists from The Sun turned to numbers.

Today’s tip: Know what data is out there and dive into the numbers for fresh angles. 

By getting their hands on and mining a database of property tax records, Calvert, Jamie Smith Hopkins and their colleagues were able to develop a series of articles called “Taxing Baltimore.” The stories exposed how mismanagement, clerical errors and lacking oversight related to the Homestead Tax Credit – a cap on assessment increases for owner-occupied properties – deprived the city of millions of dollars and created inequity among homeowners’ tax bills.

The introduction to the series says:

“To report these stories, The Sun used an automated process called “scraping” to copy 237,000 property tax records from the city’s website and compile them into a database. The first articles detailed how the Homestead Property Tax Credit has morphed into a massive subsidy fueling widespread inequality among homeowners – a problem made worse by errors in billing and inadequate government oversight.”

The Sun turned to data scraping after city officials denied reporters’ requests for a complete database of property tax records and related credits. The records were aggregated in a mainframe and in an archaic format that would have been time-consuming for the city and, hence, extremely expensive for The Sun, according to Calvert.

“Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Calvert said. “But, if all else fails, the data scrape is an option.”

scott calvert

Scott Calvert

Noticing the individual tax bills were posted online, The Sun – through a fellow Tribune group reporter – scraped the 237,000 individual records, compiled them into a database and used programs such as Excel and Access to sort the information to discover trends in the data.

With a sharp eyes on the effects of the Homestead Tax Credit, sorts revealed information such as: which homeowners had the biggest discount on their taxes; data entry errors that resulted in billing mistakes; how rates compared for next-door neighbors; and who was double-dipping on the credit. Their efforts have resulted in increased enforcement action and legislation that targets scofflaws.

To identify the “double-dippers” involved taking additional steps that included locating similar names then comparing identifying information such as similar addresses and spouses. It also involved using public information databases such as Nexis to verify the information.

Data can lead to a wealth of story ideas and online interactive features, including maps, photo galleries and searchable databasesbut Calvert urges reporters to take further steps to  find people who illustrate the issue.

“Numbers are interesting, but they only tell part of the story,” he said. “You’ve got to find the people.”

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Use your gut, sources and skills to find unique stories in everyday topics

Colin Wiel

A screenshot from Bloomberg's interview with Colin Wiel, co-founder of Waypoint Real Estate Group LLC.

Source development and a good bit of preliminary reporting helped result in Edward Robinson unearthing a real estate trend article about the private equity market yielding “awesome” gains from converting foreclosed single-family homes into rentals.

Robinson, a senior writer for Bloomberg Markets for the last 10 years, heard from his private equity sources last summer that investment firms were buying foreclosed homes at auctions and converting them into rentals instead of flipping. Robinson knew he possibly had a story, but he was skeptical until he started delving in and connecting with his sources.

Once he got his hands on a confidential report from investor Bill Ackman that mentioned single-family homes as a growing asset class, Robinson knew he had something.

Robinson’s tip: “You go with your gut.”

“It never hurts to do some preliminary reporting,” he said. “When you’ve done that, you’ve got to go with your intuition.”

His gut, sources and skills led him to tell the story of Waypoint Real Estate Group LLC, a California investment firm that is buying about five foreclosed houses a day, turning them into rental properties and posting yields of greater than 8 percent.

The cost of renting in the U.S. reached an all-time high compared with that of buying a home at the end of last year, indicating it’s a good time for investors to purchase, Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) analysts said in a note today. Should property values rebound, Waypoint may earn at least 20 percent from appreciation in an eventual sale of the houses, says Colin Wiel, who co- founded the firm in 2008 after backing technology startups as an angel investor.

“I never thought I’d be rolling up single-family homes,” Wiel says. “But the yields are awesome.”

His article on money managers focused primarily on the investment angle – as it was more appropriate for Bloomberg Markets’ readership base. Other angles could include the welfare of the community, following the players at the foreclosure auctions or telling the stories of the characters and the culture on the courthouse steps.

“You have to make decisions along the way in terms of what story you’re going to tell,” he said.

If reporters are facing a sprawling subject area or a seemingly daunting topic, Robinson suggests looking for “the case study.”

“Find the key players, get your interviews and just let it rip from there,” he said.

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It’s Baaaack!: Braving that Black Friday shopping story

The pre-dawn events of the day after Thanksgiving may cause some reporters’ adrenaline to jump as they attempt to cover the door-busting frenzy in their respective hometowns. For other business reporters, it seems that no two words stir more sickly feelings of dread than “Black Friday.”

Black Friday 2011Some veteran journos say they loathe covering the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush because the story is over-hyped, over-played and has little value for readers. Others say they despise covering the “hordes-of-shoppers-flooded-the-malls” story so much that they wouldn’t want to comment for this article.

One reporter’s tongue-in-cheek spite: “I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.”

Despite any resentment or fears of stale coverage, some of us have no choice but to write an article on Black Friday. Here are a few tips and words of wisdom to help you cover the events of the day; add value to what you write; and also go outside the box with that coverage.

ADD VALUE

Melissa Allison, a Seattle Times business reporter has covered the day after Thanksgiving with her colleague, Amy Martinez, for the past five years.

Allison cautioned that the day presents challenges for business journalists. “It’s more of a feature,” she said. “It’s the same basic story every year.”

To inject more value into coverage, Allison suggests the following:

  • Give a critical eye to pundits’ pre-holiday season projections – as those often are wrong
  • Do your homework on your sources. Sometimes the “holiday shopping expert” touted on the press release that just rolled into your inbox is being bankrolled by a retailer.
  • Pay heed to earnings calls and reports. Companies such as Costco shed light on their approaches and tactics for the holiday shopping season.
  • Know your malls. Some shopping center officials can be difficult sometimes and may want to hold a reporters’ hand through the process. Others are fine with reporters who roam more freely.
  • Come prepared before you conduct the parking lot interview. Find a person whose shopping cart contents are representative of a certain trend (be it electronics or luxury item) and ask them about the reasoning behind their purchase and why they’re feeling confident about spending money.

“It is nice not to be completely random,” Allison said.

Her Times’ colleague Jon Talton, who writes an economics analysis column for the paper and also is a Reynolds Center contributing writer, said the frenzied environment overwhelms the sophistication and skepticism inherent to reporting.

Journalists should dig deeper into looking at the stakes for retailers (who are the winners and losers); be aware of how consumers have deleveraged; and unearth the “compelling personalities.”

“I remember the (Wall Street Journal) doing a story years ago about a manager for a single department store, preparing for the holiday season,” Talton wrote. “It was full of details, sophisticated knowledge of how the business actually worked, used her as the lens through which to tell the whole story.  “That’s value-added journalism I’ll pay for in a crowded information universe. ‘Shoppers Flock to Malls’ … no.”

OUTSIDE THE (BIG) BOX

Al Tompkins, Poynter’s sovereign of story ideas has written about Black Friday coverage in the past, but also provided some additional suggestions based on recent surveys and trends.

“Lots of websites give you the scoop on what is going to be hot … I like stories about other stuff,” he said via e-mail.

Black Friday Shopping

By Flickr user Beth Rankin

Tompkins said that “other stuff” could be:

HANDY RESOURCES

During the past eight seasons over covering Black Friday, I’ve come to realize how imperative it is to develop a battle plan.

  • Create a social media strategy for the day and be mindful of Twitter hashtags shoppers may be using. In past years, our paper anchored a real-time Twitter ticker on the front of our webpage featuring tweets that included our localized hashtag (#bocoblackfriday)
  • A website or Facebook solicit in early November can help you secure that family you want to camp out with/follow around in the early morning or to meet up with the folks who are not shopping that day.
  • Be aware how earlier openings could affect coverage. Macy’s and Target are starting sales at midnight.
  • Don’t let Black Friday (which sometimes is not the biggest shopping day of the holiday season) overshadow other potential business stories on that day.
  • There are a number of sites to store in the quiver for the day.
  • BFads.net and theblackfriday.com: These sites have a number of ad scans uploaded prior to their expected publishing dates. The ads could be used to help gauge trends and retailers’ expectations through comparing prices, placement and tactic. They also are helpful in drawing up a plan of attack for reporters in determining what stores to hit at what times. Theblackfriday.com also features content on “what’s hot.”
  • The NPD Group‘s holidaymarketresearch.com, which has some accessible market research; projections; and analysis.
  • The International Council of Shopping Centers, an industry trade association
  • The National Retail Federation, an industry advocacy organization
  • ShopperTrak analyzes foot-traffic for retailers and typically publishes information on the “busiest shopping days.”
  • Consulting firm Accenture typically conducts a holiday-related survey. This year’s survey also contains information on consumer behaviors and technology use.
  •  Other firms, including Deloitte, jump into the soothsaying fray as well. Here’s a recent Philadelphia Inquirer piece following that release.
  • I also like Reis Inc. for some perspective on the health of shopping center and mall real estate.
  • Be sure to keep the U.S. Department of Commerce’s latest data close at hand.

 

 

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Deep digging in SEC filings: Tips for mining the Form D

SEC filings I’m the geeky type who loves Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The documents can be goldmines in the coverage of publicly-traded companies.

I’ve set up e-mail alerts to track local, national and international firms of interest, and I feel a small burst of excitement when notices for SEC filings – especially the likes of an 8-K, a Def 14A or a 10-K – hit the inbox.

The SEC filing that has piqued my interest recently is the Form D. These filings help shine a light on the investment activities of privately held firms and partnerships. In a startup-heavy city like Boulder, it’s vital to keep watch on the financial plays being made in the community.

The SEC defines the Form D – filed by private firms and partnerships that meet one of three Securities Act exemptions, which essentially permit the sale of unregistered securities – as “a brief notice that includes the names and addresses of the company’s executive officers and stock promoters, but contains little other information about the company.”

Even though the Form Ds, which usually runs about seven to nine pages, may appear sparse at first glance, don’t be fooled.  Information packed inside this form can become a catalyst for stories ranging from a short daily to an in-depth enterprise.

I’ve been able to utilize the filings in a variety of articles. Two recent examples include a brief on Broomfield-based Biodesix raising $10 million in  funds and a larger story on Boulder-based OPX Biotechnologies raising $36.5 million.

THE HISTORY OF FORM D

The Form Ds can be found for free at the SEC’s website or are available on fee-based sites such as Morningstar Document Research, Edgar Pro and SEC Watch. These pay sites allow greater flexibility for research and users can set up alerts specific to the company, filing or geographic area. Other sites like FormDs.com and Stealth Mode Watch also tout Form D-related information, which includes viewing and receiving specific information and also unmasking companies operating in “stealth mode.”

Form Ds, however, are relatively lesser known in reporting circles as they’ve only been available online for less than three years. In 2008, an amendment to Regulation D included a stipulation that Form Ds be electronically filed.

For a nice read on a business journalist’s perspective on Form Ds’ paper to electronic shift, check out this Marketwatch column by Scott Austin from 2008. Austin details the difficultly faced by reporters trying get their hands on the Form Ds. Before moving online, the forms were mailed to the SEC, which then kept one copy on public file at its Washington, D.C., headquarters for a 30-day period.

In the column, Austin praised the positives of moving online: Reporters no longer had to ask colleagues in the Washington bureau’s help to peruse the filings and send via fax.

But he also pointed out that investors were no longer identified on the electronic forms. Also, he added, companies, investors and public relations agencies could be frustrated the information became more publicly available. More recently, some companies have asked whether it was necessary to file a Form D at all, Ivan Gaviria,  a Silicon Valley-based startup lawyer, detailed in this piece.

THE STRUCTURE

The Form D is numbered in sections. You’ll want to read the full document from top to bottom, but make sure you zero in and carefully read on a few key areas.

The first is No.13. This section, which lists “Offering and Sales Amounts,” will allow you to quickly determine the newsworthiness of the filing. Under item 13 in this 2010 filing from Twitter, you’ll see that the offering was nearly $5.17 million and that the social media site was successful at selling the entirety of the round.

form DIf there’s an amount remaining to be sold, make sure you watch for an amendment, a Form D/A, to be filed in the future.

THE FUNDS

Here are some of the key items to read to learn more details about the offering.

No. 6 – Federal Exemption(s) and Exclusion(s) Claimed: You can cross-check this with the SEC regs.

No. 7 – Type of Filing: This will give you an idea of the offering’s timing and whether the filing is an amendment or the first sale.

No. 9 – Type(s) of Securities Offered: You’ll see whether the investment was funded from debt, equity or other types of securities. Like any SEC document, keep an eye out for the footnotes or the explanation of “other.”

No. 10 – Business Combination Transaction: This item could provide details on merger and acquisition transactions that had undisclosed terms. In Twitter’s case, this box was checked in the affirmative. Sites such as PaidContent later connected the dots and traced the Form D filing to a December acquisition of Mixer Labs.

No. 16 – Use of Proceeds: This is not as juicy as it sounds as it only details any payment made to one of the “related parties” (the executives, directors and other folks listed in item No. 3).  However, it is helpful to see if the founding member of the company got a slice of the pie.

THE PEOPLE

While investors’ identities remain cloaked, you can gain some details, including the number and type, under item No. 14.  Also look at item No. 3 on related persons, as the new investor(s) may have become board members.

Daniel Levine, former TechCrunch research analyst and CrunchBase contributor, noticed a couple prominent names – Condoleezza Rice and Thomas Seibel – on a Form D filing for startup C3 and pieced together a telling story about a company kept mostly under wraps.

Levine’s post highlights the role Form Ds can play in business reporting and generating new stories.

You no longer have to be at the mercy of quarterly venture capital reports and press releases to develop a daily news story or a larger trend article on private financings of companies in your community.

Before digging in, take a look at sites like CrunchBaseVentureWire and TechCrunch, which do a great job of tracking Form Ds to quickly publish nuggets of information, generate larger stores and bolster databases.

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