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Tian Chen

Tian Chen graduated from The University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China, with a business degree in July 2011. A month later, she traveled to Phoenix to further her study in business journalism at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is now a graduate assistant at the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.

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Reuters’ Felix Salmon on finding your voice, confidence and a place in the blogosphere

Felix Salmon has blogged since the beginning of the blogosphere. Now he has 110 categories of articles, ranging from credit ratings to climate change, and has established himself as a fresh, authoritative voice on the business beat.

Felix Salmon

Salmon launched his journalism career in 1995 as a graduate trainee for EuroMoney, a UK-based monthly magazine covering International banking finance and capital markets. He earned £500 a month and figured a “job beats no job.”

He later moved to New York City for new gig, got fired and decided to freelance for five years. During that time, he met NYU economics professor Nouriel Roubini. Salmon persuaded Roubini to give him a full-time professional blogger job. He was fired again within six months.  In April 2007, Salmon moved to Portfolio.com and stayed there until he  joined Reuters as a finance blogger three years ago.

Salmon’s unique personality shines through blogs. His work has won the heart of thousands of readers, and also the 2010 Excellence in Statistical Reporting Award from American Statistical Association.

Below Salmon shares his suggestions for how to be a successful business blogger.

1) What are the best parts of a finance blogging job? What are the worst?

The best thing about being a blogger, I think for me, is the range of stuff you get to write about. So right now, for instance, I’m writing about a huge amount about the World Bank presidency, like who’s going to get it, and what the relative merits are.

I like being able to have opinions, I love being able to help drive the conversation around certain subjects, I love being able to switch very easily from subject to subject, from beat to beat. One minute I’m writing about the GO Politics and World Bank, the next I’m writing about the economics of wine, and the next I’m writing about bicycling. I can switch around a lot, which I love.

And the other great thing I love to be able to do with the blog is just find wonderful stuff and link to it. I feel like a chunk of my job is writing, and another chunk of my job is reading. And I get to find great bloggers, great journalists, and pieces of great journalism from all over the world and link to it, and bring it to a broad audience and say, “Hey people look at this, isn’t this fantastic?” And this makes me really happy. Being able to show great great pieces of journalism and great pieces of blogging to the world and sort of amplify it and curate it in that sense.

The worst thing, I think it’s that you can never really turn off. The blog is a little insatiable, and I feel like I’m feeding the blog the whole time. Right now my wife is asking me if we can go sailing around Christmas time. And I’m like, “You know, I don’t know. How do I feed the blog when I’m sailing?” You never want to be too far from the Internet connection.

But I really don’t have any complaints at all. It’s a fantastic job, and I’m really happy.

2) How do you ensure a business blog resonates with readers?

The voice is really important. One of the things that I’m slightly suspicious about journalism schools in general is that I fear that when you go to one of these places, they teach to how to write in a certain way. I don’t want to write in certain ways. I want to be me.

People who are really successful with columns or blogs, the personality shines through. So if read Paul Krugman, you’ll see he has this very unique voice, no one else writes quite like him. And he’s hugely successful. In the case of both of us, we really don’t spend a lot of effort on how we write.

It’s more about being confident enough to be yourself, without worrying too much about, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?” You want to be able to just be relaxed, write what you think, and not second-guess yourself too much. And if you are a naturally fluent writer, and you are allowing yourself to write what you think and how you think, then that can work really well. I think people who are more worried about how they are writing, or need to put more effort into how they write, for them, it’s probably harder.

And link a lot. One of the things that newspapers and TV do is that they are trying to be, to a certain degree, exhaustive or comprehensive. So if you pick up a newspaper, it shows you news that you need to know. If you watch a TV news program, it shows you the news you need to know. Blogs aren’t like that in the same way. So if something important happens, and I don’t have anything particular to say about it, I can just link to it.

You do what you do as well as you can, and if someone else is it better, you just don’t bother, you link to them. If someone is doing great stuff, then you can just link to them a lot. That’s not a sign of weakness on your part; it’s a sign of strength. The more you link out, the more people come back.

The main advantage of the Internet over newspapers and TV is precisely the fact that you don’t need to do stuff that someone else can do better.

Larger version of 5 questions with logo3) How do you create a unique personality online?

I don’t think this is something that can be constructed. I don’t think anybody could say “Oh, I want to be a columnist,” or “I want to be a blogger, so I’d better cultivate a voice – let me see what kind of voice can I cultivate.”

One of the weird things that happened when I started at Profolio.com, was that… they needed to find an analyst blogger, and so I said, “OK, I’ll do it.” And then they said, “Listen, can you come up with a list of five different blogs which you can write? And then we’ll pick the one we like the most.” And that was kind of stupid. I did what I was told, and I came up with a list of five different blogs and they picked the one they liked the most. And I tried to write that blog, and it lasted for about a day.

Because really I think any given person can only write one blog. If it’s going to write a successful blog, which is going to be a pleasure to read and a pleasure to write, then you just have to be yourself. You have to write the way you write. And if someone wants me to write a finance blog for them, I will write my finance blog for them. But my finance blog will be just whatever I want to write in any given time, and I’m not going to be able to craft it to be something else… Once you’ve started second guessing yourself and saying, “How do I write? Can I write in a certain way?” You’ll start failing quite quickly.

4) What are some of the challenges of finance blogging?

You have to have quite a thick skin. If you are going out there with opinions, you’ll going to have a lot of people out there saying very loudly that you are stupid. And if you don’t want a lot of people saying very loudly that you are stupid. If you can’t see the criticism and learn from it without being offended by it, then you really shouldn’t be in that business. So it’s not for the insecure.

You learn form the substantive comments. If I write about… just about any subject in the world, it’s going to be commented by those who know more about that subject than I do. And a lot of them are going to leave very detailed and substantive comments. And sometimes I would be like, “Oh wow, that’s interesting, I was wrong.” And sometimes I’ll get more nuance and understanding of things. Whereas the “Oh my god, Felix you are so stupid, you are completely wrong” without any kind of substance. You just ignore those.

But I think it’s really important for you as a blogger, not just even a blogger, as human being really, to always admit any given thing you write. Even though you believed it at the time might well be wrong. Feel free to change your mind on things.

I second-guess myself quite a lot, and I change my mind on certain subjects relatively frequently. But honestly, it’s not the ones which I’m widely criticized… Yes I get criticisms on things, and I change my mind on things, but the overlap of the two is not as big as you might think.

5) Could you share tips for business reporters thinking about starting a blog?

I would say quantity over quality. I find that a lot of people, when they are starting out, they don’t write enough, and they labor over their pieces way too long. And they worry about, “Oh my god, should I put this up? Is this good enough?” All these kind of things are in general a bad idea. To get good at something is just do it a lot. And if you put up lots of blog posts everyday, then you are going to get better at it, and people will be much more likely to notice you. And the first rule of blogging is that the blog posts that do the best are not ever the ones that we think are the best. It’s kind of random…

So you just keep on writing… The more you do, the better.

Frankly your radar is the people you follow on Twitter. But if you are a financial blogger, you should probably be following financial people more, such as financial journalists and commentators. And if you follow those people, you’ll see in real time on Twitter what everybody is talking about, and where everybody’s attention is.

Twitter has changed everything so much. A huge amount of what I used to do on a blog, such as linking to stuff, now I use Twitter instead. So the blog posts are now much longer and much deeper, because I have Twitter for quicker hits… And just like a blog, you can’t pretend to be someone else you are not on Twitter. Your personality will always shine through.

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Story ideas: Hot topics in the business of aging

As baby boomers age, they become the target for industries ranging from health care to dietary supplements, and also an important business topic for financial reporters. Currently more than 5.7 million Americans, or 18.5 percent of the population, are older than age 60, according to 2010 Census data.

Panelists discuss the business of aging at the 2012 SABEW conference in Indianapolis.

During a session on the business of aging at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference, a panel of experts detailed hot trends that reporters should have on their radar. The conference, which brings together business journalists and industry experts, was held March 15-17 in Indianapolis.

The session’s panelists include Paul LaPorte, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lori Bitter, an expert on marketing and the economics of baby boomers, Carla Penny, a member of the American Association of Retired Persons’ National Policy Council, and Malaz Boustani, associate director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.  The discussion was moderated by John Wasik, an award-winning business columnist.

Here are a few highlights from the panel discussion:

Many baby boomers are retiring at a younger age because of the economic crisis. This can threaten their economic security  later in life – Carla Penny:  Early retirement is typically taken at age 62, and after retirement many people rely on Social Security. This decreases retirees’ lifetime benefits. Older widows, who live alone on their spouses’ Social Security, are a central concern. Also, taking early retirement is particularly hard for baby boomers, because they need to use their social security benefits to support themselves, as well as their long-living parents.

Caregivers play a vital part in the business of aging –  Lori Bitter: Caring for family members results in a significant  loss of productivity. There are currently 65 million U.S. caregivers, which results in lost wages of about $3 trillion for families in pensions and Social Security. Bitter also said there are not enough caregivers for the rising number of aging baby boomers.

Electronic devices are not a perfect substitute for family caregivers - Lori Bitter:  Devices are available to help seniors monitor their blood pressure, food intake and weight. The electronic tools comprise a significant marketplace. General Electric and Intel have emerged as two pioneers in researching and developing these virtual health systems. However, finding a way for seniors to afford the devices is a challenge. If the government is not ready to subsidize, the devices are typically too expensive for individuals to purchase. Also, compliance with the device is another challenge. On average, the devices are not used for a long time and as a patient heals, the monitor device is often returned.

Thirty million people over age 55 years are now employed. The number of working seniors will continue to grow – Paul LaPorte: Labor force participation, consisting of those who are employed or actively looking for a job, for Americans age 55 and over has trended upward since 1993. The rate is currently about 40 percent and the number could continue to grown in the future.  Reasons for the growth include the need for income and increased life expectancy.

Delirium has a significant impact on the U.S. health care system – Malaz Boustani:  Delirium is a confusion syndrome, which is common among hospitalized patients with an episode of acute illness. More than 7 million hospitalized Americans suffer from the disease every year, which costs the health care system between $38 billion to $152 billion annually.

Health care system is moving to accountable care – Malaz Boustani:  Hospitalists can no longer make money simply by offering a service, they need to create a value for the service, and take care of a panel of people related to the patient and the disease. To survive in the health care system, hospitalists need to balance serving the patient, and simultaneously serving the entire patient population. Also, the concept of “who’s the patient” is different. Patients now include the sick person, as well as their family. Hospitalists should take care of them all.

Additional resources for covering the business of aging:

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Award-winning journalist Mei Fong offers tips for reporting on Asia

Mei Fong

Mei Fong

While reporting in Asia for more than a decade, Mei Fong investigated the controversial backstage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, visited the site of debris after the Sichuan earthquake, and disclosed the hidden link between a small town’s brand-new factory and its climbing cancer rate.

Fong’s commitment to finding the human story behind major economic events and natural disasters earned her the 2007 Pulitzer Prize International Reporting with her colleagues from The Wall Street Journal. She was also a finalist for the 2009 Society of Professional Journalists’ Deadline Award for her reporting on the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

Fong is currently on sabbatical leave from The Wall Street Journal, where she most recently worked as the paper’s China correspondent. She teaches global journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

Below she shares tips from her reporting experiences and offers advice for journalists seeking stories connected to Asia.

1) What preparation do U.S. reporters need before going to Asia?

First of all, learn the language as much as you can, and learn about the history, the background, the current issues. Nobody comes to the ground fully prepared, but you try as much as you can.

Whenever it’s possible, never do parachute journalism. People are based on the ground for years to cultivate sources. In some cases, yes, you are doing parachute journalism, for example, for huge earthquake, or political disasters… But as much as possible, you should know the ground beforehand.

I knew a foreign correspondent, he lived in a five-star hotel, he never ate Chinese food, and didn’t speak any of the language… I questioned him how much can you know about what the reality is if you live in that little bubble?

But you don’t necessarily have to live as a local either. Before you are there, when you are there, always have an inquiring mind. What you do bring to the table as a foreign correspondent, but not as a local, is this ability to see something new. Sometimes it takes an outsider to come inside to see the big picture and why it’s important. As a reporter, you always need a sense of an outsider.

2) What challenges did you face while reporting in China? 

There isn’t a lot of press freedom in China. For example, it’s very difficult to getting to talk to officials in state-owned companies. Very frequently, you wouldn’t get much of anything. You don’t have the institutions you can ask for research documents and information.

The big issue is, even if you are foreign press, you might be forbidden or put in danger to report on something substantial. But that’s nothing to what will happen to your interviewees, who might get into a lot of trouble, much more than you. So one of the difficulties is always to protect your sources.

Prior to 2008, when foreign journalists are required by law to apply to local authorities to report in their area. So, if for example you were a foreign journalist accredited in Beijing, and you wanted to do a story in, say, Guangzhou, you had to ask the Guangzhou authorities for permission. This slowed down the reporting process considerably, and usually meant you would never get permission to report on politically sensitive stories.

In practice, most foreign journalists will try to get down there, report the story and get back, before the local Wai Ban (Foreign Affairs Office) can catch you and kick you out.

In 2008, Beijing government lifted this restriction, with the exception of Tibet, so foreign journalists had greater freedom to report around China. The Chinese government had to loosen press restrictions as part of their promise to host the Olympic Games and uphold Olympic ideals.

I think things are opening up a lot, more than it used to be. People reporting in China tell us it’s a lot easier now, especially in the area of financial news about companies that are listed. They have an obligation to disclose more, and there are more avenues for them to call you back and say something. They have to because they have to take into account what the investors will think.

Larger version of 5 questions with logo3) What did you do if you suspected sources were not telling the truth? 

You use the “Three-Source Rule.” One source says one thing, and then you try to check it against what other sources are saying. And if it contradicts with one another, one source is not telling the truth perhaps. You never depend on one source.

The best reporters are not the ones who get somebody from the government or official sources. Generally they will keep saying the same thing over and over again. You have to hold the official source’s reply, but you also have to cultivate unofficial sources within a company, maybe people that are higher up and are willing to talk to you off-the-record, and tell you whether things are this way or that way.

But the official sources can tell a lot too, not necessarily what they want to tell you, but it can be very telling. For example, in the Sichuan earthquake, one of the big issues was the number of victims at one point. People were trying to figure it out. It was very hard because the government would officially not give the number for a very long time. So you always have to find other sources. You never had the 100 percent answer, but you can tell the reader: this is what the government says, and this is what some other sources say… This is journalism, you will never get the 100 percent answer, but you try.

4)  How do you ensure protection of your sources?

Some stories are more sensitive than others, so you have to protect your sources. For example, there was one period when I was doing reporting on a story about a factory opening in a small town. After the factory opened up, the cancer rate in the district went up a lot, and the whistleblower, who was a doctor, got a lot of people in the town to sue the factory… And although people in the town won the lawsuit, they never got paid very much, and the doctor got into trouble, he lost his license and his wife left him in the end.

When I went down there and interview him, I had to hide my notebook in my clothes. My fellow reporter was male, so it was better to hide it with me because the male public security officer was hesitant to search females… So make sure whatever the notes you have, especially on sensitive issues, they don’t fall into the hands of local authorities.

When reporting on sensitive stories and meeting with sensitive sources, be careful with cellphone usage, as authorities can track your location using your cellphone. So when you go somewhere sensitive, turn off your cellphone and take the battery out, because they can be used to locate you.

I used to know one reporter who used to do all the interviews of sensitive subjects in cars and vehicles so they would not be caught by public security, because the car is going round and round when you are talking to them.

The most important is that you have to be aware of the dangers that might happen to the people you are talking to. You can write this great amazing story that shines a light on what’s going on, but there are people on the other end who might suffer.

5) How can reporters relate a story happening in Asia to a U.S. audience?

The two countries (China and the U.S.) are so intimately involved now, economically at least. They are both major trading partners, China holds a lot of U.S. dollars, certainly China is interested in what’s going in the U.S. economically, and three quarters of the things that Americans use are made in China. It’s not hard to make the connection with audience.

When I was in Hong Kong, I covered this huge manufacturer in Shenzhen. It manufactures Christmas trees and was the world’s biggest Christmas tree manufacturer. And all of its Christmas trees will end up in Wal-Mart. So your readers in America can quickly make the connection.

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Marketplace host David Brancaccio offers tips for business reporters

David Brancaccio

David Brancaccio

David Brancaccio is the special correspondent for Marketplace’s award-winning business program Economy 4.0 and the host of the Marketplace Index.

During his 33-year career, the broadcaster has covered politics, human rights, national security, the environment, health care, and science policy. He also authored the book “Squandering Aimlessly,” which focuses on money and values in America.

Brancaccio said he approaches economic topics from the average person’s perspective. And his string of awards proves he is an expert business storyteller. He’s won some of the highest honors in broadcast journalism, including an Emmy, Peabody, Columbia-duPont, and Walter Cronkite awards.

We had a chance to sit down with Brancaccio to ask him about his top tips for business reporters. From hot topics to jump on in 2012 to tactics for bringing complicated business stories home to the average reader, he shares his advices below in a three-part video series.

Stories to jump on now 

In this video, Brancaccio talks about the hottest economic and business topics reporters should keep on their radar in 2012, and the way they can make these stories relevant to a local audience.

Telling human stories 

In this video, Brancaccio stresses the importance of finding the “human element” in business stories, and offers suggestions for reporters before they go on field.

Breaking down the complex

Brancaccio offers tips for strategically tackling complicated business topics, and shares methods for finding compelling characters in complex topics in this video below.

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Quick chat with KFNN radio’s Dawn Nici

Dawn Nici, a fellow in this year’s Strictly Financials Seminar, is morning anchor on KFNN, Money Radio 1510. She came to Phoenix to produce mornings on news-talk KFYI, and then became the original program director at Sports Radio KGME. Before that, Nici produced national newscasts for the Mutual Broadcasting System and NBC Radio Network.

As an experienced radio journalist, Nici offers tips of how radio reporters can produce high-quality stories.

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Quick chat with Reynolds Visiting Professor Rob Wells

Rob Wells, former deputy bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires Washington bureau, was recently named a Reynolds Visiting Professor at the University of South Carolina. He was also a Business Journalism Professors Fellow from Jan. 2-5 in Phoenix.

Pulling on his experience as a veteran financial journalist, Wells offered tips of how reporters can get the knowledge to succeed on the business beat.

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Quick Chat with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Venessa Wong

Venessa Wong, a reporter for  Bloomberg Businessweek and a 2012 Strictly Financials Fellows, has been a financial reporter for six years. She has often covered international stories and has written pieces for Forbes, Newsweek’s Chinese edition and the Economist Intelligent Unit.

With years of experience in covering stories in both Shanghai and New York City, Wong shared her tips for American reporters working abroad.

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Veteran editors give professors tips on getting students hired

Editors Reynolds Week 2012

Ralph Merkel, right, talks with business editors about coaching new graduates. Editors, from left, are Jodi Schneider (hidden), Linda Austin, Kathy Tulumello and Ilana Lowery.

Experienced editors discussed with Reynolds Week Professor fellows on what they expect from journalism school students hunting for jobs.

The panel members included Linda Austin, executive director of the Reynolds Center and former editor of Lexington Herald-Leader; Ilana Lowery, longtime editor at Phoenix Business Journal; Kathy Tulumello, business center director at the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com; and Jodi Schneider, Congressional team leader at Bloomberg News.

Consensus among the editors was that times have changed and professors have a tougher job coaching students in ways to battle for the few good jobs out there. Key points they shared about hiring journalism school students include:

Q: What do editors look for in the students that they might hire?

LOWERY: A right fit. This means the students have to be passionate about business journalism, have good attitude, and know how to present themselves in front of CEOs. They do not need to be financial statement experts at the entry level, but must have excellent intangible qualities.

Andrew Leckey and editors panel

Reynolds Center President Andrew Leckey joined the panel of business editors coaching journalism professors.

TULUMELLO:  Internship. This gives students clips, hands-on experience and persuasive references. Other than this, editors also look for initiative, teamwork, accurate facts in stories and attention to details. Also, early application is encouraged because interns are subject to background checks, drug test and other tests that full-time employees go through.

AUSTIN: Initiative, which is the students’ willingness and ability to learn. Judgment, which indicates whether students could make the right call under difficult situations. If no, whether they could learn from the mistake. Teamwork, which encompasses the students’ ability to efficiently cooperate with the TV staff, photo staff, etc.

SCHNEIDER: Structured Internship; and Recommendation from people who the student has worked with. And students should also keep in touch with organizations where they and other students have interned in or freelanced for.

Q: What are editors expecting from students’ résumés?

SCHNEIDER: Professional Experience. This includes internship, student publication and classroom experience. The résumé should be less than a page long, and the content should only be journalism-related. Reference. In addition to putting “reference available upon request,” students are encouraged to include the references’ contact information, as well as one-sentence descriptions or comments from them.

TULUMELLO: Highlights of the Internships. Students should include bullet points detailing what they have achieved in particular professional experiences.

AUSTIN: An Online Résumé. This is portable, universally accessible, and shows students’ multimedia skills.

Q: How students can approach the interview?

TULUMELLO: Ability Highlights. Bullet points are preferred. And students’ Network with people who work with the publication. Handwritten Thank-You Note after the Interview. This shows the applicant’s manner and his/her desire to get the job.

SCHNEIDER: Body Language. And how serious the young applicant is about journalism and the publication. Stay in Touch. After the interview students should check their voicemail frequently. If they do not respond to a call-back within several days, the publication assumes the applicant is not interested.

The panel members also suggest that students should do comprehensive background research on publications they are applying for, always show up at interviews on time, and keep their social network websites, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, as professional as possible. Also, any skills that are obviously required, such as Microsoft Office, should not show up on the résumé.

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Robin Phillips shares LinkedIn strategies for the business beat

Robin J Phillips teaching LinkedIn for Journalists

Robin J. Phillips stressed that LinkedIn is especially useful for business journalists. Photo: Kelly Carr

Robin Phillips, the web managing editor of the Reynolds Center and adjunct journalism professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, detailed ways financial journalists can utilize LinkedIn on the business beat.

Phillips told a group of journalists gathered for the Strictly Financials and Business Journalism Professor Seminars that the career-building website can be used to promote and brand themselves, as well as to find sources and contacts for stories.

“I moved to several different jobs across the country,” Phillips said. “But I could bring all my colleagues with me using LinkedIn.”

According to Phillips, the 135-million-user résumé and social media website is user-updated, very portable, and well-sorted by company, industry and geography. All these features help create a user-friendly and professional-focused network.

Here are some of Phillips top tips for how business journalists can effectively use LinkedIn:

  • Maintain a current profile even if you are not actively looking for a job. This keeps your coworkers, employers, sources, etc., updated.
  • Have a complete profile. This includes your work background, skills and connections.
  • Don’t cut-and-paste your résumé. Give your work history personal flair.
  • Make your profile public. LinkedIn is a professional network serving the purpose of communication and job-hunting, public disclosure is essential.
  • Recommend people, but avoid recommendation “swapping.” It is acceptable to write recommendation for someone who has asked for one from you, as long as the letter is genuine.
  • Join groups and discussion boards. Joining groups allows users to discuss issues of interest and share information.
  • Keeping non-professional accounts separate from LinkedIn. This prevents people from intruding your personal life, and helps you build a completely professional image.

Phillips also suggested journalists explore LinkedIn’s advanced search tool, which allows users to identify people by skills, language, location, etc. This comes in handy when journalists need employees or sources with particular backgrounds.

Check out Parts I and II of Phillips’ presentation: