Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Five tips for covering insurance

July 6, 2015

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Insurance has always been an important aspect to cover in a business beat. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the angle is getting more and more attention across the media spectrum. Here are our five tips for covering insurance and money:

1. Act as a translator.

Insurance companies, their regulators, actuaries and lawmakers don’t speak English when talking about insurance issues. The challenge to getting an insurance story into print is making sure it’s translated into common words. Think about what you see and hear as you report and ask if it all makes sense. Good sources, like local agents and state consumer advocates, are imperative for this.

2. Skepticism is necessary.

Insurance companies are well funded and equipped to provide reporters with canned explanations and data on any aspect of risk. These things are helpful starting points, but often they miss the consumer perspective. Find trustworthy sources to help understand what reports mean for your readers.

3. Work on your chess game.

Insurance is a business built on adversarial relationships. Carriers make money by giving less of it to policyholders. Insurers will use creative ways to deny and delay claims that have also created a healthy business for trial lawyers who sue them. It also means lobbyists are hired to rewrite state tort laws to stop those trial lawyers. Don’t let yourself become a pawn in that battle, but use it to your advantage while reporting and looking for stories.

4. Dig deep to find the human element.

Remember, at the center of the insurance business are compelling human stories and public interest. Search for broad patterns and dig for evidence of insurance companies acting in bad faith, especially after tragedies like natural disasters.

5. Test your story before it goes to print.

Because you will be wading through a lot of information and jargon to get to the bottom of your insurance stories, it’s a good idea to run them by an editor without any knowledge on the subject. They’ll be able to test what’s understandable in your story and what will most likely confuse your readers.

Want more? Download our “Guide to Business Beat Basics” for tips on covering money in healthcare and other beats.

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