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Story ideas from the 2015 Forbes 400 billionaires list

October 1, 2015

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Photo via Forbes.com.

Forbes’ 2015 list of the 400 richest Americans is out, and it offers a goldmine of story ideas.

Pick a gender, pick an age, pick a location, and you’ll find people to profile and statistics to enlighten your audience.

This was one of my favorite assignments for students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and it’s bound to be a fun read or broadcast.

Here are some ways you can adapt the list for your outlet.

The Top 10: 

Bill Gates is the richest American on the Forbes list for the 22nd year in a row. But the Top 10 list also has some newcomers. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg make their first appearances among the top 10. Do Microsoft or Amazon have outposts in your area? Are Gates, Bezos and Zuckerberg making donations to local charities?

How rich:

Forbes says the price of entry this year was $1.7 billion, the highest it’s been in the 34 years that Forbes has tracked American wealth. Last year it took $1.55 billion to make the cut. Because the bar is so high, 145 U.S. billionaires missed the list. What would $1.7 billion pay for in your area? Has any company invested that much in a local project?

Women billionaires: 

There are 51 female billionaires, or 13 percent of the list. Only seven of those women are self-made billionaires; the rest inherited their wealth. In a video, Forbes features a number of the women including Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. The two richest women in the country are both members of the Walton family, the founders of Walmart. Alice Walton, with $32 billion, doesn’t play an active role in the family business, though. Who are the key women in business or philanthropy where you are?

Who’s new:

There are 25 people who made the list for the first time. They include Evan Spiegel, 25, the co-founder of SnapChat with Bobby Murphy, 27, who also makes the list. Other newcomers include private equity titan Robert Smith, who is the country’s the second-richest African-American, after Oprah Winfrey; and the three co-founders of rental-accommodations service Airbnb: Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. You probably have many fans of SnapChat in your area, and lots of properties listed on Airbnb. See what they think of the creators’ wealth.

The youngsters: 

Spiegel and Murphy are among 17 members of the list who are under 40. (So is Zuckerberg.) Another app mogul whose made a fortune is  Jan Koum, 39, who created the WhatsApp messaging app. It hit 900 million users in September. Millennials love hearing about other millennials who hit it big. See if any of the young moneymakers have ties to your area.

You can see all of Forbes’ 400 coverage here.


  • Micheline Maynard

    Micheline is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post concentrating on business and culture. She has written about flooding in Detroit, tainted water in Benton Harbor, nationwide shortages of restaurant staff, and vaccine hesitancy.

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