I’ve mentioned before the advantages for reporting of having knowledge of a functional silo within business. (The deeper, the better, so long as you can pull yourself up out of the jargon and remember how to communicate with the rest of the world.)
One of the best areas to do this in is finance: the grease that keeps all of commerce running. Whether the basics of financial data and analysis, parsing footnotes in an SEC filing, knowing where the positive cash flow is coming from, pulling up metrics that tell you how long a company is waiting to get paid, or the determining the status of how much in tax companies actually pay, the financial end of business journalism is a tasty one.
If you’re not familiar with finance, not to worry. First step is to learn something about the topic. There are books designed to help people not in finance understand how it works. Not personal finance, although that’s a fine area of detailed knowledge that can also pay.
Look for titles that help managers without a financial background learn how to understand and use numbers in a corporate setting. That is exactly the type of insight you will need. Getting the investor’s view is also good, supplementing the management side.
When you start grasping the concepts, the next step is to follow them. The Wall Street Journal is good, but I confess to a preference for the Financial Times. The coverage is deep and often written by people who have been in financial services and deeply understand the topics they cover. That can make from some tough wading at times, but valuable.
When you get your legs underneath you, then every time you look at a larger publicly held company in your professional capacity as a journalist, pull some of its recent SEC filings. (You can find these at the SEC Edgar site or go to the company’s own investor’s site, which will most likely have a link that leads you to its SEC filings. Look at the latest 10-Q (quarterly results), 10-K (the annual resort), and annual proxy (lots of information about corporate direction and . Go to the management’s discussion and dip into other areas, like details of the company’s debt or who the largest shareholders are and how much they own.
The deeper you go, the greater a chance that you’ll uncover details that aren’t in other people’s reporting, because they don’t dig into the details. But that’s what you’ll now be able to do, adding financial insights to the rest of your reporting and building more solid coverage.