A group of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill journalism students have started a wire service to cover companies that often go uncovered by professional media in the state.
Called the North Carolina Business News Wire, the news service is covering more than 100 public companies that regularly file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as hundreds of private companies that also file with the SEC when they raise money from investors.
The students will receive credit for their work as part of a new class in the School of Media and Journalism called “Business News Wire” that will continue in future semesters, ensuring that the wire service has a steady stream of stories.
The wire service has been an idea I’ve had for more than a decade, but other obligations prevented me from getting it off the ground in the past.
The stories will be distributed in a daily email to media across the state, and media will be free to use the content as they see fit without charge. If the wire service is successful in the fall, the School may charge media a small fee to use the content beginning in 2017 to fund student internships for the wire service during the summer.
An early user of the content
One media organization has already begun using the content, with others saying they will begin using the stories soon.
Rick Smith, a longtime business journalist who runs WRAL.com’s Tech Wire, began using stories last week.
“Having your copy helps me greatly, and it also helps that I can expand on your copy quickly as necessary rather than having to read filings then generate stories from scratch,” said Smith in an email to me. “I hope others see the value in what you are providing.”
Here’s how the wire service will work:
Each week, the students in the class will have to write at least three stories based on SEC filings. They’ll track North Carolina company filings using Sqoop, the free, online service used by many business journalists throughout the country that allows them to receive regular emails when a company files a document based on their saved search.
I’ll edit the stories before posting them on the website to make sure that they contain information readers will want. (I’m a former business journalist with experience at BusinessWeek magazine, Bloomberg News and the business news desks of the Tampa Tribune, Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Atlanta Constitution.) At the beginning of the semester, students received story templates that show them what should be in each story based on the SEC document.
Among the stories that the students will be writing will be executive compensation, quarterly earnings, insider buying and selling of stock, investors buying and selling company stock, mergers and acquisitions, and executive and board member resignations and hirings. Each story will include a link to the filing, and each story will include the company’s stock price if the company is publicly traded.
Students with experience
UNC’s School of Media and Journalism started an undergraduate business journalism major with the Kenan-Flagler Business School on campus in 2010. The program now has three dozen majors and has alumni working for major media, such as Emily Steel and Sapna Maheshwari, who are both on the business desk of the New York Times, and CNBC anchor Kayla Tausche.
Most of the students working on the wire service this fall have already taken “Economics Reporting” and “Business Reporting” at the School, so they know the importance of these stories to readers.
And many of them have professional experience. For example, senior Lauren Thomas has had internships at TheStreet.com, Bloomberg News and CNBC’s San Francisco bureau. Senior Wei Zhou interned with the Wall Street Journal this summer in Shanghai. Junior Lauren Hong honed her writing skills this past summer at the Triangle Business Journal.
Senior Hailey Waller began writing for the wire before the semester started, so she could get comfortable with the writing style and finding news in the filings. Some of her stories have already run on WRAL.com’s Tech Wire.
One student’s favorite class
“There’s no shortage of SEC filings coming into my inbox every day, and there are a surprising number of interesting stories that sometimes pass under the radar,” Waller said. “We appreciate the reader feedback we’ve gotten so far about which filings to cover.
“The school semester doesn’t start for another week, but I can already tell that North Carolina Business News Wire will be my favorite class. By having Chris edit one of my stories almost every day, I’m able to make the most of his feedback and use what I’ve learned going forward when I write my next stories.”
The students will also be learning the operational side of a news wire. During the first few weeks of the class, they’ll have to set up the email alert system for media and develop how the stories will appear on the website. They’ll also have to create pages on the website for news about specific companies, and they’ll have to create Twitter and Facebook feeds and pages.
The students are also interested in experimenting with the news wire. A couple of them want to produce and distribute a regular video that will cover North Carolina business news.
Professional feedback and help
During the semester, students will also get feedback from business wire service experts, such as AP business editor Lisa Gibbs and Tom Contiliano of Bloomberg News, who provided guidance on how the wire should be formed before it started.
The AP is currently using software from Durham-based Automated Insights Inc. to help it write thousands of earnings stories each quarter. Its CEO, Robbie Allen, is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and has offered to meet with the students as well and let them use his company’s software.
If we’re successful, there’s a business news media company based in Maryland that wants us to start covering companies in their state next semester.
Chris Roush is the Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Professor in business journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is also the author of “Show me the Money: Writing Business and Economics Stories for Mass Communication.”