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A veteran business editor describes how to cover mergers and acquisitions

Rusty Todd


Global Business Journalism reporter

During a distinguished career at the Wall Street Journal, Rusty Todd learned what readers demand from business reporters. Todd, a former reporter and editor at The Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Texas in Austin, told Tsinghua University students that his audience wanted to learn about huge business deals that would move markets.

“You don’t have a casual audience. They care, read and react to what you write,” said Todd, who founded a master’s degree program in business journalism at the University of Hong Kong, where he is a visiting professor.

He shared his hands-on experience during a recent lecture for Tsinghua students, explaining what an editor wants of a reporter covering mergers and acquisitions.

According to Todd, speed is the key. Editors like to know immediately when reporters learn of a deal worth covering (usually the size is over $3 billion or however larger if it’s of tech companies).

Sources also are vital in getting a scoop on an impending deal. Ideally, he said, it’s best if reporters build networks from those in the inner circles at companies who may learn of deals before a public announcement. Scoops are at the heart of good business reporting, Todd told students in the Global Business Journalism class. The reason?

“Business news is anything that moves an important price,” he said.

Once learning about a merger, an acquisition or a joint venture, reporters need to write a story answering several basic questions. Which companies are involved? Is the deal hostile or friendly? Is the company name is changing? How is the deal divided among cash, stocks, and debt? When is it expected to close? And what’s the market reaction? Answers to these questions will often be published first on social media and then as breaking stories on news websites.

Context and analysis are important to add value to the coverage. Readers want to know why the deal is happening – and happening now. It could be for market expansion or access to new technologies. Or it could be to kill off competition or simply to survive.

Reporters should also explain the consequences of the deal. They can talk about whether the companies’ market value is going up or down, when the deal will help revenue and earnings, or what the implications are for competitors. It’s even more insightful if reporters can unveil what’s undercover, such as employee turnover, a shakeup at the top and department reorganization.

Two or three follow-up stories may analyze the business move and add value to the first story. Editors may want reporters to review the histories of the two companies for business relations and whether unsolved financial troubles exist. From this coverage, investors gain insights on whether new strategies or business models will be adopted and how this is helping the new entity gain more profit.

By covering mergers and acquisitions well, journalists provide a service to investors and the general public, Todd said. Reporters who can shed light on regulatory concerns provide valuable context for traders, consumers and stakeholders. Information such as whether government regulators are taking an active role for or against the deal because of antitrust laws, and whether the merger or acquisition move is going to set off a wave in the industry, provide further details for the readers.

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