This Week:Jill Dutt, assistant managing editor for Financial news, was online Wednesday, Dec. 1, at Noon ET to take your questions and comments about Post coverage of business and financial news, technology, and the Real Estate and Home
Dutt joined The Post in 1995 after seven years at New York Newsday. From Oct. 1995 until Sept. 1996, she served as economics editor before moving to New York as the paper's Wall Street correspondent. In 1997, Dutt became Business editor. She was named assistant managing editor in July 1998.
The transcript follows.
CAPTION: Jill Dutt, as requested by Vanessa for an in house pugwash presentation of some kind. Julia Ewan has the rest of the details. StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Sat Oct 30 19:00:18 2004
(Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post)
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Jill Dutt: Hi, everyone. Thanks for sending your questions.
Financial Section Fan from Washington, D.C.:
I very much look forward to reading the Financial Section of the Washington Post each day, as I genuinely believe it provides outstanding coverage of local business news and insight into national business news.
A couple of thoughts:
The recent "Gatekeepers" series on credit rating agencies was superlative and I'd like to see more of these. A specific example might be devoted to the topic of derivates. Given all the problems Fannie Mae has been experiencing lately perhaps it might be time to explore their derivative investments, how they manipulate them, with a larger emphasis on how other companies are using derivative investments to beef up their portfolios as well.
One of my favorite features is the annual Post 200 which appears in April. Any chance of doing something comparable on wealthy Washingtonians? By that I mean, a sort of a local equivalent of the annual Forbes 400.
I notice in the reporting on companies the frequent reference to analysts. Have you ever given any thought to finding out who the top company/industry analysts are in the DC,MD, VA metro area and perhaps profiling them?
Like I said, a few thoughts.
Keep up the excellent work.
Jill Dutt: Thanks for the nice words. Accountability journalism, which produces fine work like Alec Klein's "Gatekeepers" series, is my top priority. The last couple of years have presented us with many opportunities to really dig into companies and industries and examine them closely. We have reported aggressively on both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and will continue to do so. The use of derivatives, like the roles of the credit rating companies, are tough to explain to the general reader, but we'll keep pushing these stories because they are important strands of our global capital markets and if they are abused, we will all suffer. As for a Top-200 like treatment on the wealthiest in the region, the closest we come now is our annual survey of executive compensation, which I think we published in June. I like your idea of identifying the top analysts in the region. I'd be happy to receive nominations via email, email@example.com
In my opinion, the Business section is the weakest section of the daily paper. When turning to the section, it is the one time in reading The Post where I wish I could afford to get the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. This not the fault of the writers and columnists -- they are generally very good. However, the Business section is impaired by the following:
a. Not enough space for in-depth business articles. Many business headlines are relegated to one-paragraph blurbs that do not catch my attention at the time. Later, I often hear about these stories on the radio and I realize that the story was buried in The Post.
b. The Sunday Business section used to have very good in-depth articles. Ever since the Technology section moved to the Sunday business section, the non-technology articles are generally lacking.
c. The local business articles, and especially the articles in the Monday paper, tend to be puff pieces that merely echo what business leaders say and do not ask independent analysts about their opinion of local companies.
I thnk the problem is that you may not have the budget to get enough writers to get the depth I think is needed. I would vote for removing the daily stock listings from the paper and posting them solely on the Internet. Then apply the savings in paper into expanding the articles part of the Business section by 1-2 pages and hiring more writers. Anyone who needs to look at daily stock prices should be checking them online anyway where they can get much more timely information.
Jill Dutt: Here's someone with a very different take on the Business section. You raise good points; we can always do better. But we do try to appeal to all readers, not just hard-core business types, and that helps explain some of the choices we've made that you're not so happy with. Take Sunday Business. We made a conscious choice about two years ago to make the Sunday section, our largest circulation day, much more appealing to the general reader by focusing its content on the individual at the center of his/her financial world. The Wall Street Journal followed suit, unveiling its long-planned Weekend Journal shortly after our new Sunday format launched. Lots of readers who don't turn to Business Monday-Saturday tell me they love the Sunday section, which focuses on personal finance, workplace, consumer issues and personal technology. On Pages 2-3 of Sunday Business, though, we have a cogent and concise take on Business news by Steve Pearlstein. You should check it out. On Sundays, we pitch our long-form business stories to A-1 (like our recent profile of businessman Philip Anschutz). As for Monday's Washington Business section, I couldln't disagree with you more. You should look at it again. It's been transformed in the past six months by our local business editor, Sandy Sugawara. The cover stories are strong and textured; she's added columns by Terry O'Hara on local dealmakers and Jeff Birnbaum on lobbyists to Jerry Knight's long-standing and popular Washington Investing column (which I've heard called lots of things, but never a puff job). As for the stock market agate, I still think it's important to run in print, but there are many who do agree with you, that it should migrate to online-only.
What is more important to you and the Post, national or local business news? Some days the section seems small. Are there any plans to make it bigger and cover more news?
Jill Dutt: Stories of local relevance are at the heart of our coverage. In Business, that means not only local companies, but also the intersection of policy and politics. So, we write a whole range of stories that have national and international import, too. We could always use more space, so I hope our executive editor, Len Downie, is tuning into this chat!
How will the Post's business section be affected by the paper's new effort to appeal to more readers?
Jill Dutt: We're right in the center of that. People care about their money, how their companies are managed, how their tax dollars are spent, what opportunties they might have to invest and save and spend wisely. We work every day to write stories that appeal to the broadest possible readership, to de-mystify financial, to give readers the information and context they need to make smart financial decisions. As pensions and job security disappear, as the president talks about personal accounts for Social Security, these topics only become more and more important.
Count me in as someone who loves the Sunday business section!; I just wish you had columns by Michelle Singletary and Stephen Pearlstein and articles by Margaret Webb Pressler and Rob Pegoraro every day!;
The Sunday business section is always one of the first that I read on Sunday morning -- I really look forward to it.
Jill Dutt: Thanks!
I bet this is the most popular question in the queue, but I'll send it anyway...
Why on earth is "Dilbert" in the financial pages?
Jill Dutt: Dilbert is all about Business, so I think it's perfect in the Financial section. I like to laugh, too.
My wife and I were devastated when Jim Glassman stopped writing his Investing column. We also greatly missed him during his previous hiatus, but at least there was an Investing column, of sorts. Now there is none. I enjoy Crenshaw's and Singlterry's columns, but they are on different topics. Any hope of a good Investing column SOON?
Jill Dutt: I miss Jim, too. He is a friend and a terrific columnist. I am eagerly searching for a replacement, but I gotta admit that it's difficult. I also agree that Michelle and Al are great at what they do, but there's a serious investor audience in this area that needs a columnist who specifically addresses address investing. I expect we'll have that someone soon, but can't promise a date. And when we do bring on that new columnist, I hope to add a couple of new features targeted at people who want to be serious about their investments.
What criteria do you use to determine which small businesses to cover?
Jill Dutt: The first is whether there's real news happening at the company or the industry that merits our attention. The second is whether the company is in an industry that is either up-and-coming or hitting hard times, where a particular company can give us a window into what's happening.
I read the Post's financial and real-estate sections somewhat regularly. The online discussions about personal finances focus on eliminating credit card debt, generic advice about saving, and some other useful advice. I'd like to see a more comprehensive weekly financial planning discussion focusing more on investing. Not as a replacement but to augment this perceived void in your coverage.
Jill Dutt: I am looking at how we can do more on these topics, to provide information that is useful to readers. No newspaper or magazine can replace individual financial planning, and no reader should follow a particular strategy or buy a particular stock or mutual fund just because she read about it in the newspaper. But I hope we can do more to be helpful.
Who do you think is a credible candidate to replace Secretary Snow at Treasury and why?
Jill Dutt: Did you see George Will's column today floating Alan Greenspan's name??? That was a bit of a shocker. I don't expect that to happen, but there are lots of other interesting names floating out there if there is a change. I, unfortunately, can't speculate on it, but our reporters will certainly put the names of any credible candidates in the paper.
Jill -- This may be outside of the scope of your discussion, but how can a reporter in the business trade press break into a gig at the Post?
Jill Dutt: Break news. Cause us pain by scooping us on important stories. Make sure you can demonstrate an ability to write for a general audience, not for an industry or your sources. My first reporting job was at a Wall Street newsletter, so I'm proof the transition can be made.
How long will The Post continue printing all the stock tables in its print section? Wasn't that scaled back recently?
Jill Dutt: Good memory! About two years ago, I cut about a half page of stock agate to get more space for news stories and our expanded Sunday Business section. More than 200 readers called or emailed to complain. I took every call personally and interviewed the reader because I really wanted to know who and how and why readers were using the printed tables. Those interviews have made me reluctant to cut any further because I learned that there are lots of people who sit down with their coffee every morning and spend 20-30 minutes with the Business section, going through their stocks and (hopefully) reading the stories. People buy newspapers for all sorts of reasons, not just the stories on the front page. I think we owe it to them to give them stock listings. Call me old fashioned, but I think it still serves readers. I'm not sure the printed stock tables will last forever, though.
Do you feel that since John Berry left, The Washington Post is no longer viewed as having the "inside skinny" on The Federal Reserve and their thinking? It seems as though market particpants would hang on a Berry column and now people are directing their attention to Greg Ip at WSJ.
Jill Dutt: Those people haven't read Nell Henderson. I love John and think he does a very good job at Bloomberg, and Greg Ip is a terrific competitor, but Nell is plugged in and has as good a read on the Fed and the economy as those two. She was John's editor for four years or so and got her degree at the London School of Economics. Traders overlook her reporting at their own peril
Why aren't we seeing more in your pages on the Riggs scandal? I'd like to read a big piece that provides all the backstory and tells us what exactly happened.
Jill Dutt: We've done a lot on Riggs and are working on more. Perhaps we can provide links to the several recent scoops Terence O'Hara has had on the scandal??
Does The Post have a business journalist based full-time in Europe?
Jill Dutt: We used to, but, alas, no more. Peter Goodman, our dynamite Shanghai-based business reporter, travels to Europe a couple of times a year, but I know that's not enough. We have several fine correspondents who work for the Foreign staff and are based in Europe. They do business and economic stories when they have time, but there's a lot going on in the world and that's not often enough, I know.
When a columnist is away all we get is an open ended "will resume when he returns." How about a date? Why keep us guessing? If he's on vacation for a week, fine. Book leave for 3 months, fine. Just tell us when to expect them back.
Jill Dutt: I understand that's annoying. But we hate to promise what we don't know. Columnists don't always follow a plan and I suppose that's what makes their writing so good. But they can be tough to keep on a schedule...
Could you please, please, please tell your folks to stop retyping this normative, value laden term into their articles? Weissman has done it a few times now, as has another of your reporters (who had the common decency to realize his mistake in e-mail).
A tax cut is a tax cut. Period. An increase is an increase, period. No other term has a place in objective journalism. Otherwise, can I expect you will allow a tax increase to be described in the section as "Congress passed desperately needed deficit reduction today."?
Make an editorial rule and lose that term, please.
Jill Dutt: We can do a better job of not using loaded language, using words like "reform" and "relief." Jonathan Weisman avoids them assiduously, but he gets thrown so, so many, that sometimes they squeak through. We'll do a better job of policing it. Thanks for the plea.
What do you make of the epic problems these days at Giant Food, one of the Post's biggest advertisers? How does to newspaper fairly report on a company that is does so much business with?
Jill Dutt: Michael Barbaro did a great story this week, quoting the folks at Ahold acknowledging myriad mistakes in their management of Giant. They pledge to do things differently and we'll be watching. Giant is a Post advertiser, but I can honestly say that I've never been under pressure to alter our coverage one whit. We report for readers, not advertisers.
Can you talk about the vision of the Home section which I love but am not always sure of what feature I will find?
Jill Dutt: The Home section, under Belle Elving's astute direction, is like an oasis for me. I can read about people who create wonderful environments for their personal lives, about the latest trends in home design and furnishings and to get encourage from Adrian Higgins to try again in my garden. It's written for readers who want to make their house their home and it succeeds for me.
College Park, Md.:
Given that in January of 2005 the WTO textile quotas on exports from China will expire it seems logical that many manufactures will relocate their factories to China. This relocation is bound to have a significant impact on the global market and other developing countries, like India and much of Latin America, that depend on these factories for state revenue. Though China's economy isn't nearly as strong as the US' given the right policies it will only be a matter of time before they transform there low skilled labor sector into a milieu of high skilled technocrats. My question is: Given the current weakness of the American dollar, the slump in US consumer confidence, backed by increasing PPI and CPI, and the drop in the foreign purchase of US bonds -- are we witnessing the rise of a serious contender for economic hegemony? And what will be the implications for developing countries and the global market?
Jill Dutt: Absolutely. China is a real competitor that is only gaining in strength. I just returned from my first trip there and all I can say is, wow. Watch out. I was only there for two weeks and so am no expert, but China will substantially alter the global economy--indeed it already has. Look up Peter Goodman's clips on this. He just did a wonderful, detailed piece with Paul Blustein on the WTO textile agreement you cite, as well as other pieces, including one about how China's voracious appetite for resources is pushing up prices for many commodities. I wrote a story off my interview with a deputy governor of the People's Bank of China on my trip. He told me not to hold my breath waiting for them to quickly allow the yuan to float to reduce some of the trade pressure. The China story will only get more important and we will cover it aggressively.
Does the management of the Washington Post see the role of the Business section to be more keeping people up with business news or investigative reporting that might uncover the next Enron?
Jill Dutt: We try to do both as aggressively as possible. Readers deserve the best possible newspaper every day that keeps up with the news, but they also deserve the indepth, tough-edged reporting that papers like The Washington Post can provide, with its deep commitment to that journalism that runs all the way through Len Downie to Publisher Bo Jones and Chairman Don Graham.
As someone who reads on the Internet all day, I don't really keep track of who has a story first anymore -- that seems like a relic of the morning paper era. I'd rather the Post have more interesting Business stories to keep me around after I've read the big story of the day, wherever I come across it.
Jill Dutt: Again, we try to do both, provide unique enterprise as well as cover the news for people who aren't glued to the screen all day. Perhaps our balance in the future will shift more to enterprise, leaving more of the commodity breaking news to the Internet.
Jill Dutt: Thanks, everyone. I've run out of time. Great questions. Hope we can do this again soon.