Tribune Bankruptcy Court Hearings

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					Small town business reporting
                   Chris Roush
                Assistant professor
   Director, Carolina Business News Initiative
                  May 30, 2003
                 (919) 962-4092
          My qualifications
 Business reporter for Sarasota Herald-
  Tribune, Tampa Tribune and Atlanta
 Also worked for BusinessWeek
  magazine and Bloomberg News.
 Spent three years as editor in chief of
  company that published financial
  magazines and newsletters.
       What that taught me
 The best business stories don’t
  necessarily have to be about business.
 Good business stories come from the
  courthouse, from city hall and from the
  police department.
 They also come from talking to people
  on the street.
 You just have to know what you’re
  looking for.
        The big city papers
 Spend a lot of time writing stories about
  publicly traded companies who file
  documents with the SEC.
 Makes it easier to cover business,
  because lots of information is disclosed.
 Does it make reporters lazy? In some
  cases, I would argue yes.
 No public companies based in the area.
 But plenty of public companies with
  operations in the area, including
  Wachovia, Wal-Mart, Rubbermaid,
  Collins & Aikman and TRW.
 Does this make your job harder? In
  some ways yes, but in other ways no.
        Private companies
 Most of your reporting will be done on
  private companies, who are not required
  to disclose information.
 But there are ways of getting that
Government records
            State records
 The Secretary of State’s office has
  records on every business incorporated
  in North Carolina.
 Here you can search by company
  name, new corporations or by
  registered agent.
     What this will show you
 Incorporation records give you a listing
  of a businesses officers, or executives.
 It will also give you a mailing address
  and a phone number.
 For private businesses, the CEO or
  president is often the owner of the
  operation, or at least the majority owner.
   Secretary of State records
 You can also search Secretary of State
  records to get similar information for
  other operations.
 These include non-profit entities, limited
  liability corporations such as law firms
  and limited partnerships.
     Occupational Licensing
 There are regulatory boards that govern
  dozens of industries in North Carolina.
 They range from the Acupuncture Licensing
  Board to the Board of Veterinary Medicine.
 These boards have Web sites where you can
  also find information about businesses in
  these industries.
            County records
 Before any sole proprietorship or partnership
  does business in North Carolina under an
  assumed name, the business name must be
 An assumed name is any name other than
  the real name of the owner or owners the
 Business names or partnerships must be filed
  with the Register of Deeds Office in the
  county or counties where it does business.
       Real estate records
 Real estate transactions in Greenville
  and Pitt County are also recorded at the
 Large real estate transactions should be
  stories. How large is large?
 Big plots of land being sold – 100 to 200
  acres, for example. Is it being bought by
  a developer?
           UCC Records
 Who owes money to whom, and how
 These documents are also available
  through the Secretary of State’s office.
            The WARN Act
 Employers who are laying off or firing workers
  are required to disclose such moves 60 days
  before they do it.
 This is a document filed with the Department
  of Commerce division of employment and
  training (State Dislocated Worker Unit).
 Make contact with your local Commerce
  Department to regularly check for WARN act
            The WARN Act
 An employer must give notice if a plant will be
  shut down, and the shutdown will result in an
  employment loss for 50 or more employees
  during any 30-day period.
 An employer must give notice if there is to be
  a mass layoff which does not result from a
  plant closing, but which will result in an
  employment loss at the site during any 30-
  day period for 500 or more employees, or for
  50-499 employees if they make up at least 33
  percent of the employer's active workforce.
         Safety and Health
 Worker complaints about unsafe or unhealthy
  working conditions should be made in writing
  to the Occupational Safety and Health
 The division conducts investigations of
  complaints made by workers, investigations
  of work-related accidents and deaths, general
  schedule inspections of randomly picked
  firms, and follow-up inspections of firms
  previously cited for OSHA violations.
    Non-profit organizations
 Even though they’re not in operation to
  make money, you can still find out
  financial information.
 is a Web site with
  information about non-profit
  organizations across the country.
       Non-profit organizations
 Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
 Form 990 is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations
  with more than $100,000 in annual receipts or total assets of at
  least $250,000. Form 990-EZ must be filed by smaller
  organizations, with at least $25,000 in annual receipts and total
  assets of less than $250,000.
 The forms are public documents that reveal income, expenses,
  assets and liabilities; expenditures by program category;
  program accomplishments; names of officers, directors and key
  employees; compensation paid to officers, directors and key
  employees. Most religious organizations are not required to file
  Form 990.
            Civil lawsuits
 Businesses often sue each other for
  breaking contracts, not paying bills, etc.
 Employees and former employees also
  sue companies.
 Divorces, particularly those of
  executives, often have good information
  about the businesses owned.
 Would you write a story about the head
  of the local Chamber of Commerce if he
  was arrested?
 What about a president or owner of a
  large company that is prominent in
 Always check police records anytime
  you’re writing about someone in
  N.C. Industrial Commission
 This is a quasi-court system that hears
  workers’ compensation injury cases.
 Hearings are held in all 100 county
 Cases can be appealed to the full
  commission, which meets in Raleigh.
  Last year, more than 700 cases were
         Bankruptcy Court
 The North Carolina Eastern District is
  located in Raleigh.
 Companies file for bankruptcy court
  protection when they can no longer pay
  their bills.
 Chapter 11 filing will reorganize debt;
  Chapter 7 is liquidation.
 Want to find a lawyer, but don’t know
  where to begin?
 This will allow you to search for a lawyer
  anywhere in the country as long as you
  have their name.
 Great for finding out-of-town lawyers
  filing cases in your jurisdiction.
      N.C. Business Court
 Complex legal matters that involve
  corporations across the state.
 Can search active cases and the court
  calendar from this Web site to see if
  there are any cases of local interest.
The economy, stupid
  Small town business stories
 Consumers account for nearly 70 percent of
  the gross domestic product with their
 What are consumers doing now in your area?
  Are they spending more?
 Retail sales in Greenville were $116.9 million
  in December 2001, down from $133.7 million
  in December 2000.
 Total retail sales in Greenville in 2001 were
  $1.55 billion, down from $1.58 billion in 2000.
  Small town business stories
 Stock price volatility gains headlines,
  but less than half of all households own
  a stock or a mutual fund directly.
 Only 10 percent of households own 90
  percent of stocks.
 Interview consumers to see if stock
  prices have any impact on their
  spending plans.
 Small town business stories
 More than two-thirds of consumers own
  a home. Capital gains from rising house
  prices have supported consumer
  spending, especially cars and trucks, for
  at least three years now.
 Interview homeowners to see how they
  respond to market incentives.
 Have they refinanced? What did they do
  with the money?
 Small town business stories
 Unemployment and layoffs grab
 New job creation rarely does.
 Working for the same employer for a
  decade or more almost never rates a
 Interview a sample of people to find
  people in the two latter categories and
  tell their stories.
  Small town business stories
 People who have lost their jobs are
  rarely unemployed for very long.
 Interview a sample of people who’ve
  lost their jobs to see how long it took to
  find a new one.
 What did they do to find the new job?
 Unemployment rate in Greenville-Pitt
  County was 4.4% in 1998, up to 6% in
 Small town business stories
 Community colleges are the unsung
  heroes of the U.S. educational system.
 Globally, only the United States and
  Canada have this type of institution.
 Interview some students at Pitt
  Community College to find out their
  career goals and aspirations.
 Small town business stories
 The people in the bottom 10 percent of
  income distribution on average spend
  three to four times their income each
 This suggests that temporary periods of
  very low income are planned for by
  many people.
 Interview people in this income segment
  to see if this is true in Greenville.
 Small town business stories
 Turnover in the top 10 percent of
  income distribution is very high.
 Interview people in this income segment
  to see how long they’ve been in this
 Find some inspiring examples in
  Greenville to uplift readers.
  Small town business stories
 During the past 20 years, more than 40
  million new jobs have been created in the
  United States.
 Interview a sample of people in Greenville
  and find people in these new jobs.
 Tell their stories. Did they move to Greenville
  to find the job?
 Greenville-Pitt County labor force rose to
  69,120 in 2001, up from 58,670 in 1995.
 Small town business stories
 About half of the people in the labor
  force work for companies with fewer
  than 10 employees.
 These companies rarely make news,
  yet they are the most dynamic
  companies in the country.
 Find some interesting companies in
  Greenville and tell their stories.
 Small town business stories
 Many small businesses struggle to
  provide benefits such as health
  insurance and retirement plans for their
 Talk to small business owners in
  Greenville about what they’re offering
 Do workers have to help pay for health
  coverage? How much?
Other resources
            Good books
 Writing about Business: The New
  Columbia Knight-Bagehot Guide to
  Economics and Business Journalism,
  edited by Terri Thompson.
 How to Read and Understand the
  Financial News, by Gerald Warfield.
 The Best Business Stories of the Year,
  2003 Edition. Edited by Andrew Leckey
  and Allan Sloan.
          More good books
 Best Business Crime Writing of the Year,
  edited by James Surowiecki.
 Bottom Line Writing: Reporting the Sense of
  Dollars, by Conrad Fink.
  Show me the Money: How to write business
       and economics stories for mass
       communication, by Chris Roush
             (due out in 2004)
           Good Web sites
 – Good site for
  tutorials and a business term dictionary.
 -- The biggest,
  best site for investing terms on the Web.
  onary.cfm -- Breaks business terms into
  categories such as accounting, banking, E-
  commerce, economics, HR and personnel.
       More good Web sites
  dyn/business/specials/glossary/index.html --
  The glossary contains more than 1,250
  business terms, organized and cross-
  referenced for your convenience.
  e/busconn.html -- A selective guide to Internet
  business, financial and investing resources,
  compiled by Rich Meislin, editor in chief of the
  New York Times Electronic Media Co.
         One last thought
 Good business writers are hard to find.
 Make a name for yourself writing
  business stories, and your career will
  take off.
 A knowledge of how to write business
  stories can be applied to any beat at a
  newspaper or any publication.

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