The best advice for breaking big stories? Follow the money.

Business journalists Karen Blumenthal and Scott McCartney did that for decades, mostly for The Wall Street Journal. This spring they will teach it in a new business journalism course for Duke undergraduates.

Covering business is “an awesome beat because it ultimately affects everything. You need to understand budgeting and finance and borrowing no matter what you’re doing,” McCartney said.

Blumenthal and McCartney fell in love with journalism – and each other – at Duke. They met in The Chronicle newsroom, where each was voted editor before graduating in the early 1980s.

By the 1990s they were working side by side again in the Dallas bureau of The Journal.

Blumenthal reported on oil and gas, mergers, bankruptcies and then ran the place as bureau chief for eight years. She wrote the paper’s Getting Going column on personal finance for five years.

McCartney started reporting on aviation in 1995. Today he writes the weekly Middle Seat column on airlines and travel. Topics he explored recently include the rise of facial recognition tech at U.S. airports and inconsistent rules regarding where travelers can bring recreational marijuana.

Both contributed to coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that won their newspaper a Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Blumenthal described McCartney’s attention to detail when she wrote a Middle Seat guest column about her husband this summer. “He hasn’t simply read airlines’ contract of carriage, which is part of each ticket you buy. He’s committed some parts to memory,” she disclosed.

And: “He travels with a tape measure for recording seat size and legroom.”

The pair intends to help students drill deep when they report. They will explain how to decipher corporate reports, locate revealing public records and see the news hidden in financial data.
Both book authors, they plan to emphasize the importance of storytelling in great business journalism.

They are likely to assign Duke alum John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood about the fall of Silicon Valley startup Theranos, McCartney said. Students will also read recent Wall Street Journal coverage of WeWork founder Adam Neumann, who resigned after reporting disclosed his questionable business practices and erratic behavior.

“My hope is that students will become better writers by becoming better reporters,” Blumenthal said. “Writing is always better when the writer has more to say.”

Business Journalism (PJMS 390S.40 and PUBPOL 290S.6) will meet weekly on Mondays from 3:05 to 5:35 this spring.