Bloomberg’s Women Behind the News: Amanda Bennett

June 15, 2012 —

Bloomberg News Executive Editor Amanda Bennett talks to Bloomberg Reporter Esmé E. Deprez about going for the big story.

Amanda Bennett, executive editor for the projects and investigations unit at Bloomberg News, bought a motorcycle and toured France alone right after high school. She laughs about what her reaction would be if her 17-year-old daughter tried the same thing.

Yet exploring the unfamiliar is as strong as ever in Bennett.

In 2008, she led Bloomberg’s effort to sue the Federal Reserve for details about $2 trillion in emergency loans to cash-strapped banks, a case won three years later in the Supreme Court. Her reporters have exposed how Western companies enabled repressive regimes such as Syria to track and sometimes torture its citizens, how Victoria’s Secret bought African “fair trade” cotton picked by teenage slaves and how rising gold prices have unleashed deadly lead poisoning. Her reporters and editors won a 2008 Gerald Loeb Award, a 2009 Overseas Press Club Award and a 2011 George Polk award.

Bennett got her start at the Wall Street Journal six months after graduating from Harvard College. She was bureau chief in Atlanta and Beijing, and a reporter in Detroit and New York. She went on to lead projects at the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Oregon, which won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2001; the Herald-Leader in Lexington, and, from 2003 to 2006, the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her sixth book is a memoir, “The Cost of Hope,” to be published this month. The story builds on Bennett’s investigative cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek in 2010 about the cost of her late husband’s cancer care.

Bennett sat down with colleague Esmé E. Deprez, a Bloomberg reporter, to talk about her career. Deprez joined Bloomberg News when it acquired Businessweek magazine in 2009. She’s on the state and local government team in New York and often writes about social issues. Deprez studied English and French at Boston College and earned a masters in journalism from Columbia University.

Deprez: What does “going for the big story” mean?

Bennett: It means going for something where you can really be original. And you can either be original by breaking some kind of news that nobody has heard before, or you can do some reporting that shows how the world is evolving and illuminate how people think. It can also be something that’s so beautifully written and evocative that it’s going to take people some place that they’ve never been before.

Deprez: How has support from the top at Bloomberg helped what you do? When you sit down with editor-in-chief Matt Winkler and he’s talking about what he wants, what’s the first thing he says?

Bennett: Of course he always says “We want market moving stuff!” But he also says we want stories with moral force. And that’s sort of why most of us — at my age at least — got into this business. We thought it was like being a doctor or something, a morally good choice to help us show other people what was going on in the world. The fact that that’s something that we’re encouraged to do is really, really important for journalism.

Deprez: What’s been your most gratifying award or accomplishment?

Bennett: At Bloomberg, we’ve changed things — we’ve influenced things. With the Fed stories, we increased transparency. With the surveillance stories, we helped show how Western companies were enabling repressive regimes. And we helped stop that directly in a couple of companies’ cases and we helped encourage systemic reform both in Europe and the United States. The story about my husband’s care that Chuck Babcock helped me report gave people an insight into an important financial and emotional decision. It’s the kind of first person story that people might have said couldn’t be done at Bloomberg.

Deprez: In 2010, Bloomberg News began a formal commitment to increase its coverage of women. Why?

Bennett: We started looking at the wire service on the Bloomberg terminal and realized that the headlines were all designed to appeal to a 35-year-old guy. And there were very few women being used as sources or subjects of stories. Rather than saying we should have a special isolated project on women, we decided to focus everyone’s attention internally and as: “Who are the powerful and influential women right in your own coverage area?” It’s a pretty logical way of approaching it, and has yielded lots of amazing stories.

Bloomberg’s Lisa Kassenaar, who heads the women’s project, did the first long profile of Christine Lagarde when she was the finance minister of France. You have to say that’s an important person to get to know. And it’s someone we may not have focused on had we not been talking about growing our coverage of women. Gender issues are increasingly important in looking at global development, global business, women as markets, women as consumers, women as the holders of domestic pocketbooks, women as part of the workforce. We are rounding out what was a little bit lopsided coverage.

Deprez: When do you decide that something will become a project, as opposed to one or two related stories?

Bennett: When you start pulling on a string, and you realize, “Oh, there’s a lot of stuff there.” And then you may see that the story is large and important and complex and you can start seeing the outlines of it. There are all kinds of ways big projects and big series take place. Sometimes, it peters out pretty quickly. But then there’s sometimes when you start following strings and you realize , “Oh My God, there are all kinds of things that we don’t know anything about, and we should know more about them.”

Deprez: In addition to receiving awards, you’ve sat on juries judging the work of others. What do you look for in a really great story?

Bennett: I was just judging something this morning in a category where all the work was fabulous. One of these stories I couldn’t put down. I had to read it, and I got irritated when I got interrupted in the middle of it. That’s really fantastic. The world is so busy and there’s so much information coming at you, you want something that’s got a story to it that helps you see yourself.

Deprez: Do you have any writing tips to share?

Bennett: There’s some stuff about writing books that’s really important and really boring, which is that you need to do the base work of trying to figure out where you are going. You need to lay out a schedule and you need to do a certain number of pages every day, whether you want to or not. You do need to be incredibly organized, because when you are dealing with that much material, it’s easy to lose stuff. If you’re building a gorgeous house, you still have to have a decent basement and foundation, and if you don’t do that right, all the other stuff crumbles.

Photos by: Lori Hoffman, Bloomberg

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