Quickly Becoming a Subject Matter Expert with the Dallas Morning News’ Natalie Walters
Being a journalist can sometimes mean becoming an expert in a field you never would have imagined. This week’s guest Natalie Walters is a money and business reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She shares her journey with journalism including jumping in feet first as a finance and business reporter when she had no prior knowledge of the beat. She quickly learned to become a subject matter expert and gives us insights into how the pandemic impacted the industry and her career goals.
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Quickly Becoming a Subject Matter Expert with the Dallas Morning News’ Natalie Walters
Kathy Fowler: Welcome to the After Deadline: The Media podcast. We’re your hosts, Kathy Fowler…
Marc Silverstein: …and I’m Marc Silverstein.
Kathy Fowler: We are former TV news reporters who turned to the dark side and now work as PR and marketing gurus.
Marc Silverstein: This week we’re talking with Natalie Walters. She’s a business and money reporter at the Dallas Morning News. Before working at the Dallas Morning News, she worked at The Street, Business Insider, and Motley Fool. With those kind of credentials, I want to hear all about her business knowledge. I want to get some stock tips, maybe even. Do you think she’ll give us stock tips?
Kathy Fowler: I don’t know, we’re going to find out. Welcome to the podcast, Natalie.
How did you get into business journalism?
Kathy Fowler: All right, so you are currently working at the Dallas Morning News as a money and business reporter. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Automatically, I’m intimidated because I’m like, “business, money.” I don’t know if I could be reporting on that.
Marc Silverstein: You’re pretty good at spending it.
Kathy Fowler: I am.
Natalie Walters: I think I was intimidated by business journalism as well. I went into it at 22 or 23, I think, and I told my first boss, “I don’t know anything about this. I’m vaguely aware of what revenue is. I’ve never seen an earnings report.” And he said, “As long as you’re smart and motivated, we’ll teach you everything.”
And definitely, I think, most business journalists do learn on the job. That first job was definitely a grunt job. I was writing 15 stories a day, obviously short.
Marc Silverstein: Where was this?
Natalie Walters: The Street in New York City.
Marc Silverstein: So you were cranking out 15 stories a day for The Street? The Street is a big publication, a big outlet, a big platform.
Natalie Walters: That’s Jim Cramer’s website.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah.
Natalie Walters: He would come in around, I think I heard rumors, 3 A.M, 2 A.M, and I would see him in the elevators. I was going into work around 6 a.m, 7 a.m. But that really taught me business journalism and how to read earnings reports, and that was the first time I really learned about stocks, you know, other than my dad talking about stocks at the dinner table. That was my introduction to it.
Kathy Fowler: Did you ever make any mistakes, or did it always go to the editor before it ever went out, and you went, “Oh gosh, wow, that was bad”?
Natalie Walters: Oh man, I’m sure I did. It’s been so long now that thankfully I’ve repressed that. But I do know they were very strict on mistakes. I think I maybe misspelled something once, and it was definitely a big deal whenever that happened. So, this, and definitely in grad school as well, if you misspelled someone’s name, was it an automatic zero? And so that was…I mean, that’s terrifying. I don’t know how you pull that up, but I do know a few people that that happened to.
How did you start working at The Street?
Marc Silverstein: You’re what, did you say, 21, 22, and you’re at The Street? How did you get that job at such a young age?
Natalie Walters: Well, I’m originally from Augusta, Georgia, and I went to school in Greenville, South Carolina. I did some really great internships in school and in college, and I was our copy editor. And it’s funny because I was applying to some really tiny, tiny local papers in North Georgia, ones you’ve never heard of, and I got interviews there, and I didn’t get it. And I remember being just so heartbroken and hopeless. I really thought it was going to be great for that. And I distinctly remember getting lunch with my parents, and I had never seen my dad cry before, and he cried for me. He was so sorry.
And then a few months later, I got a fellowship with Business Insider. And I was so glad that other job didn’t work out, because it was much more exciting, much more on the cusp, you know, and doing much better financially. And so that was a great six-month or seven or eight, I can’t remember now, fellowship where I really learned how to find story ideas that audiences like because most people know Business Insider’s big on views and going viral. And it taught me how to be quick because we were doing three, four stories, five stories a week. And it was a great environment. It’s a really fun place to work. Obviously, a lot of young people. There are a lot of jokes about that, you know, management being 30, 32. So it was a fun place to work at.
Marc Silverstein: So you moved to New York. You picked up and moved to the big city?
Natalie Walters: I did. I had one big suitcase in New York City. I started at an Airbnb the first two months or so, and then I just steadily accumulated things. I wasn’t sure I would stay past that fellowship with Business Insider because my friends and family were still in the Carolinas. I thought maybe I’ll just go try it out, and I’ll come back, and then I decided to stay. I had to buy a mattress, you know, bed frame,
Marc Silverstein: Investments, yeah, that whole mattress thing.
Natalie Walters: I know. I’ve had to buy a new one in every city I’m in.
What got you interested in journalism?
Kathy Fowler: So why were you interested in journalism in the beginning? Is that something that you were always as a kid, like you like telling stories, did you like to write? What about the profession, and who were some of your heroes that sort of attracted you to the industry in the first place?
Natalie Walters: We had a newspaper in our hometown, I guess the Chronicle in Augusta, Georgia, that’s where the Masters Golf Tournament is, that’s what we’re known for. And I read that a little bit, but not a ton, and we didn’t have a school newspaper because I went to a small high school. But we did have a college yearbook, sorry, a school yearbook, and I was on that staff. I enjoyed that, and then all of my English teachers just kept telling me what a great writer I was. And I hadn’t heard that from my science teachers, didn’t hear that from my chemistry teacher that I was good at her class.
Marc Silverstein: Math teachers weren’t coming to tell you how great math skills were?
Natalie Walters: Did not hear that once in my life. So I was trying to think what I could do with that, and I knew journalism wasn’t super stable or lucrative, but it seemed more stable than trying to be a book writer or something like that or screenwriter. So I decided to try it out my freshman year, and I really loved it so much. That first time I had a story published in the school paper, I loved seeing it in the paper. I loved hearing my friends tell me what they thought about it. I loved it.
Marc Silverstein: What was the story? Do you remember what the story was about?
Natalie Walters: I think it was about the lack of sleep on campus, and I, my roommate, and a couple friends, I took a photo of my iPhone of my roommate, like lying on the floor asleep in her in our dorm room with books around her. Definitely a staged photograph, which isn’t, you’re not supposed to do that, but I don’t think I was aware of that at the time, so that was a fun story. And I just, yeah, I think I just really liked the feedback and getting to tell stories.
Marc Silverstein: So you go from there, and then so were there heroes, any heroes that you started reading every day, or you looked at?
Natalie Walters: We had a lot that we went over in classes that I would start to read. But I feel like there’s honestly so many good journalists, it’s hard to really pick one or two. It’s more about the story. So, I was more drawn to reading really interesting stories versus focusing on one person and their work.
How did you end up at The Street?
Marc Silverstein: So, you’re at Business Insider, and then how’d you get the job at The Street?
Natalie Walters: I think they found me on LinkedIn and asked me to come in.
Marc Silverstein: You know, you’re the second interview we’ve done with someone who’s young and got a job through LinkedIn, and everybody hates LinkedIn.
Natalie Walters: Yeah, I think I’ve gotten two jobs from LinkedIn from people messaging me on there.
Marc Silverstein: Do you regularly update your LinkedIn and sing the praises of LinkedIn because it seems to be working for people.
Natalie Walters: It does. I do keep it updated. I wouldn’t say regularly, but I, I say every six months, I go in there and try to update it, and once you’ve revamped it once, you don’t really have to do that much when you go back in there. Maybe add in a line, but I think having a nice photo and having…
Marc Silverstein: But you’re not posting your regular daily stories on LinkedIn?
Natalie Walters: I don’t do that, no.
Are you drawn to writing about business and finance?
Kathy Fowler: So you’ve worked at multiple publications, but you tend to kind of write more about business and finance. Are you drawn to those beats, or were you assigned those beats, and you just found that you’re really good at that, and then, you know, that’s sort of where you’re staying right now?
Natalie Walters: Well, when I first graduated college, it was, it was in 2015. I really wanted to cover startups, which is basically business journalism, a form of it. And so, I was always sort of drawn to that. And I think finding business and finance journalism is maybe a little more broad and different, but it’s sort of the same thing as covering businesses.
And I was just drawn to it because it is so interesting. There’s so many different types of businesses. It is what makes the world go round. It is businesses and money. It’s what keeps people employed. And I really also couldn’t think of another beat I’d rather cover. And then also, it is more stable, and business journalists do tend to earn more money. So all those things were really appealing to me. And I liked that it was a little more complicated. I think journalists were curious. We like a challenge. It’s a challenging beat, and you never quite know as much as you need to know, but you learn with each story and keep increasing the knowledge.
How is business journalism challenging?
Marc Silverstein: So, you said it’s a challenging beat. What’s the challenge? Trying to beat other reporters?
Kathy Fowler: Trying to understand the complicated information and, uh, through it? Is that, yeah, that could probably be a massive challenge.
Natalie Walters: Right. Sometimes, yeah, when writing the story, half of the day is spent trying to figure out what this story is, how does this company work, what’s its history, and trying to find documents. And yeah, it can be complicated.
You know, we don’t have business degrees, we’re learning on the job on the story while being under deadline. And I think of other areas like I would say the arts or more cultural reporters or breaking news, where I feel like it’s very much, it’s in front of you, the story’s there, you understand it naturally. You’re not having to ask people for help and understanding documents that you sometimes have on this business feed.
Kathy Fowler: So sometimes you’re, I mean, you’re basically looking at maybe numbers, right? And the numbers have to tell a story. And numbers don’t automatically, to most people, scream a story, right? I mean, that’s part of maybe what you’re doing. Is that what you’re explaining?
Natalie Walters: Yeah, and there’s also just so many numbers, it’s finding the right ones. If I mean, yesterday, I was looking at a document that is 160 pages and it’s, you know, when you’re, I’m sure if I was on that company board, I’d know, ‘Oh, well, here’s the important numbers. Bam, bam, bam.’ But when you’re an outsider and you’ve just got this document, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, okay. I don’t have time to read this whole thing. So how am I gonna figure out what are the most important numbers right here?’
And we also do a lot of cover a lot of lawsuits and work with a lot of court documents, which I’m sure y’all know the legal leads can be complicated. But I really think those stories are super interesting as well. I think being a legal reporter would be really interesting.
Marc Silverstein: So, you get the job through LinkedIn, and you said something really interesting about how your bosses said they would teach you. That’s rare. I mean, for the powers that be giving you time to develop, that’s something you don’t see that much.
Natalie Walters: Yeah, he was nice to do that. He tended to hire young people, I guess because it’s current job. I don’t think mid-level employees would write 15 stories a day. But he did teach us a lot. Um, he also had, it was a group of, I think, maybe four or five of us young female reporters that were reporting to him. And we all helped each other out. So when I was new, they explained things to me. And then when a new person came on after me, I helped her learn how to do it. So it sort of self-regulated itself, that sort of cycle of reporters.
What was the biggest story that you’ve covered?
Kathy Fowler: What would you say is your biggest story that you ever covered? Has it been at the place you are now or The Street or in Business Insider?
Natalie Walters: I guess it would probably depend on perspective. Some people would say different stories were bigger. For me, I think my favorite one I’ve done is this year we covered a retirement community that’s this really beautiful luxury retirement community in town. And it’s where all the really wealthy Dallasites would retire to. And we received a tip-off that it was not doing well financially. And so I started covering that, and they filed for bankruptcy a few months later.
And it’s not just that story. It’s the fact that it led to me looking into other retirement homes and we learned this was a problem that the retirement communities cost so much to not only build but to upkeep them with nurses, with the repairs you have to do, paying bondholders back, that they do more than you would think and to file for bankruptcy and that can be scary for residents, especially those that maybe paid an entrance fee that was going to be refundable, and now once they go into bankruptcy you’re probably not going to get back all that money. You’ll probably get back some, but maybe not all, and so we started covering that.
Marc Silverstein: A big question, also, was whether I- I recall this. I didn’t know this, that those were your articles. I’m sure that maybe somebody else may have covered it as well, but I read your articles. They didn’t know where they were gonna live though, too, right?
Natalie Walters: Right. They were scared they might get kicked out. After I talked with different professors and experts in my field, they said that would be super rare that seniors would actually get displaced. That wouldn’t usually come to that, but that is a possibility.
Getting to teach seniors what to look for when you’re looking for a home was very rewarding, and I’ve gotten more emails about that story than any story I’ve done, which is why to me that feels like the biggest one.
Kathy Fowler: Because it had real impact on people, not only exposing a problem but then hopefully preventing other people from becoming victims of you know the situation. Because maybe not really understanding how complicated that market can be, and the fail rate is higher than what most people would think.
Because most people think, you know when you are getting ready for these retirement communities, you think they’re well, I mean, they’re beautiful, some of them are so gorgeous. So how can it, you know, how can it have a bad business plan behind it?
Natalie Walters: Exactly. I would have never even thought to look at those, and that’s what so many people said. A lot of family members of folks that were in the home said I would have- you know, they were like I’m sure signs of financial decay were in the documents we signed, and we put our mom in the home, but I would have never even thought to look at it because I assumed it was running smoothly, and I would have never thought to look at is there a situation we wouldn’t get all this refundable money back.
And so we did a whole series on that and an article on what to look for when you’re looking at a home to be sure you don’t get put in that situation, and it’s been helpful for me honestly. My parents have really enjoyed reading it because they’re- I mean, they’re not near that quite near that stage, but they’re getting there, so it’s been educational.
Kathy Fowler: Do you feel like at this point that if you ever wanted to start a business or go down like a certain that you would be like I’m so much more knowledgeable now, let me start a business.
Marc Silverstein: Dad, Mom, let me tell you what else needs to be done. First of all, let’s discuss your money and my inheritance, okay?
Natalie Walters: Yes. Are you talking about a business in general or a retirement?
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, like if you wanted to start your own business, and you’ll probably have, you know, you’ve got this…
Marc Silverstein: You have a master’s degree, you have a PhD, even though you don’t, I mean, you’ve learned from the, you know, the real school.
Natalie Walters: I do think about that, yeah. I do frequently. I think about just how many people I’ve met, and then you do sort of keep up with their companies and seeing which ones failed and which ones didn’t, and I even think about oh, like what was their personality like, and you know, did that have something to do with why that didn’t work out, or I think also just meeting so many successful people and realizing they’re not different. I know we hear that all the time, but I mean, I remember a few months ago, I was telling a friend I was interviewing someone that day, and they were like that’s a billionaire and I said, “Yeah, I know. We’ve like, we interview billionaires, you know. I wouldn’t say frequently, but I mean it definitely happens,” and he couldn’t believe it.
I realized that in this job, you do forget that. You don’t get star-struck because you interview so many important people, and they’re so very human. It makes you realize if they can do it, I could do it. It’s just a lot about hard work, persistence, a little obviously a little bit of luck, um, you know, sometimes connection, their family, money. But I definitely do think about that, or if I wanted to go out of journalism, could I get a job working for a startup or a company on the business side? I think it’d be really interesting.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, you could be a consultant for so many people, especially in certain areas where you’ve really, you know, dove in deep and uh, because you know firsthand.
Do you have any tidbits about Cramer?
Marc Silverstein: But when you talk about science, I want a Cramer tidbit. Give us some secret about Jim Cramer in there. Come on. He’s showing up at six, no, showing up at what time in the morning? Three in the morning.
Natalie Walters: Three a.m., right? He was quiet, honestly, which is I guess that’s sort of funny.
Kathy Fowler: That’s a tidbit.
Marc Silverstein: Kramer was quiet?!
Natalie Walters: It was quiet when I saw him, but like I said, I honestly, when I was there, he was on a CNBC show and we would write up some stock reports for him that we would cover, but it was a very hectic newsroom. One of those ones where you don’t eat lunch, um, and you don’t get out of your seat, and you do not leave five minutes early. You stay until the dot. I would say in this job I have much more freedom. I eat lunch every day.
Kathy Fowler: You get to breathe and get to stand up, the luxuries in life that you get to enjoy now.
How did you end up at the Dallas Morning News?
Marc Silverstein: So, how did you end up at the Dallas Morning News?
Natalie Walters: After The Street, I became a beat reporter there, working on tech and media stories, and then the Motley Fool reached out to me on LinkedIn after one of my stories at The Street went kind of viral. That was probably my biggest story there.
I just happened to have interviewed someone who used to work at Amazon. He said, “I think the grocery industry is about to get a big shake-up, and I think Alibaba is going to try to do the same thing in China.” So, I had this interview on record, and then it was like the next morning, um, some big news came out about, I think it was Amazon Whole Foods. That deal came out, and we had just talked about Amazon Whole Foods. So, I wrote it up real quick, we put it out, and it went, like, just really crazy on the interwebs. So, Motley Fool reached out to me and offered a job, and so I worked with them for a bit, and then I decided to go to grad school at the Cronkite School in Phoenix.
They started a new program for investigative journalism where you can earn a master’s in one year in investigative journalism. I thought that sounds super fascinating, and I was really interested in doing more data work, more in-depth work. I was interested in learning coding, and because it’s a new program, they were offering folks with a lot of experience, I wouldn’t say a lot but some experience, you could get a full ride. The fact that you wouldn’t need to pay anything was what sealed the deal, and so I did that for a year. It was super fun, super helpful. I really loved that program. It was such a good experience.
And I was thinking I’d like to do something in local news where I am able to do a more, um, a better variety of stories, more in-depth stories, instead of just turning out quick stories on the business world. So, I took a break after two semesters in grad school to do an internship with Dallas News to see if I liked it. I loved it and then finished out the Masters and I came here.
Yeah, it’s been great. A lot of us took off that summer to try something in journalism to see what we would like. There were, I think, maybe 16 or 17 of us in that class, and we all sort of did different things and then came back together for our capstone project at the end.
Moving around in journalism
Marc Silverstein: So, if you’re not afraid to move around, that’s a big deal. I mean, if you want to be in journalism, you’ve got to move.
Natalie Walters: Yeah, I think you can definitely obviously stay in New York. There are so many jobs there, and there were definitely others I looked at there that just didn’t quite feel right, but there’s so many jobs in New York. But yeah, I think if you’re not in New York or maybe LA or DC, Atlanta, yes, you do need to be willing to move around unless you’re going to just sort of stay with your local paper.
I’m sure you guys know. I do think today it’s more acceptable to be around. There are so many young people that are just moving around a lot, and that’s sort of what people do.
It’s funny because I was talking to a friend just this morning. She was thinking of taking a new job, and she was saying how many people you look up on LinkedIn, and you see they started a job for just two or three months and then they jump. I guess people have to be in control of their career, and yeah, I guess people gotta do what you think would be best.
Has journalism changed as much in your industry as it has elsewhere?
Kathy Fowler: So, when you look at the journalism industry as a whole, it’s changed a lot, obviously in the last few decades, but do you feel like you have, you know, how it changed as much in your industry? And do you feel like you’re a little bit removed from some of the insanity that’s going on in journalism, as you know, people saying “fake news,” not paying attention to, not seeing news as an authoritative figure, and you know where you can actually trust the news? I mean, are you removed from that, or do you still feel some of that in your beat as well?
Natalie Walters: That’s interesting. I do think we’re somewhat removed from that. I think that tends to be geared at politics, like political coverage, especially with the bigger papers like the Times. So, I do feel like we’re a little bit isolated from that, but at the same time, I definitely feel the effects. It’s not that I see people saying that. I feel people feeling that toward us, and it can be discouraging because I know that I’ve been in newsrooms across the country, and there are no meetings happening about how to strategize or how to put out fake news or how to trick people or put out a certain point of view. It just doesn’t happen. We would never do that.
We also don’t have time to do that. We’re stressed and under deadlines, and so it’s hard to believe that some people actually think that happens. I’m sure maybe at publications that obviously have a very distinct point of view and are open about that, obviously, that probably happens. But I’m talking about legitimate publications like The Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Dallas News.
That doesn’t happen and it makes me sad that people think that because they’re doing themselves a disservice. They’re not getting what they need to keep up with the world. You can choose not to read the news. I know some people find it not enjoyable, but if you want to stay up with the world and you’re not willing to read the publications that have the most money to ensure the news is right, then I’m not really sure what you’re reading.
How do you explain the reality of journalism to people who are skeptical about it?
Can you explain the consequences? I think people think that some journalists are just making up stories, and maybe, like you said, from some point of view journalism. I don’t even consider that really journalism. It’s more commentary, or you know, we’ve had that forever. But it’s not really journalism. It’s opinionated. You know, it’s op-eds, it’s opinions. But when you are, I mean, what would happen if you would make a mistake in a story or you would make a mistake in a few stories? How important do you, when you tell people and explain journalism, that mistakes can kill a career or kill your credibility? You’re only almost as good as your last story. How do you explain that to people about how tough this business is and how you got to get it right?
Natalie Walters: Right, I know it’s funny because my family members are skeptical of journalism, to be honest, and I tell them, I show them corrections run at The New York Times. I say, “Do you see how they ran that? You know, why do you think if they ran a correction about misspelling the name of a city, why do you think they wouldn’t run one if a whole story was wrong? You think they would just let that happen? Like, how would that ever happen?”
It is not to say that mistakes don’t ever happen in journalism. They do, just like other people make mistakes at their jobs. Technical analysts, private equity, you guys make mistakes as well, and…
Marc Silverstein: No, it’s not me.
Natalie Walters: …if this happens, our mistakes are out there for the world to see. You know, where it’s like you’re every day you’re putting on a book report, and anyone can look at it and criticize it and find mistakes in it. I mean, I’m sure everyone’s English teacher found mistakes in your work. And so, they do happen, but they get corrected. They’re very big deals, obviously, if a whole story is made up or quotes, that’s way bigger than if you misspell something or have a grammar mistake.
Kathy Fowler: And it can be a career killer if you make a big enough mistake. Or, I mean, you would get fired, right?
Natalie Walters: Oh yeah, oh yeah, right. I don’t think I’ve ever had a big mistake. It’s just been something that was very easily correctable, but yeah, absolutely, if you made a mistake that was big enough, it would kill your career. I know there was a reporter earlier this year that was making up stories. I think when I think of big mistakes, that’s what I tend to think of because I can’t think of people that have really messed up a story at our newsroom, but yeah.
Marc Silverstein: There is a very famous story about Janet Cook from The Washington Post who won a Pulitzer for a story that turned out to be made up, but she paid the price.
Kathy Fowler: As she should.
Marc Silverstein: You know, I think it was interesting when you said that there aren’t meetings where we’re getting together and trying to figure out how to skew the news. You know, when we were in TV news, and I tried to explain to people, I’m like, “Yeah, “we were coming up with new angles and made up things”, because we go out on the story, and the photographer and I couldn’t even agree on a radio station to listen to. You know, we couldn’t agree on where to go to lunch. How are we going to agree on how we’re skewing the whole news product?”
Kathy Fowler: I know, yeah. And then, I mean, they think that, ‘Oh, you know, the media is getting with the big corporations to sell this story on this,’ and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding?’ Yeah, right. I mean, that’s so ridiculous. If you understand anything about journalism. First of all, some of you would be writing about it. There’d be another journalist in the same newsroom exposing what was happening in their own newsroom.
Natalie Walters: Absolutely, there’d be a whistleblower. That would never happen where everyone was silent. It just wouldn’t.
Marc Silverstein: So, how did COVID change what you did?
Natalie Walters: So I was in grad school when that happened. I was actually on a reporting trip in Panama when it broke out, and we weren’t sure we’d get back in. We were covering the immigration crisis happening there. We did get back in, and it was spring break. We all said bye, see you in a few weeks, and then we never saw each other again, which is really sad, because we all went home for a few weeks, we thought, and then the rest of the grad program was obviously on Zoom.
So, I did my internship with the Dallas news on Zoom from Augusta, Georgia, and so that was interesting, covering Dallas from home, and I really loved it.
I think part of that, though, I was thinking about this recently, is that I was living at home, so my parents took care of everything. They were cooking, cleaning. I didn’t have to worry about anything. All I got to focus on was my work, and I think that was super helpful, and it just showed me how much relief you get from just having help in life. I say that as someone who’s still single at 29. I mean, that’s sort of off-topic, but just how much freedom that gives you in your day when you’re not the only person running your household.
But anyways, I just had to make a lot of phone calls, ask people in the team a lot of questions about Dallas, look up a lot of stuff online, but I think I did really great work that summer, and I won an award from Cebu for one of those stories I did. And like I said, I think part of that was I honestly didn’t have anything else to do. I worked overtime a lot because there was nothing else to do with COVID.
Marc Silverstein: And that all made a difference. And you probably would have done that if you were in Dallas anyway.
Natalie Walters: Yeah, yeah.
Marc Silverstein: But the fact is that kids, if you’re listening at home, the way to advance your career is just to work hard during a pandemic, so if you can get a pandemic scheduled. But no, I mean, you would have, you know, worked that hard, maybe not you know, all those hours, but you would have been in early, out late and working the phones.
Natalie Walters: Totally, yeah. I think, right, the circumstances did make it easier to work overtime, but it would have been the same stories and the same interviews and everything like that.
I think it was also that there were just so many stories to tell. It was so easy coming out with stories that summer because you just pick an industry or a company and call them and ask how they’re being impacted, and every one was interesting. And it was sad, but it was interesting because this was a historical event. It hadn’t happened in any of our lifetimes, and people really wanted to talk because they were hurting, and their companies were hurting, so they really wanted to talk to us.
Kathy Fowler: Now that you work at the Dallas Morning News, are you…
Marc Silverstein: No, wait, is it the Dallas…it was always the Dallas Morning News to me, and you keep saying Dallas News. Is it…are we getting it right?
Natalie Walters: It is the Dallas Morning News, but we do shorten it to the Dallas News sometimes.
Do you concentrate on the Texas area?
Kathy Fowler: So, do you concentrate on, like, the Texas area? Or do you still do national stories?
Marc Silverstein: She did a story the other day – this will be dated when this runs – but about people renting out their backyards for dogs. It’s a great story. It’s like Airbnb for dogs to crap on your backyard for you, and people are making like a thousand dollars a month, right? Or more.
Natalie Walters: Right. I think in California, maybe three thousand a month, you can make, right. That was an interesting story.
So, we focus on North Texas, which is sort of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and we keep it to that, but we do do some national stories as well. And we have so many big companies here that I think a lot of our stories naturally skew a bit national. But, right, we focus on North Texas.
How has social media impacted what you do?
Kathy Fowler: Got it. Where do you see social media has…you know, some newsrooms, I know they used to – I don’t know now because social media’s become a bit difficult and people are targeting journalists through social media and kind of bullying them. A couple of years ago, journalists had to be on Twitter and Facebook, and that was sort of like a whole other side gig that you had to do. Do you have to be on social media? Do you find social media helpful to spread and expand your stories to a different market? Or, like, how does that fit into your reporting and what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis?
Natalie Walters: I think it is helpful. I wouldn’t ever delete my Twitter as long as I’m in this industry because I do think it’s helpful to keep up with news, keep up with contacts, learn from other people. A lot of journalists tweet out things they wish they did better or tips they have or, you know, even mental health tips or careers. I think it’s really helpful to be on there.
I do think in local news, it’s not as helpful when you’re tweeting out stories. It’s still a good thing to do, but I think it takes on another form when you’re working at a national outlet and tweeting. Obviously, there’s just more people on there, more people interested in it. But I’ve definitely gotten some good traction on there when stories are just really interesting. Like, I did one on a cryptocurrency class taught by a 21-year-old at a senior living facility, and people on Twitter just really loved that. Obviously, there’s a lot of crypto fans on Twitter, so that naturally sort of took off. So, it kind of depends on maybe you find a niche story that really fits with Twitter’s interests that can take off.
Marc Silverstein: But is there a difference between the stories that make it online and the ones that make it to the hard copy or the daily paper. Are they the same stories?
Natalie Walters: They’re the same. They usually go in on the same day. We’ll put it up online at 2 PM, and it goes in print the next day. Other times, they schedule it to go up at 6 AM. They all go in print. If it’s a longer story, it may come out on Monday and be held for the weekend for print, but they all get in there.
Do the same rules apply to online stories as in print?
Marc Silverstein: Do the same rules apply? I’ve noticed from the PR side that our clients have been screwed by things that were on the blog but they didn’t verify things, they just wrote things for the online version, and then it would make it into the hard copy. I’m like, wait a minute, you didn’t call, you didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do because it was online. This is going back a few years, but does that go on?
Natalie Walters: So they don’t call to get information, they just run a story?
Marc Silverstein: Yeah. We’ve had that happen. We’re in DC, so it was with a big outlet. I won’t name any names, because we still deal with them, but still.
Natalie Walters: Yeah, it’s so much easier to call. You always get more interesting tidbits, so we always try to call to get some information.
Marc Silverstein: You mentioned your age, and a lot of younger people don’t like to use the phone. Was that a skill you had to develop or were you used to talking on the phone?
Natalie Walters: That’s funny. I still grew up in a time where we had to talk on the phone. I had to memorize their friend’s numbers. I got a cell phone in college or high school. I am a little bit more shy and introverted, but I did worry about that, but a different side of me comes out when I am interviewing people. I don’t feel like myself, it’s like I’m doing a job, so I’ve never felt nervous or hesitant about it, and it has given me more confidence.
I remember listening back to one of my first interviews I found on an old computer and I was just cringing. It was so bad, I was so not confident, so nervous. And so now I still cringe a little bit when I listen to my interviews back, but I can tell it’s so much better now.
Marc Silverstein: One of my first jobs was on the Hill as a radio reporter. I would go interview senators and Congresspeople, and I was so nervous when I would go interview them. I would ask the stupidest questions, and fortunately, they stuck to their talking points and gave me good answers. I would literally erase my questions in-between the answers so my boss wouldn’t hear how dumb I was.
Kathy Fowler: But the funny thing is, it honestly didn’t matter what your questions were because the answers were always the same. That’s how good politicians are.
Marc Silverstein: I once had a senator say to me, “Marc, get your question together, take a breath, and ask it.”
Natalie Walters: That’s so funny because I’ve done something like that before where I didn’t want someone to hear their questions, so I erased that part.
Since other papers are cutting back, is the Dallas Morning News still robust with their business section?
Marc Silverstein: If you look at major papers, some of them have cut back on their business sections. The Dallas News is still robust with their business section?
Natalie Walters: Yeah.
Marc Silverstein: That’s great.
Natalie Walters: Yeah, we added a new real estate reporter last month or a few months ago. Real estate is huge here. That’s definitely our biggest coverage area. It gets the most, I would say the most views and subscribers by far. People just love real estate here. There are so many people in that business that it gets read widely. So, we have two real estate reporters, and then we’re adding a DEI reporter this month. She’s coming from The Tennessean and Nashville.
So we’re adding, and I think it goes back to business sections do tend to be really well read. They’re well read by people who are very successful and have the money to spend on the publication. I think that helps, and then also Dallas is a huge business town. It’s a big city. Tons of companies here who come for the nice regulatory environment for businesses. They love moving here.
Do you have to get involved in politics?
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, it gets political. Abbott’s going after a lot of these companies to get them to move there, going after blue state companies to get them to move there.
Do you avoid the politics, or do you have to get involved in the politics? Does that sometimes… you can’t avoid it and you got to deal with it? How do you deal with those political issues that come with covering the business stories?
Natalie Walters: We don’t shy away from it when it’s involved. It’s obviously not always involved. We have to contact Abbott’s office sometimes and work it into the stories. Or, you know, we’ve had a lot of Roe v Wade issues coming up and looking at what businesses are doing about that, or, you know, with Covid, there was a lot of controversy there, and with the riots that happened that summer. I think politics and business do, yeah, they definitely intersect a lot with stories.
Kathy Fowler: Do you, for people who don’t understand the behind-the-scenes journalism, can you explain sort of like at your paper the separation between church and state between ads and journalism? You know, I think some people think that the car dealer, you know, the sales guys…
Marc Silverstein: Well, they have billionaires there who are reading the paper, so that means more advertising, but the advertising doesn’t get involved.
Kathy Fowler: No, I’m explaining that, so, the sales guys don’t lean on you. Can you explain that?
Natalie Walters: I can say I don’t even know who our salespeople are. I’ve never met them. I don’t know their names. I don’t know where they work. I assume in our building. We’ve never talked. So, yeah, there’s no connection there. We do, when we get pitches, it’s from a company’s PR professional or their communication specialists, and we look at a story. If it’s interesting to readers, we’ll write it up. If it’s not, we pass on it, or if it’s a lot of pitches, which I’m sure y’all are aware of, can be too gimmicky and salesy.
I think about this a lot with financial companies. We’ll write a pitch where they just want me to write about a financial product. Why would I write about that? Why would I write about that in a local paper? That’s just an ad.
And so, I think there could be some companies like Bankrate that might write about that where they’re not strictly a news company, but that’s not something we would write about.
Marc Silverstein: So, you’ll look over our pitches and give us advice on how to fix our pitches?
Natalie Walters: For a consulting fee, I’ll do it.
Marc Silverstein: Okay, there you go. Yeah, of course. There comes the business.
Kathy Fowler: That’s a good thing. Like we, as former journalists, when we write a pitch, I mean, basically, we’re writing it almost like a news story, you know what I mean? So we’re not, we’re not, we know not to be salesy because we know it’s just gonna go right in the trash can where it deserves to go.
Natalie Walters: First thing, I’m still surprised that sometimes I get pitches from someone with a very sketchy-looking email signature, you know, where it’s not doesn’t like a legitimate company. It’s like they just typed it out, and that does impact how legitimate it looks. I think that’s such an easy thing to do, is to create a nice sign-off where it does look like a legitimate PR company.
Marc Silverstein: But you do take pitches from PR companies and look them over? I mean, what’s the best way to reach you to… we don’t have any clients in Dallas yet, but we might. But how do you…
Kathy Fowler: If somebody has a story in Dallas and not a PR Company but somebody has a good story, like how do they reach out to you and say, hey, wow, this is happening in Dallas?
Marc Silverstein: Kathy’s interpreting exactly what I was trying to say.
Kathy Fowler: I mean, who cares if it’s a PR person or not? If somebody has a good story, how do they get in touch with you and how do they get your attention?
Natalie Walters: Yeah, just email. I do look at every email. It may just be as long as I can tell from the header that it’s not going to work for us, but I look at everyone. I’d say, you know, attempts to get your pitch through would be to keep it very short and succinct. We’re all busy, to make a nice header that explains what you’re pitching, and to put yourself in our shoes and think, what would they think is worthwhile to readers, not just what is, it may not be your ideal story. Your ideal story is, “This company is so great, everyone should love it, everyone should buy this product.” That’s not really realistic, so think about what we would write.
Some of the best pitches I get are folks who just find a really interesting, timely topic to weave their company into or weave their statistics they put out there into, and I think, “Oh man, I wish I thought of that. That’s really interesting.” And so the whole story is not about their company, but they do get mentioned or their statistics get put in there, and I think that’s…
Kathy Fowler: Trends… trends of people renting out their pools or their backyards to… that’s what’s happening with pools too. People have pools like, “You want to rent my pool for the day?”
Natalie Walters: I know. Like spotting that story where you can rent out your backyard to people with dogs. I feel like that’s got to be an easy story to pitch. I mean, who doesn’t want to write about that? But I do feel for people with companies that maybe aren’t so interesting or aren’t so timely. You do have to get creative.
What is next for you?
Marc Silverstein: Well, when’s the Pulitzer? When do you get the Pulitzer?”
Natalie Walters: I haven’t decided, maybe next year.
Marc Silverstein: Well, I mean is there a book? Are you thinking a book? Now that you’ve conquered the business beat in Dallas.
Kathy Fowler: Well, that’s the thing too. You have such expertise. You’re only going to get more of it. There’s so much that you can do, you know, with this knowledge that you have. That you know, sharing valuable information for people who need it.
Marc Silverstein: She’s renting out her backyard for dogs.
Natalie Walters: I need to talk to y’all anytime I get discouraged. Um, yeah, I think that writing a book would be great. I’ve always thought that later, a little later in life, I’d like to write one, and maybe not even journalism or bestie relief. I thought maybe writing a kids book would be fun. I have nieces and nephews, and I’m a little obsessed with them. Um, so that’s what got me thinking about that because my nephew’s obsessed with lawn mowers, and I couldn’t find a book about lawn mowers for him. It was really sad, so I think there’s a lot of kids’ books left to be written.
Marc Silverstein: Look for “Larry the Lawnmower” coming soon from Natalie Walters.
Kathy Fowler: Well, thank you for sharing some of the stories and sharing how, uh, you know, the behind the scenes of your job, and especially a fascinating beat. I feel a little bit smarter, and now I need to read all your stories, so I’ll be that much more smarter in the business and the financial world.
Marc Silverstein: And I’m not going to be like Cramer and show up at three in the morning, but you know, yeah, maybe five or six or something like that, but that’s, yeah, that’s pretty cool.
Natalie Walters: I know. If I’m not waking up at 3am in my 20s, it’s not gonna happen.
Marc Silverstein: Natalie Walters, thank you, Dallas Morning News, the Dallas News. Pick one.
Natalie Walters: Thanks for having me.
Marc Silverstein: Thank you.
Kathy Fowler: Well, that was really fascinating. I think that it’s crazy, though, how she had to jump in and know nothing about the financial business and then turn around and become an expert that everybody else is listening to. That’s pretty crazy.
Marc Silverstein: I think that’s how it works in journalism. I think I’m glad to hear that it still goes on, that, you know, she had bosses who invested in her and gave her an opportunity, and she was a great writer, and she turned it into a great beat.
Kathy Fowler: That’s right.
Marc Silverstein: So I learned a lot, and LinkedIn again, what’s with the LinkedIn? Everybody’s getting jobs from LinkedIn.
Kathy Fowler: Oh my gosh, it’s like LinkedIn is there to get people jobs. What a new concept.
Marc Silverstein: It’s actually working, you know, but I’m surprised that young people are finding jobs on LinkedIn. I get offers to buy insurance on LinkedIn, that’s about what I get, that’s so…
Anyway, if you enjoyed and want to hear more of our voices and me rambling on about LinkedIn, be sure to follow us on social media at @OnTheMarcMedia and subscribe to the After Deadline: The Media Podcast anywhere where you get your podcast.
Until next time, we’ll catch up with you after deadline.