Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Conference coverage: Research and investigation

Covering public companies: Digging up the numbers and information that matter

Mark Skertic, business reporter for the Chicago Tribune and member of Investigative Reporters and Editors

Summary: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) serves as the investor’s advocate and gathers information for investors about publicly traded companies. The SEC makes public companies' information available on their websites, and reporters can go back 10 years to find certain company records and track its financial performance. Writers can find out such information as pay and benefit details, stock options, business backgrounds of board members and employees and details about lawsuits and what the company’s competitors are doing. They can also find out about what the shareholders want for the company by going to

Helpful websites: When Mark first started writing about public companies, he had to fly to Washington, D.C., and sit in a windowless room at a government building sifting through paper records. He can now search all the documents online at not only, but also other websites such as and To find court records, reporters can visit and pay 8 cents a page to download court documents.

SEC Filings: Reporters need to know what to look for when searching through filings. Here's what to look for:
  • Proxy statements often tell which direction a company is going.
  • A company often files an 8K every time there is a major event such as a sale of assets, a change in management or a judgment in a major lawsuit.
  • When an investor buys more than 5 percent of the company’s stock, the company is required to file a 13D.
  • A Form 144 is for when an insider intends to sell shares.
  • While there’s no replacement for reading all of the SEC filings, reporters can often find valuable information in the footnotes because companies often think that if they put something in tiny type, people are less likely to read it.

No comments: