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Blogging the boilerplate fantastic

Two years in the footnotes (and counting)

In early 2010, I was beginning to make my peace with Bloomberg's acquisition of BusinessWeek in early 2010. I wasn't thrilled to have been moved to the newswire from the magazine (though it turned out most of the remaining magazine writers would be laid off soon after), but I was willing to give it a shot. The benefits were good, and as long as I stayed on top of the news, I thought I could carve out some time for some investigative reporting on the side. Besides, I was covering housing policy and regulation — not a bad beat, from a journalistic point of view, what with the foreclosure crisis and the indefinite fates of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Then a friend pinged me: Would I be interested in a job rooting around for interesting stuff in corporate filings?

He knew a blogger who was getting money to expand. The blogger was Michelle Leder, who had founded shortly after the dot-com tech bust in the early 2000s, with the publication of her book, Financial Fine Print. Her thesis: Most investors don't read the voluminous and typically opaque disclosures made by public companies; at best, they skim the documents. As a result, they miss a lot of subtle (and not-so-subtle) warning signs that companies are in bad shape, or even cooking the books. They also miss investment opportunities, but that's rarer in my experience: Companies are generally eager to publicize good news.

By 2010, Michelle's blog had quite a following, including some professional investors and hedge-fund managers. So she peeled off the most "actionable" items — the stuff the professionals could use to make real money — and started a paid service called footnotedPro. With Morningstar's acquisition of the two publications, Michelle had the resources to expand her staff. I was hire no. 2, after Sonya Hubbard, who had been working part-time for Michelle for a couple years. 

We quickly expanded footnotedPro, aiming to publish a report a week, and surpassing that goal. We also published more blog posts, and created a new publication for paying subscribers, Red Flag Alert, a weekly list our the most interesting and significant finds from the filings. 

(More to come.)