How to Engage News Consumers in Stories about Personal Finance

July 6, 2021 11:59

On October 8, 2020, RTDNA and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) presented Money Matters Day, hosting educational sessions discussing all areas of personal finance and how it impacts communities and reporting. The sessions ranged from in-depth discussions with expert panelists on the financial impacts of COVID-19 to spotlighting 2020’s best in personal finance reporting. To watch these recorded sessions, click here.

The second session, moderated by RTDNF Treasurer and KOA Newsradio News Director Kathy Walker, featured the 2020 RTDNA/NEFE Excellent in Personal Finance Reporting Award winners. Panelists went into detail on the process of their award-winning pieces, and shared reporting tools and best practices to help their peers cover financial topics. If you missed this session, we’ve got you covered! Here are some key takeaways from former NEFE Award winners on how to construct a thorough and engaging financial story.


Persistence pays off

Oftentimes looming deadlines and bureaucracy can get in the way of uncovering the truth. For the team behind CBS2’s Getting Hosed: Chicago Water, A Bungled Bureaucracy, these persistent roadblocks fueled their fire. When the team confronted the city about unfair, inexplicable water bills, the city responded by going deep into the technical elements of water bills and municipal codes.

Undeterred, the investigative team followed them into the weeds and - after a good amount of digging - found some snakes. The data from the city was complicated to understand and difficult to obtain. However, persistence rewarded the CBS2 team. It came to light that residents across the city were being charged millions of dollars for water they didn’t use. Diligence was key to righting the wrongs of these enormous, unlawful bills.

Get creative with source materials

In an increasingly technological world, media sources are constantly evolving. When the Forbes team was collecting sources for their award-winning story, The Inside Story of Robinhood's Billionaire Founders, Option Kid Cowboys and the Wall Street Sharks That Feed on Them, they found their best material in the most unconventional places.

The story opens in a Slack channel for options traders. Spending time combing through these online communities (Slack, Reddit, etc.) painted a more complete picture of Robinhood’s impact on the investor community. To understand the nuance of a very complicated financial story, the team at Forbes explored these nontraditional sources and, as a result, were better able to communicate their story to a broader audience. As communications channels continue to change, financial reporters must evolve their tactics to keep up.

Emphasize the humanity of the story

Though of great importance to readers, financial stories don’t always generate the same excitement as other pitches in a newsroom. To engage readers, it’s important to make personal finance stories human centered. In the case of Nebraska Public Media’s winning submission, Nebraska Schools Tackle Financial Literacy, reporter Brandon McDermott opens his personal finance story at a kitchen table in Omaha.

Though the story was a more serious examination of the financial education programs being offered in schools across the state – or lack thereof – the story’s framing made the content accessible. Making personal finance stories more personal invites more readers to engage with stories that matter to them.

Feeling inspired by these tips and tools? We’re looking for more great storytellers to share their personal finance stories with us! Submit your stories or franchises on money topics here to be considered for the RTDNA and NEFE Personal Finance Reporting Awards. Submissions are due by Thursday, July 22. Send in your story today!