By Asma Ghribi
Daniel Pearl Fellow
The first day at my Fellowship with the U.S. Market section of the Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Desk, I thought I would need a translator.
My supervisor was speaking English, at least it sounded like English, and yet so many of the words were unfamiliar to me: “gross margin . . .guidance . . GAAP versus non-GAAP . . .”
I listened attentively and gave the impression that I understood everything.
Meanwhile I was writing down as much as I could of this barrage of new vocabulary, with the intention of getting on Google as soon as possible to get some much-needed clarification.
The physical space itself added to my intimidation those first few days: an open hall filled with journalists using two, three, and sometimes four computer screens to gather up-to-the-minute information from a variety of software platforms.
In Tunisia I had covered many different types of stories, from protests to political campaigns, to issues of civil liberties and personal freedoms.
But I had never touched on the economy.
Now I was being thrown into to technical coverage of a far bigger and more complex economy: the U.S. market.
Fortunately, I got to work closely in those days with many of the Journal’s more experienced reporters. Finally, with one particularly helpful colleague, I plucked up the courage to express how lost I felt.
“I actually have a stupid question. What does this word mean?” I asked.
“Asma, there’s no such thing as a stupid question,” he replied. “I spent seven years as a political correspondent before starting here, so believe me, I had plenty of ‘stupid questions’ myself. Don’t hesitate to ask anything.”
That my colleague had come from a similar background but had clearly become so comfortable in this role reassured me.
However, I still had to face going live: writing stories for publication on lightning-fast deadlines. We had only 15 minutes to pull out relevant information from earnings statements and make it into a story
When my first real earnings disclosure came, I could almost hear a timer in my head. To my own surprise, I finished that first story in 16 minutes. Not bad for a first try.
Still, the first few days I felt as if every few hours I was back in elementary school and I had a math exam for which I hadn’t prepared.
But with time I grew comfortable with the vocabulary and software platforms. I managed to meet my deadlines with relative ease.
And I learned more than just specific knowledge for earnings wire stories: I learned how a professional news organization manages to stay ahead of the news cycle and be on top of breaking news.
For example, in Tunisia when I was managing reporters, we would prepare a ‘shell’ of a story to be ready when information came in so we could plug it into the blanks and quickly publish.
At the Wall Street Journal, using such shells was the norm.
They have a whole streamlined system so that a team of writers can churn out stories with clockwork precision.
I never would’ve thought a 10 or 15-minute deadline would have been possible. With the resources, organization, and discipline of the Wall Street Journal it is routine.