Q+A with Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism Jeffrey Timmermans

Monday, Aug. 16, 2021


Jeffrey Timmermans, an accomplished business journalist and educator, has been named the Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Timmermans will direct the Cronkite School’s Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, which works with journalists around the world to improve the quality of coverage of business and the economy, as well as teach business journalism courses.

Timmermans recently shared his vision for the Reynolds Center and his plans to take it to new heights.

Why is business journalism important? Why is an entire center dedicated to it?
Business journalism is important to everyone’s life. It’s not just about the stock market. It’s not just for rich people. The policy decisions made in Washington D.C. and Beijing actually have a dramatic impact on everyone’s pocketbook. Business journalists help people understand the significance and importance of business in their daily lives. They help ordinary people become well informed on business decisions and developments.

How do you think business journalism can – and should be – improved in the U.S.?
Basic financial literacy on the part of business journalists needs to be improved. Additionally, business journalists need to be good communicators to their readers and viewers.

You mentioned that you’ve used the Reynolds Center as a resource in your teaching in the past. What resources did you use and what does it mean to you to be trusted as its director now?
First of all, the “Beat Basics” ebook is a fantastic resource I’ve been using for years. It’s a resource that outlines typical reporting “beats” that financial journalists are assigned. I’ve also used many articles on the Reynolds Center’s website. It is quite humbling, actually, to be trusted to lead the Reynolds Center — and expand it not just nationally but globally. It is an amazing opportunity to elevate this tremendous center to greater global heights.

What is your vision for the Reynolds Center? What do you hope to accomplish?
We’ve got a very, very strong foundation, so I want to build on that foundation and make more content available globally. Recently, the center was involved in forming an association of Southeast Asian business journalists. That’s a fantastic thing. We hope to do more initiatives like that throughout the world, and expand contacts across the globe.

You just moved here from Hong Kong, and you’ve spent many years reporting and teaching abroad. What did you learn that you’ll bring to Cronkite?
A global view is certainly important because, in this hyper-connected world, events in one part of the world have an impact in every part of the world. We saw that magnified last year with COVID. I want to share the tremendous connections that exist in the business world. This is for good and ill. You think about all the struggles we have in the U.S. with jobs being outsourced to other countries. It’s all related to supply chain issues, because supply chains are globalized as well now.

How does the practice of journalism – and, in particular, business journalism – differ in Asia or other parts of the world from the U.S.?
Business journalism, because it’s global, is very similar all over the world. It comes down to access of information; information about U.S. businesses is usually easy to obtain. That’s not always the case in other markets. China is a particular issue, because the Chinese economy is still dominated by state-owned enterprises. A lot of what these state-owned enterprises do is classified as state secrets. Even something as simple as revenue data is classified as secret. This is an issue not only for investors in these companies, but also foreign markets, such as the New York Stock Exchange, where regulators demand to see audited financial results that sometimes are classified as secret.

What kind of global footprint do you think the Reynolds Center should have?
I think it should be a fully global footprint. Right now, there’s no organization quite like the Reynolds Center to provide relevant and accurate business journalism globally. So we have a tremendous opportunity to expand what we have beyond the United States.

What does your ideal day look like?
Well, the ideal day for me is working. As a journalist, I feel like at all times, part of your mind is focused on being a journalist. I like to tell my students that you never know where your next story idea is going to come from. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I love to talk to people, meet new people and just make connections. It keeps your journalistic inquisitiveness honed.

You’ve not only practiced business journalism but you’ve taught it as well. What is the most important thing you can impart to your students?
Two things I think are essential for good journalists are a healthy curiosity and a healthy skepticism. Also, the ability and desire to ask questions. You need to be willing to ask tough questions to anybody.

Why should students consider business journalism? What are the career opportunities?
There’s an element of business in pretty much every major news story around the world, so opportunity is always there. Additionally, the Reynolds Center used to do an annual survey of salaries of business journalists compared to mainstream journalists. Consistently, the salaries of business journalists were quite a bit higher.

What do you do when you’re not working? What are your hobbies and interests – besides business journalism?
My passions are skiing and traveling, particularly to out-of-the-way places that lack Starbucks and cell-phone coverage. As far as I know, I’m the only person crazy enough to make the 30-hour journey from Hong Kong (three planes, a ferry, and a three-hour drive) to spend two nights on Fogo Island, off Newfoundland. But it was totally worth it.

By Jack Loder