A.J. Feather

Journalist, Developer

I'm a Missouri native currently seeking a dual masters in computer science and journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Every week I also host an awesome podcast called "Integrate" with my friend Mikah, which you can find at Integrate.FM.

Before moving to New York, I obtained undergraduate degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In Columbia, I hosted a weekly show called "Talking Politics" for KBIA, the local NPR member station and produced, wrote and anchored video for Newsy.com way too early in the morning.

There has never been a political column I did not enjoy reading or an Apple product I did not enjoy using.

S.A.B.E.W. Mergers & Acquisitions Panel

Gregg Lemkau of Goldman Sachs and Chris Ventresca of J.P. Morgan spoke about mergers and acquisitions at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Conference Friday.  They discussed the increase of mergers and acquisitions over the last year and what it means for the market as a whole.

Lemkau says these mergers and acquisitions tend to move in the same direction as the equity market, which has been doing well recently.  In fact, many analysts were puzzled as to why there were record low interest rates and record profits with very few mergers and acquisitions occurring.  That may have been because there was still enough volatility in the market people were waiting to get past the next storm.

“There was almost always something you were waiting to get past,” Lemkau said.  “For the first time, there was nothing on the horizon looming.  There will always be geopolitical risk, but there was nothing someone wanted to get past.”

Ventresca says it may have just been timing.  A lot of these deals were in the works in 2011 and 2012.

“Maybe the math didn’t work two years ago,” Ventresca said.

Another concern arises comes up when a merger or acquisition happens is whether employees keep their jobs.  Lemkau says this tends to be made out to a bigger issue than it is.

“For the vast majority of employees, their job is going to be the same after an acquisition,” Lemkau said.

Ventresca pointed out the virtues of spinning off companies.  He said there can be real value in breaking companies up.

“What could we do to create more value? A spin-off is certainly a part of that,” Ventresca said.

Even though it can seem like companies would have the same value together as they would apart, there can be benefits to a breakup.  Lemkau jokingly compared it to a divorce and said companies can benefit simply from being detached from other companies.

“When you look at them over time, you can see there actually is more value in the both companies broken up than together,” Lemkau said.

Lemkau finished giving his thoughts on the recent perceived increase in “inversions,” which refers to companies that leave one nation to find another with a lower corporate tax rate.  He says he thinks the idea that companies are moving specifically because of taxes is exaggerated.

“[The corporate tax rate] is not that big of a driver of the activity,” Lemkau said.  “These are strategic transactions, and once these companies come together, they decide where the better tax savings are. I don’t think they are driven by tax, but the tax is definitely facilitated.”

S.A.B.E.W. Wonk Panel

Ben Cassleman of 538 kicked off the data journalism panel at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Conference Friday, October 10, by discussing his analysis of Ferguson, Mo. In “The Poorest Corner of Town,” Cassleman studied the racial and economic breakdown of Ferguson and tried to find data supporting whether Ferguson is an outlier in either area. His findings said it isn’t.

“The idea that it is a terribly disproportionate in race or a terribly poor area just isn’t true,” Cassleman said.

Matthew Phillips, Finance and Markets Editor at Quartz, discussed the use of interactive graphics on Quartz’ website. In “All The World’s Trade Disputes” Quartz built a graphic to illustrate which companies compete with each other over a specific good. These graphics are not just for readers to interact with though. Phillips says many graphics they make are helpful to reporters as well.

“Say there is some story about higher tariffs, you can easily use this in additional reporting,” Phillips said.

Neil Irwin, Senior Economic Correspondent for The New York Times’ “Upshot,” discussed “How the Recession Reshaped the Economy, in 255 Charts,” an ambitious interactive graphic that shows hundreds of trend lines about different sectors of the economy. Irwin said people spent a lot of time with the graphic even though it can seem intimidating at first.

Getting the data is a big part of what data journalists do, and at times, it can become even a bigger job than analyzing the data itself.

Cassleman says it can also be tempting to write about the process, rather than the findings.

“There’s a little bit of a tendency in these stories to say ‘I had this question’ and then this didn’t work and this didn’t work and this didn’t work. Then this thing did work,” Cassleman said. “How do you marry the process that is very important to a lot of people and the finding?”

Phillips says he uses Chartbuilder to create charts quickly and tweet them out throughout the day. He looks for the numbers that people do not get other places. The labor force participation rate was the biggest example he gave. The labor force participation rate has generally fallen since the beginning of the recession.

Phillips says part of the reason is so many Americans are retiring. Phillips said a lot of people do not really understand why it is falling at the rate it is.

“It has become a big piece of political values. I just try to get the data out there, so that people can fight out what they think it means while they read my story,” Phillips said.

Annalyn Kurtz, the moderator, asked the panel whether journalists should learn how to code. Irwin said maybe, but learning a new subject may be just as useful to any newsroom.

Phillips jokingly said, “Yes... and Mandarin.” He thinks it’s a good idea, but he agrees there are definitely other skills that can be just as important.

Cassleman added the most important thing is every journalist learns how to understand the evidence in numbers and is able to figure out where to find the truth. He says that is becoming an absolutely basic skill everyone needs.

“Learning Stata or R might get you a job, but being able to read data well is absolutely imperative,” Cassleman said.

How to Purchase an iPhone (The Right Way)

Since the first iPhone was released, we have seen the same cycle.  Every year Apple releases a new iPhone.  For the first four models, this happened in June.  Since then, it has been in September.  They make no official announcements as a company, but if you google “new iPhone” anytime after Memorial Day, you will have more information at your fingertips about the new phone than you could possibly want.

Apple tends to also follow cycles for the release of iPads, laptops, desktops and presumably the Apple Watch. Do yourself a favor and bookmark MacRumors’ Buyer’s Guide.  It will tell you when to buy and not buy.

So what does this mean?  How can you exploit this information to make yourself happier and your bank account larger?  I’m glad you asked.

Rule #1: Always buy an iPhone the day it comes out

Yes, it seems appealing in mid-June to upgrade your one-and-a-half-year-old phone. Don’t.  Just because you have an upgrade available doesn’t mean you should throw money into a fire.  Undoubtedly the new phone will be available before the end of Summer, and the phone you currently wish to purchase will cost $100 less. Moving your contract off-cycle is silly.  It basically guarantees you will always be several months out of date for the exact same cost as it would take to have an up-to-date phone.

Rule #2: Understand the ACTUAL price of the phone you are purchasing.

I know the price says free.  It’s actually $450. Allow me to explain...

Your two-year contract is worth many, many dollars to AT&T or Verizon.  (This is why T-Mobile’s plans are often much cheaper, but I digress.)  It used to be easy to tell how much of a premium your carrier charged you because they charged more for an iPhone data plan than other generic data plans.  Now, it’s more difficult.  But regardless of how much they actually make on your two-year contract, the number is more than $450 because that’s the amount of money they are knocking off the phone price.

                                                With Contract / Without Contract

iPhone 6 Plus (base model):        $299        / $749

iPhone 6    (base model):              $199        / $649

iPhone 5S    (base model):             $99        / $549

iPhone 5C     (base model):              $0        / $450

When you decide which phone to buy you may decide the 5C is all you need.  But you also need to consider that the price options are not $0 and $200. They are $450 and $649.  You pay that $450 no matter what you do.

The additional $200 in this case score you:

  1. The ability to pay with your phone anywhere Apple Pay is accepted

  2. A fingerprint reader

  3. A camera that is much, much better

  4. A larger screen

  5. A better screen

  6. More memory

  7. A much faster processor

  8. One to two more years of good use out of a phone that supports new operating systems

Now which phone makes sense to purchase?

Rule #3: Only use AT&T ‘Next’ if you want to pay full price for the phone.

AT&T released their ‘Next’ program in 2013.  It allows customers to pay an extra $20-$30 per month depending on what model of phone they purchase to upgrade once every year (or every 18-months in some cases).

This isn’t a terrible deal, especially if your employer pays your cell phone bill. However, you are going to pay full price (or close to full price) for the phone you’re buying with an early upgrade.

In most cases, it’s not much different from buying an unlocked phone from T-Mobile, and if you only count the amount AT&T is charging you extra, it can be a better deal.  However, you are still paying more for your cell service than you would at T-Mobile, so AT&T will ultimately take more of your money.

Rule #4: Sell your old phone.

I cannot tell you how many times I run into people who tell me they still have old iPhones sitting in a desk drawer at home.  Sure, a first-generation iPhone will become a collector’s item in a few decades, but what do you need that 3GS for?  Does it possess a certain aesthetic you like to look at from time-to-time?  Does its lack of HSDPA+ & LTE inspire you to be something better than yourself?  Of course not.  You just never sold it on eBay or mailed it to Gazelle.  This harkens back to earlier when you were throwing money into a fire while buying a new phone in June.

Do yourself a favor.  List your phone on eBay or go here and sell your phone.  You can currently pull about $240 from Gazelle on a working 5S.  On eBay, the number is a little bit higher, but you have to go through the trouble of waiting on the auction, getting the address, making sure the customer pays, etc.

So the next time your friend tells you they are thinking about buying a new iPhone in mid-August before the new model is announced, do them a favor.  Send them a link to this post.  Help them become a smarter consumer.

Launchpad

This week for class we went to Launchpad Advertising.  Launchpad is a small agency nested between union square and midtown on Manhattan.  Launchpad works on several corporate and non-profit accounts, the biggest of which is CenturyLink.

Angela Woronick spoke to our group about the use of social media with a brand who was new to the concept.  She runs the social media sider of the campaign for CenturyLink.  She stressed the importance of paid advertising on social media and its ability to generate interaction with customers.

We also heard from several other account executives and supervisors.  Allie Franklin, an account supervisor, spoke about her work on the Nestle Waters account.  She recalled an instance where they had a whole campaign ready to roll and had another really great idea late in the pitching process. They fought for the new idea and ended up reworking the entire campaign.

Franklin said they felt they needed to try to run with the new idea.  It took some convincing, but the campaign ended up making it to print and has appeared on buses and trains around Chicago.

Launchpad demonstrates how a small advertising firm can grow by leaps and bounds pitching good creative content to accounts large and small.  The office has the aesthetic of a lean startup, and it seemed full of people new to the industry who were given a lot of responsibility and opportunity to build great campaigns.

NY Public Relations

This week we heard from two employees of Razorfish about their jobs and how they coordinate between clients and media outlets.  Razorfish does everything from web development and media planning to analytics and creative work.

The individuals we heard from were Charlotte Lederman and Isabelle Brenton.  Lederman has experience in developing and implementing integrated marketing initiatives.  Brenton is an associate director and US Lead of Media Relations at Razorfish.

Lederman and Brenton discussed the difficulty of working with people both in journalism and other public relations-type work.  Both emphasized the importance of prioritizing based on readership.  It’s important to focus on the differences between publications and the amount of readership they have.  They said they get tons of requests for clients to do articles with small publications, and they do try to cater to some of them because the writers there may be at a giant publication someday.  However, they still prioritize based on the number of readers and subject matter.

They also discussed the differences of working with a client that’s been on TV dozens of times and done hundreds of interviews versus someone who is completely new to the spotlight.  There is a certain amount of prep required, and you have to cater to the client.

Another challenge to their line of work is building relationships with reporters at various publications and maintaining relationships with publications even after the reporter they know well leaves.  Lederman said it’s important to immediately look for someone new at the outlet, so that you don’t lose that relationship.

Both say the job can be difficult, but Razorfish is a great place to work.  “We’re lucky to work with great people.  Our clients know what they’re talking about,” Brenton said.