CHAPTER 6 Finding the story behind the numbers

How can journalists, most of whom are not accountants and have little background in the specialty, learn to spot sophisticated accounting tricks, much less unearth outright lying and cheating by corporate executives?

Short of taking an accounting course, reporters can educate themselves on the terminology used in company financial reports and learn to interpret the numbers.

  • A variety of educational tools can help journalists improve their knowledge, including a number of books (see Selected Resources, appendix). Tutorials and articles are available free on financial websites; see links in this chapter and in the Sources section at the end of the chapter.

  • A free, self-directed course in reading financial statements especially developed for business journalists is available at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University:

  • Another resource is “Deterring and Detecting Financial Reporting Fraud — a Platform for Action,” issued by the US Center for Audit Quality in October 2010, available at:

The following sections will provide some tips.