Every reporter lands his or her fair share of scoops. Mine usually happen when I’m working on a long-term project and I learn something newsworthy. I break off a piece of my reporting and write it up for the paper (or the newswire or the website, depending on where I’ve worked over the years). That’s because my general approach is to treat every investigation like a new beat and to try to learn as much as I can about it. I find that this often lends itself to breaking news along the way. Here are a few of the more memorable stories I’ve broken over the years:

“S&P Fired Employee Who Discussed Ratings With Senate Staff”

In 2019 and early 2020, I reported a series of stories in The Wall Street Journal about how credit-rating firms were again giving out inflated grades. Along the way, I also broke several stories. One of them was news of a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by a former S&P Global employee who was terminated after briefing Senate Banking Committee staff about some of the risks highlighted in our reporting. I also broke news that Morningstar was nearing a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle allegations that it had violated rules in its bond-rating business that prohibit analysts who hand out credit ratings from being involved in sales and marketing efforts for their companies.

“When Volatility Surges, SEC’s Trade-Monitoring System Has Struggled”

The 2010 “flash crash” in U.S. stock markets prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to step-up its market monitoring by procuring access to a massive database of stock trades known as MIDAS (short for Market Information Data Analytics System). But that effort yielded disappointing results by failing to provide accurate and timely data during some periods of market turmoil. I unearthed this by filing various public records requests with the Securities and Exchange Commission while pursuing some other stories on order routing and market structure. These included a Feb. 2019 scoop about a Pentagon-funded study which found that nearly a quarter of U.S. equity trades may not be executed at the best price available in the market, costing investors at least $2 billion a year.

“EPA proposes big reduction in 2014 ethanol blend volume.”

This was the most market-moving story I’ve ever broken. It was a scoop about an unexpected move by the Environmental Protection Agency to cut ethanol blending mandates for U.S. gasoline, which meant bigger profits for oil refiners who would have to buy less ethanol for their fuel production. Shares of a dozen oil refiners shot up by nearly $9 billion shortly after the story hit the Reuters newswire. It was the first time the EPA lessened the mandates, which caught the market by surprise. I came across the story while reporting on the lobbying fight between big oil and big corn over the ethanol blending mandates, which also led me to a scoop about how one of the biggest independent refiners was quietly starting up another lobbying effort to oppose the Obama administration’s plans to lift the oil export ban.

“Lord of the RINs? Vitol’s ethanol credit bonanza”

My Reuters reporting on the ethanol blending mandates also led me to a scoop about how Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil trader, was among the biggest beneficiaries of an EPA-mandated trading scheme designed to boost the share of ethanol in the U.S. fuel supply. Every gallon of ethanol manufactured in or imported into the U.S. receives a 38-digit Renewable Identification Number (RIN) that tracks its progress throughout the fuel supply chain. Once a refiner buys the gallon and blends it with gasoline, the RIN credit can be separated from the gallon and presented to the EPA as proof of compliance with the ethanol blending mandate. When independent refiners were caught short of these blending credits, they turned to an opaque market for RINs were Vitol was a big seller. As prices spiked, Vitol profited.

“Behind New Jersey’s Tobacco Bond Bailout, A Hedge Fund’s $100 Million Payday”

My first project for ProPublica was an in-depth look at the mountain of debt that state and local governments created when they traded income from the 1998 tobacco settlement for upfront cash via debt sales known as tobacco bonds. When the bonds started heading toward default, states began looking for ways to help borrowers, even though they had no obligation to do so. I broke news that a hedge fund owned by The Carlyle Group earned more than $100 million in profits when New Jersey decided to bail out bondholders of two of its tobacco bonds. That payday was even more than what the state said it earned from the complex transaction. Later on, I also broke news that the investment banker who engineered that deal, Kym Arnone, had unexpectedly departed Barclays.

“District effort to help distressed homeowners could halt foreclosure sales”

This was one of the most memorable and impactful stories I broke during my time as an intern at The Washington Post in summer 2011. I learned that two large title insurers, which had about 80 percent of the D.C. market share, stopped insuring the sale of foreclosed properties in the District. Title insurance is essential for a home sale because it protects mortgage lenders from challenges to the title of a property, so this was a big deal. The move came after D.C. implemented a new law requiring lenders to enter into mediation with a homeowner before foreclosing on a home and mandated that any foreclosure sales that violated the law “shall be void.” The title insurers decided that the “void” requirement made it too risky for them to insure foreclosure sales. I explained all that and more in my story and days after it published, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation to fix the problem.

If you have a newstip, don’t hesitate to contact me.