"I think it's crucial for reporters to understand financial journalism and how to cover companies," said Williams, who covered Intel, Hewlett-Packard and other technology companies from The Wall Street Journal's San Francisco bureau.
"These stories are no longer relegated to the business pages, and they impact every aspect of readers' lives - from the products they buy, the flights they take, the stocks held in their retirement accounts, the medicines they buy and more," she said. "So reporters need to be especially vigilant in covering corporations."
Recent financial scandals, the latest in a long line, underscore the need for reporters to keep close tabs on business, Williams said, cautioning that outright fraud still can be difficult to uncover because of the deceit involved.
"Certainly on the issue of share of responsibility, there are many in the media who wished they'd gotten it sooner, but there are also many examples of scandals that were discovered by dogged reporters," she said, citing Enron as the best example.
"I think some might say the media got as caught up in the booming economy as many others and wasn't perhaps as critical or skeptical as it needed to be in the go-go days," Williams said, adding that the issue will be discussed in class.
Her "Business Watchdog" students will hear presentations by an official with the Security and Exchange Commission as well as an accounting expert from the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Other guest speakers will include reporters who have covered the Enron scandal for major newspapers and who write about business regulatory issues.
Each student will study one company through its public announcements, financial reporting, government filings, interviews and media coverage.
The Graduate School of Journalism's Business Reporting Program was established through a grant from the worldwide business news organization Bloomberg LP, which provides funds for Bloomberg teaching fellowships, scholarships and internships for students interested in this field. It is directed by John Battelle, a graduate of the journalism school, who was one of the founders and early editors of Wired. He also was founder and CEO of the Industry Standard.
To help gain a more intimate working knowledge of business coverage, the journalism school helps students get professional internships at publications, broadcast outlets and Web sites both in the United States and abroad.