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Mid Hudson Reporters Learn to Take a Closer Look at the Numbers

By Alicia Korney, Public Relations Associate

Members of the business reporting staff of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., received helpful accounting insight on March 24 when they participated in the New York State Society of CPAs’ “Understanding Financial Statements” seminar.

The seminar has been a popular draw for more than 20 years for reporters from a number of media outlets in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs who’ve been able to easily attend the event at the Society’s offices in New York City. But for busy reporters working at dailies a bit farther upstate, a trip into the city is often impossible to schedule. The Society, therefore, is trying to expand the seminar offerings to other parts of the state.

The morning’s instructor was A. Rief Kanan, an accounting professor and director of the Business Institute at SUNY New Paltz as well as a member of the board of directors for the Society’s Mid Hudson Chapter. Phillip Goldstein, a partner with Levitan Yegidis & Goldstein LLP, welcomed the journalists and provided additional commentary. Goldstein is past president of the Mid Hudson Chapter and sits on the Society’s board of directors.

“I know my group of reporters found it thoughtful and provocative,” said Douglas Cunningham, business editor for the Times Herald-Record. “We have fodder for future stories, new angles and so on.”

There was a range of experience among the attendees, some of whom had been at the paper covering the region’s public companies for some time, while other reporters had gotten their start in business journalism within just the past few weeks. Accordingly, Kanan and Goldstein fielded questions with a wide scope—from the very basics of a balance sheet to the nuances of year-end reports—and pointed questions about how to detect channel stuffing (the name given to distributors who temporarily beef up their accounts receivables).

Kanan, who teaches auditing and advanced accounting to undergraduate majors and advanced auditing to master’s students at SUNY, also took some time to discuss the role of the auditor with the reporters. He explained that auditors essentially are “paid to be nosy” in upholding their first responsibility to the larger public when examining the financial statements a company’s management has prepared.

At the close of the session, both CPAs talked with reporters about a variety of local companies, giving advice on how to research particular industries and other ways to glean financial information on nonpublic companies that may not release regular filings. Some questioners asked them to weigh the importance of different figures, such as profits versus net income, that should be included in the lead of basic quarterly-report stories. Others asked how nonprofits might eventually be affected by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and whether small companies delaying the release of some reports could really be that affected by the new disclosures rules.

“I think things went very well today,” Kanan said. “This is good to do, go out and talk with a group of reporters about the issues that are important to them and their readers, and also to let them know that CPAs are out there as a resource when these sorts of questions come up.”

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