A behind-the-scenes look at how Insider's Reed Alexander pivoted from child actor to Wall Street reporter
- Insider is taking you behind the scenes of our best stories with our series The Inside Story.
- This week we talked to Reed Alexander, who started his career in acting and now reports on finance.
- You can find Reed’s reporting here.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Insider: You started out in your career as a child actor, with a role on Nickelodeon’s iCarly. Walk me through how you ended up as a journalist.
Reed Alexander: When I was about 14 years old, I was obsessed with international news.
It started when I was traveling overseas, sometimes for work and sometimes for fun, but I was glued to international news channels like CNN International, BBC World News, and Sky News. When I was home in the US, I used to keep one news channel on the TV in my living room while streaming another on a laptop at the same time — all day.
At the same time, writing had always been a favorite outlet for me. When I was 13, I cowrote, pitched, and sold a concept for a television show to a kids’ network. When I was 18, I published my first book about childhood nutrition and wellness.
When I was 15, I made my first appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, where I remember being in awe when I first walked into Studio 1A, a rarefied place for all those who, like me, love news and storytelling.
Back then, I was just a wide-eyed, hopeful future journalist, and was still acting on “iCarly” and subsequently appeared on the spin-off “Sam & Cat.” If I was going to be successful at combining all of these themes — news gathering, writing, media, and communications — I knew that I had a long road ahead of me.
In 2013, I took some of my first steps on the journey to journalism by choosing to major in business and concentrate in journalism studies at New York University. Later, in 2016, I moved to Hong Kong, where I wrote for CNN International in their Hong Kong bureau.
Since then I’ve reported on several different beats and gone to Columbia Journalism School for my master’s degree, which I obtained last year. And then I was fortunate enough to be able to join Insider, and the experience has been the most incredible gift ever since.
Do you feel like your past career in acting prepared you for your career in reporting? If so, how?
Most definitely. Acting is such a human endeavor — understanding people’s motivations and what makes them think the way they do. Plus, as an industry, entertainment is a very social space. Those are skills that really benefit you as a journalist.
Some of the basic training that comes with acting — like knowing how to memorize lines, communicate with an audience, hold your own in front of a camera, and project confidence — is extremely helpful in a journalistic context, too.
You cover investment banks, and in particular, young Wall Street. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the financial world, what exactly does that mean?
I think of investment banks like the mouths of the river in finance.
They offer companies a variety of services, like helping them to raise money or go public, buy and sell other companies, or even sell themselves to larger acquirers. The work they do can help generate massive numbers of jobs or unleash the capital for companies to invest in growth initiatives that can ripple throughout the global economy.
For me, covering investment banks means getting to know their people — everyone from senior dealmakers down to the most junior of staff, like entry-level analysts or interns. My banking coverage runs the gamut from painting pictures of the powerful people in charge, to exploring how they hammer out megadeals in the tens of billions of dollars, to looking at whether their HR initiatives to diversify firms’ ranks are having a positive impact.
One of my big passion points is covering younger talent. Over the past year during the coronavirus pandemic, that’s largely meant tracing the jobs and recruiting pipeline; exploring the challenges they’ve faced like social isolation, lack of in-person mentorship from more experienced bankers; and learning how they have found ladders of opportunity to pursue other niches of the financial-services industry.
How’d you fall into covering that? Who are the types of people you talk to for your job?
When I first joined Insider as a fellow in the summer of 2020 after graduating with my master’s degree from Columbia, I covered the culture of financial services and the life and times of young professionals on Wall Street, whether that meant banks, private-equity firms, or hedge funds.
Subsequently, I narrowed my beat to focus on investment banks, where I’ve drilled into profiling dealmakers and getting to know how banks themselves operate.
Since then, as a reporter on the finance team, I’ve identified a wealth of opportunities for banking coverage. I’ve explored the intersection of mergers-and-acquisitions banking and private wealth, and looked inside firms to answer big questions, like whether they are taking meaningful steps to support younger talent during a year of crushing workloads.
I talk to a variety of industry players across finance, from industry recruiters to senior dealmakers and SPAC sponsors looking to buy companies, all the way to students in college who have big dreams of entering the industry.
The younger voices I talk to leave me feeling particularly hopeful: Some come from underprivileged backgrounds or may be first-generation college students who have worked hard to land incredible opportunities in investment banking. Others are passionate about diversifying the profession, and I am convinced that as they age up into future bank bosses, they will have a material impact on the industry.
Give me a day in the life of Reed Alexander.
Every day covering financial services is an exciting adventure. It all starts with a vital daily ritual for me though — an early morning cup of tea before the frenzy of Wall Street sets in. (I’m not quite myself without it!)
In a typical day, I wake up early and start with a news “sweep,” checking for new stories that Insider and other financial outlets have published, as well as new information on online forums and social-media outlets, in order to get up to speed about anything that broke overnight or in the past day.
Then I dive headfirst into the actual craft of doing the journalism that generates the stories that we produce. Most stories require multiple interviews, and all of them entail rigorous fact-checking, so the day is dominated by conversations with people I’m writing about, interviewees I’m talking to, the banks I cover, and sources I’ve cultivated.
(I admittedly sneak in a few mini tea breaks along the way, too.)
In the evening, I try to prioritize taking an outdoor walk or indoor cycling ride at home. I find that getting my blood pumping actually leads to some of my best ideas. On walks, I make time to chat by phone with people I haven’t connected with yet but with whom I might develop a source-journalist relationship over time.
During earnings week, our days are quite different. When banks report their earnings every quarter, my editors and I are in the trenches (albeit virtually), unpacking little details in earnings reports or reading between the lines of bank bosses’ public statements to craft informative reporting that helps our readers synthesize all the big ideas quickly and efficiently, under rapid-fire circumstances.
Because the financial-services industry moves so swiftly, we as financial reporters have to be equally agile at responding fast. Sometimes, the way that I think my day is going to go in the morning has turned out to be completely different by the time I go to sleep — but I think that’s a sign that we’ve done our jobs well.
When that’s the case, it means that we successfully reacted to breaking news as it happened, uncovered interesting information our readers needed to know in real time, and chronicled the ebb and flow of our industry.
What advice would you give someone else who is looking to make a career shift like yours?
Going to graduate school to deepen my knowledge of the profession was one of the best decisions I’ve made. If you plan to make a career pivot, consider bulking up on your credentials and tactile knowledge of the industry you’re seeking by pursuing an academic degree.
The other advice I have is be willing to tag along and shadow mentors who are open to showing you the ropes. I’m still regularly in touch with the reporters I got to know on my first reporting job because they had a formative impact on my career. Find mentors who are willing to coach and educate you, and soak up everything you can from them.
Lastly, don’t let anyone deter you from the kind of life you want to have. Had I told people when I was 15 as an actor on a youth-focused sitcom that, a decade later, I wanted to cover investment banks for a leading global business publication, I’m sure they would have looked at me skeptically.
Ten years later, I’m doing it, and no one doubts how serious I am about the profession.
You’re right at the beginning of your career in financial journalism. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years?
When I think back to how much my career has changed since 10 years ago, when I was still on “iCarly” and having early thoughts about eventually writing my first book about childhood nutrition, I think about how much change can happen in a decade.
But here’s what I know concretely: In a decade from now, I will still be a journalist, and I hope to be covering stories about the people who shape and mold life on Wall Street, as well as in the realms of mental healthcare, public policy, and foreign affairs.
Over the years ahead, I’d like to continue producing investigative reporting.
One example of a recent story I published that’s been among my favorites was when I unearthed a slideshow presentation made by analysts inside the investment-banking division at Goldman Sachs as early as April 2020. That document, which was known to senior executives within the investment bank, blew the whistle on the mounting pressures of work from home almost a year before they came to light publicly.
What advice would you give young reporters who are just starting off their careers?
First, read as much as you can. Learning how the pieces are put together in journalism by reading is an extremely educational experience, and because there are so many publications producing so much good journalism on a range of topics, find what you enjoy learning about most and then absorb as much of that material as possible.
Separately, and I think this is key for most of life: Be passionate about what you’re doing.
For me, my verve for journalism stems from the passion I have for writing, finding out information, and communicating it with others. Plus, I just love talking to people, so having a job where my core responsibilities are to forge relationships and get people to open up is a thrill.
The other key ingredient you are going to need is determination.
Any career worth having, whether it’s in acting or journalism or business or anything else, is going to come with speed bumps. At times, you may question whether your efforts are ultimately in vain. But, after years in two industries that are notorious for their high barriers to entry, I can honestly say that following the North Star of your passions will ultimately help you find the success you’re meant to have.
Kathie Lee Gifford, a longtime friend and mentor of mine, once put it this way.
She recalled that her father told her she was a kid: “Find something you love to do, and then figure out a way to get paid for it.”
“He understood that where your true passion is, there your joy is also,” Kathie Lee said, looking back. “And a joyful life is truly a successful life.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Read some of Reed’s recent stories here:
Wall Street firms are trying to outdo each other with raises, special bonuses, and new perks for young talent. Here’s what 9 banks and private-equity shops are doing.
Houlihan Lokey is sending its bankers on all-expenses-paid vacations and bumping base comp and bonuses for junior employees, as perks keep flowing on Wall Street
Warburg Pincus is bumping pay by up to 30% for junior workers as private-equity firms and banks spend big to hang onto talent
Confessions of Wall Street’s burned-out junior bankers: 5 current and former analysts from firms like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse explain their daily schedules
Goldman Sachs just vowed to improve conditions for junior bankers. But a newly leaked pitch deck shows analysts were pleading for changes since WFH started.
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