You’ve followed the tech and startup world for a long time and have produced interviews with the likes of Tim Cook, Bill Gates, and Jack Ma. What trends are you following now?
I get this question a lot, and the truth is, as a startup and VC reporter, you kind of have to keep an eye on everything all at once. As one smart investor told me, tech has gone from being a vertical to a horizontal. One could argue that every company is now a tech company, so that is how I approach my beat. We cover everything from fintech to consumer-tech startups in every stage, from seed to unicorn, ranging from funding to IPO scoops.
This is less of a trend and more of a personal passion. I try to find the international angle to every story I cover. I spent a lot of time earlier in my career covering China’s BATs – Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent – and continue to have a passion for writing about Asian tech startups such as Coupang, the Amazon of South Korea, as well as why US companies like Airbnb have a business in China.
You worked for years as a producer at Bloomberg and CNBC before joining Insider as a reporter. Why were you drawn to the TV world? Why did you make the switch to print?
This is going to sound cheesy, but I used to have this quote from Edward R. Murrow printed out and taped on my desk: “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”
Whenever I have a bad day, or when I used to wake up super early, or stay up extra late, to work at “Weekend Today” or “SNL” as an NBC Page, I would look at the quote to remind myself why I decided to get into the business.
As for making the switch from TV to print, I did a four-month job rotation on Bloomberg’s VC and startup team in the fall of 2019 and really loved the reporting process. When COVID hit at the start of 2020, I was pulled back to help with TV coverage, but I never stopped reporting and writing stories. So I guess you could say timing really worked out perfectly when Alexei Oreskovic, Insider’s tech editor, called me with this opportunity to join the startup and VC desk as a full-time reporter.
What’s a day in the life of Candy Cheng like?
I have a toddler, so my day starts early. I normally wake up between 5:30 and 6 so that I can shower, scan for news, answer emails and Slack messages, and drink a hot cup of coffee before my toddler wakes up. Most of my big interviews are scheduled in the morning so that I can spend the rest of the day writing and reporting.
I used to be pretty bad about setting aside time for lunch, but I’m trying to be better about that. One trick I’ve learned in recent months is to schedule lunch calls instead of on-camera Zoom meetings. That way, I can eat my lunch while I chat with a source, or sometimes we will do a walk around the neighborhood while I take a call. I try to wrap up work around 4 or 5 so that I can take my son to the playground, and then I usually log back online around 8 to finish writing or talk to sources. Those of us who are working parents know this as the second shift.
How does being a mom make you a better reporter?
Since becoming a mom I’ve become a lot more mindful of how precious time is and how to better manage my time. I joke that my toddler decides my deadlines, because I have to be extra productive during the hours when I do have childcare.
What have the challenges been covering your beat during the pandemic?
It’s a really exciting but also challenging time to be a VC and startup reporter right now because of how intense the news cycle is. Airbnb and DoorDash went public my first month at Insider, and the news cycle has not slowed. There are days that seem to stretch out into the late evenings without a break. One of the biggest lessons I’m still trying to learn is how to say no and not feel FOMO when a competitor ends up with the scoop or exclusive on a story I passed on. There simply is not enough time in a day to do it all.
Any crazy stories to share from the past year?
Yes, but it’s off the record and probably best if I tell this tale over drinks IRL 🙂
What advice would you give others looking to make a career pivot?
Be your authentic self and trust that your reputation and your relationships will follow. I was very nervous about leaving the Bloomberg nest after spending 10 years building a career there, but so far nobody has hung up on me – yet.
What makes you excited to be a journalist right now?
I love storytelling, so I think there’s no better time to be a journalist. There are so many options available for cross-platform collaboration and content creation right now. My favorite type of stories are the ones that have legs that carry across various platforms from print to social media to TV and digital and beyond.
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 began covering the cannabis industry on sort of on a whim. Back when I was in grad school, South Korea ended up legalizing medical cannabis. It seemed like a big deal to me, especially considering how conservative the country was when it came to “illicit substances,” but I was barely seeing any coverage of the news.
I ended up wanting to write the story myself, so I pitched the idea to a cannabis-focused trade publication, they loved it, and I ended up freelance writing cannabis stories. When I saw that Insider was hiring a cannabis reporting fellow a bit over a year ago, I applied and then began to cover the industry here, first as a fellow and then full-time.
During my first month at Insider, I tagged along as my colleague Jeremy Berke spoke at a psychedelics panel alongside some of the biggest industry leaders at the time.
I wrote about the event, not knowing whether or not there would be any interest in the topic. But we quickly saw that there was a readership.
My focus on psychedelics has grown as the industry has burgeoned over the past year. Whereas in early 2020, there were hardly any public psychedelics companies, today there are dozens; investor money is flowing into the industry and institutional interest has peaked in recent months as these companies gear up to develop and bring psychedelics-based treatments to market.
So….”psychedelics.” What exactly do you write about?
The answer to this question has changed over the past year- whereas in early 2020 there were only a few compounds that companies were focusing on, psilocybin and MDMA being some of the main ones, the list has now expanded. I’ve since covered companies working with mescaline, DMT, LSD, Ibogaine, and others.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I love feeling like I’m part of an industry that is growing alongside me. A year ago, hardly anyone had heard about the potential of psychedelics as treatments for mental illnesses, despite the promising academic studies that had gone on around half a century ago. Today, serious companies are valued at more than $1 billion and even smaller startups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to build out their businesses.
How has the scope of your beat changed as marijuana and psychedelics have increasingly become legalized?
It’s definitely kept me busy. The November elections were a game changer for the industry, as five states voted to legalize cannabis in some form or another and Oregon became the first state in the US to decriminalize all drugs– which has since prompted other jurisdictions to consider doing the same. The legislative changes keep me on my toes because no one is really sure what’s going to happen in the coming months and that leaves lots of doors open.
What do you think increasing legalization of psychedelics means for the war on drugs?
It means that more and more people are acknowledging the detrimental effects the war on drugs had on the world. Decriminalization and legalization are two very different things- one means ending criminal penalties for drug use and possession while the other potentially would create a market for these substances outside of a FDA-regulated pathway – but I think both signify a sort of shift in mentality that we’re having as a larger society where we’re seeing these compounds in a different light.
Where do you see the industry in 5 years?
It’s so hard to say. With cannabis especially, there is a lot that’s riding on the legislative changes we’re expecting to come down the pipeline in the coming years. I don’t foresee the industry slowing down at all despite what happens (or doesn’t happen) on the federal level, but whether cannabis will be a fully legal drug in the US in five years’ time, like it is in Canada, remains to be seen.
In the psychedelics space, it’s a little easier to say because most of these companies are trying to develop drugs through the FDA pathway, meaning they’re not dependent on any legislation to really shape out what their industry could look like in the coming years. In five years time, I think we may potentially have one or two psychedelics-based medications on the market – based on the timelines that some companies have provided – but there’s also a chance that the drug development process could take much longer, meaning things, wouldn’t look vastly different then than they do today.
Insider is taking you behind the scenes of our best stories with our series “The Inside Story.”
This week, events and content fellow Grace O’Connell-Joshua spoke to Insider retail reporter Shoshy Ciment who primarily covers athletic-wear, sneakers, and streetwear with a focus on companies like Nike, Adidas, and StockX.
Ciment shares how she fell into covering the booming market, why diversity is the most important story in the sneaker world today, and her favorite kicks (Yeezy Suns!).
Grace O’Connell-Joshua: You focus on athleticwear, streetwear and sneakers. What a cool beat! How did you get into covering the industry?
Shoshy Ciment: I did not have a serious interest in sneaker culture before I started covering it. I started off covering retail generally as an Insider fellow in 2019 and on a whim, decided to head out to cover a pop-up shop for sneakers from an Adidas and Arizona Iced Tea collab that were going for 99 cents that summer.
When I got there, the scene was complete chaos. I ended up being one of the first people to break the story about how police had to shut down the pop-up after two teenagers were assaulted in massive crowds of angry people who were willing to get violent for some shoes. This was my first real-world exposure to the sneakerverse and I knew I wanted to continue to learn more about this culture and its enthusiasts. From there, I started interviewing people in the industry, on the retail and resale side, and continued to read and learn more.
O’Connell-Joshua: What do you think is driving the sneaker resale market? Why are consumers switching over to resale instead of buying directly?
Ciment: The sneaker resale market is successful for a variety of reasons that come down to basic economics. Certain sneakers will always be inherently valuable, such as those that feature collabs with celebrities like Travis Scott or Virgil Abloh, or those with especially unique designs or origin stories. This inherent value is intensified when the sneaker is released in a limited quantity. Demand for a new pair almost always outweighs the supply in a new drop, which makes them even more valuable on the resale market.
O’Connell-Joshua: What streetwear social media accounts do you follow and why?
Ciment: So much of the sneaker community exists on social media so it’s super important to stay on top of all the latest online trends and follow all the bot accounts and cook groups. I follow some more mainstream media accounts like Complex, Hypebeast, Footwear News, B/R Kicks, Sneaker News, etc for news, but also rely on some up-and-coming accounts like Saint (@saint on Twitter). Some of my favorite sneaker people to follow include Edgar Alvarez from InputMag, NPD sports analyst Matt Powell, and Michael Sykes, II from FTW, who has an AWESOME sneaker newsletter called The Kicks You Wear, which I read every week.
O’Connell-Joshua: Do you describe yourself as a “sneakerhead”? If yes, how many pairs do you have and which are your favorite?
Ciment: While I am absolutely not a sneakerhead, I am able to appreciate and enjoy the culture as someone who covers it. I do find myself constantly looking down to see what people have on their feet though.
I don’t have a sneaker collection but my favorite pairs these days are the Yeezy Suns (those colors!) and the ‘Gym Red’ Jordan 1s. In general, I prefer classic silhouettes like Jordan 1s and the OG Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars (I wear these a lot).
O’Connell-Joshua: At the inauguration, I noticed that the husband of Kamala Harris’s niece (Meena Harris), Nikolas Ajagu, wore a pair of the Air Jordan 1 x Dior collaboration. Do you think sneakers have become increasingly political over the past few years, especially after Colin Kaepernick’s Nike campaign?
Ciment: Sneakers are absolutely more than just a fashion statement. The sneaker industry has never existed in a silo and is intrinsically bound to an array of cultural influences. For example, as most people know, sneaker culture has its roots in Black culture. This fact is a major focal point behind many diversity efforts among big footwear companies today.
To me, it’s not surprising to see sneakers permeate life outside of fashion. For some people, sneakers might just be an income or a way to avoid being barefoot. For others, sneakers are a way to express one’s values and individuality.
O’Connell-Joshua: What is a day in the life of a streetwear/sneaker reporter like?
Ciment: I start my day on Twitter, generally to see what drop people are complaining about missing out on. I connect with some sources, answer emails, read the latest news, and connect with my editors about possible story ideas.
O’Connell-Joshua: What’s your favorite part of your job?
Ciment: I love getting to meet young entrepreneurs who hustle like mad to get to where they are. There are a lot of rags to riches stories in the sneaker world and it is always inspiring to get to hear them firsthand.
O’Connell-Joshua: What’s the biggest story on your beat today?
The lack of diversity inside top footwear companies today is one of the biggest stories on my beat. Many people have been having this conversation regarding the lack of representation of minorities in the industry for years. Finally, the big brands are taking action and working on a change, which is great news. Now, it’s a matter of following up on these commitments and understanding how change is happening, if at all. Who are the leaders behind this movement? What is the root of the problem? These are the questions I try to understand in my reporting in this area.
Beyond resale, side-hustling, and the latest Yeezys, I see the topic of diversity as one of the most important stories in the footwear industry today.