Last week, a Reuters exclusive reported that the Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd is seeking to sell Grindr LLC, the popular gay dating app it has owned since 2016, after a U.S. government national security panel raised concerns about its ownership. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has informed Kunlun that its ownership of West Hollywood, California-based Grindr constitutes a national security risk. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, M&A Correspondent Carl O’Donnell gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the team reported the story.
Q: How did you get started on this story?
A: As an M&A reporter, I am constantly touching base with a wide variety of deal-making sources in investment banking, law, and private equity. It was during one of these routine calls that a source mentioned an interesting sales process that caught my attention. It seemed that the dating app Grindr was eager to find a buyer because of U.S. regulatory pressure on its owner, Kunlun, to divest it. It was an interesting thread, so my colleagues and I began working to untangle it.
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: One of the great things about M&A reporting is that our sources are often in the know about more than just deals. They typically have insight into company strategy, regulatory discussions and more. With enough outreach, we were able to come into contact with some sources who had a clear line of sight into what was going on at Grindr.
Q: What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A: Like any fast-moving, competitive story, there is always the threat of getting scooped by a rival news publication. The challenge is always to work to find the right sources – people with direct knowledge of the story who are willing to talk to us – before the competition gets there first.
Q: Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A: The U.S. government’s pressure on Kunlun to divest Grindr has far-reaching implications. In the past, U.S. regulators only blocked cross-border deals that raised an obvious national security red flag – a buyout of a U.S. munitions manufacturer, for example. Today, as geopolitical rivalries increasingly spill over into the digital world, personal data is emerging as a new battleground, and regulators are paying attention.
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: Our profession gives us a front row seat to some of the most important developments that we are likely to see in our lifetime. As a technology reporter, in particular, I have direct access to people who are shaping everything from the global financial markets to government policy to technologies that change the way we live. It’s a fun ride.
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: My core mandate is to break news about the biggest M&A transactions and IPOs in the technology, media and telecom sectors, but there’s plenty of opportunity to do deeper enterprise reporting as well.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: My most rewarding experiences have involved breaking stories that have an impact beyond the financial world. In my four years at Reuters, I’ve had the chance to report on drugmakers who use unscrupulous pricing practices to boost profits, brokerages who exploit clear conflicts of interest, and stories like this exclusive about Grindr, which highlights deep changes to how the U.S. government is thinking about national security.
The most challenging experience is always losing a story to a competitor. It’s a perennial risk as a journalist, and one that forces us to move quickly and to think creatively about where to find good sources.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: Any job that would allow me to be involved in some of the same themes that I track as a journalist could certainly make for an exciting career – but I’m not planning on doing anything else anytime soon!