The focus was really on the fact that they were the biggest and it was a company that had ridden the crest of the wave of the whole mortgage mania. It was not a heavily regulated entity. It was not a bank. Only became a bank late in the game—it bought a bank. It was kind of the quintessential way to tell the mortgage-mania story was through that company.

TA: It wasn’t like you got some tip that there’s corruption there and this is a rotten corpse?

GM: Well, I heard that too. But I wanted to make sure it was actually happening, but also you want to write about a significant company. You know as well as I do that you hear tips all the time about really kind of inconsequential companies and you just can’t waste your time with that. There was a lot of corruption, obviously, in the mortgage industry.

TA: Any thoughts on what the business press is missing or what it should do next?

GM: I think this whole government response, that’s the new phase that we really, really have to be very vigilant about, and it’s harder because it’s all under wraps. It’s very secretive. It’s hard to penetrate that fog but it is really, really important now because the taxpayer is on the hook. It’s kind of now moved to Washington but it’s still very much a business and finance story.

What I’m worried about is that it will fall through the cracks because maybe the Washington reporters aren’t as knowledgeable about the securities that are involved or whatever. It’s so, so, so important because the taxpayers’ money is on the hook here. That’s where we need to focus our efforts.

TA: “The Reckoning” is the best series we’ve seen this year; how did it come about?

GM: Well, thanks. We had projects that were underway but it all came together in that awful period in August when Fannie Mae was on the cliff and the markets were really, really roiled. There was a bailout every week and it just became clear that we had to explain this in real time.

We haven’t gotten every story but we’ve tried to tackle the bigger players, bigger companies, bigger regulatory elements and just to tackle them in a story-by-story basis. It’s so huge you couldn’t do it in one story. You might have thought there would be a three-part series or whatever, but it just became so massive that it was something that you just had to take apart piece by piece and really help explain it to people. And it was so bewildering and it still is—you could keep writing these stories, I’m sorry to say, for a long time.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.