How Forbes writers follow the money
Business journalists need to write strong beginnings to their stories to attract readers, said Forbes Media LLC vice president and investing editor Matthew Schifrin in conference call to review the essentials of business reporting for its contributors.
During the call, Schifrin, a Forbes veteran of 29 years, outlined the way Forbes online contributors should craft a great business story, and cover business in a way that is attractive for the online audience.
“It’s important that within the first four graphs, the reporter makes it clear why the reader should care about your post,” Schifrin said during the conference call from New York.
“Oftentimes, inexperienced journalists wait until the end of the story to give the conclusion. No one has time for that.”
In a world increasingly dominated by Twitter and social media, a reporter needs to focus on the headline and question whether it would make a reader click on the story. A post will often be grouped with five or ten other stories with a similar topic in Google or Yahoo News, and the headline is the one chance that a reporter has to lure potential readers to click on the link, Schifrin said.
Inside the Story
Inside of this link, Forbes works to provide fresh angles and ideas in its stories, and seeks to stand out from the redundancy on the web. Schifrin urged the Forbes contributors, who are often experts on their beats, not only to add value to the topic but also to provide new insights rather than merely “piling on” to the abundance of articles online.
Schifrin discussed the “Peter Lynch” approach to story ideas. Lynch is a money manager who says his strategy is to buy what you know. And as a reporter, writing about the familiar will often make a good post, Schifrin said.
Another way to find story ideas is to read obscure trade publications and niche websites. Another way that Schifrin encouraged is simply networking by picking up the phone or emailing sources and colleagues to pick their brains for potential story ideas.
“Forbes love taking a contrarian approach to topics,” Schifrin said. “If everyone is saying Apple is overvalued, well, maybe there is a side that believes it is actually a cheap stock at this point. But only write this view if it makes sense, not just for the sake of doing so.”
Other ways to form a business story that is attractive to readers, Schifrin said, is to tell the untold story or to add color to the story by focusing on the “head knocker,” such as a lead money manager or the chief executive officer. For contributing bloggers, Schifrin said, it is also encouraged to take a point of view, while being as fair and accurate as possible.
Crucial to Business Stories
A business story needs to display an understanding of how money is flowing within a company. The article should follow the money.
“I used to tell young journalists not to hand me a story unless they understood how the protagonist or antagonist made money and what the implications of this were,” Schifrin said.
Understanding the math of a story provides journalists a leg up from the many reporters who are apprehensive about numbers.
“Nothing detracts from credibility more than misspelled words or fudgy numbers,” Schifrin said. “You shouldn’t estimate revenue around $100 million if it is $126 million. It is more credible to have the exact number and date of when it was from.”
Schifrin reminded the contributors about the importance remaining credible by quoting sources in stories, and linking to company documents and websites that provide information cited in the story.
Schifrin warned of sources who may have a vengeance against a particular person or company, and told reporters to be cognizant of conflicts of interest.
“Good Forbes stories contain quotes or comments from the company, especially if it is a negative story,” Schifrin said. “You should always call to seek comment, and this isn’t done enough.”
For all stories, great reporting trumps great writing, Schifrin said.
“It is much more important that you are a great reporter and get the facts over being a great writer,” Schifrin said. “Especially on the web, readers want accurate information in short form. Don’t get lost in trying to make a post really colorful. Some of the most amazing reporters could dig out all kinds of facts, but couldn’t really write.”