Tag Archives: Educational
I got an e-mail during the weekend from Qifang Tang, a women who teaches in the Department of Economic Journalism at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. That’s right, an entire department devoted to nothing but economic journalism education. She is interested in coming to this country as a visiting scholar to learn more about American television and new media. She is pursuing a PhD in media management from Fudan University.
From what I could find on the Internet about this school, I’m impressed. They’re teaching their future economics and business reporters the same stuff that they’re teaching their future business leaders. That’s not happening here in the states. It’s hard to get undergraduate students to take courses in accounting, finance and management.
WIll the Chinese eventually outdo us in business journalism? Something to consider.
I have always respected Consumer Reports and given it credit for the creation of the consumer reporting movement in business journalism. But the editor of the Rocky Mountain News recently wrote about it in a not-so-flattering way. Read what he had to say here.
To be fair, this seems like an advertising department idea that was not cleared with the editorial side of the publication. But what a minute — there is no advertising in the publication. So what gives?
Consumer Reports’ history is one of the biggest developments in the history of business journalism.
The origins of Consumer Reports began three years before the first issue when Arthur Kallet, an engineer and director of Consumersâ€™ Research, and Frederick Schlink, an engineer, published “100,000 Guinea pigs: Dangers in everyday foods, drugs, and cosmetics.” The book, according to its introduction, is â€œintended not only to report dangerous and largely unsuspected conditions affecting food, drugs, and cosmetics, but also, so far as possible, to give the consumer some measure of defense against such conditions.â€? In 1972, an updated version came out called “200,000 Guinea pigs.”
In May 1936, Consumers Union Reports published its first issue. It included articles on milk, breakfast cereals, soap and stockings, ranking each of them Grade A and Grade B. Another article argued that credit unions are better than banks, while yet another analyzed Alka-Seltzer and criticized its effectiveness, stating that its claims â€œvanish like the gas bubbles in the air.â€?
Consumer Reports was revolutionary. (The name of the magazine was changed in 1942 to make it accessible to all readers, not just union members.) And it was criticized by other publications. Readerâ€™s Digest attacked the publication in 1939, and Good Housekeeping, whose Seal of Approval had been called a fraud by the Consumers Union, accused Consumer Reports of prolonging the Depression.
Never before had journalists joined with researchers to assess the quality and efficacy of products being purchased by millions of consumers. The publication was immediately successful. By 1940, it started asking readers questions about products, and by 1946, circulation had reached 100,000. Subscriptions reached 400,000 just four years later, and in 1952, the magazine published its first frequency-of-repair table for automobiles.
What Consumer Reports did that no other publication had ever attempted was to have products tested by scientists before they were included in an article. In addition, the results of similar products, through scientific tests, were compared to each other, allowing readers to determine which product was more suited for their needs. The magazine became known for its aggressive coverage of products and wasnâ€™t afraid to criticize companies.
For example, a 1942 article showed that the differences in tar and nicotine were insignificant when it came to the harmfulness of smoking, fully a decade before additional concerns about smoking cigarettes were published. As a result of the article, cigarette maker Lorillard launched a national campaign taking advantage of the article, which showed that one of its brands was â€œlowest in nicotine and tars.â€? The Federal Trade Commission ordered a cease-and-desist order for the ad campaign, noting that its ads were false and misleading because it only printed a small part of the Consumer Reports article.
For a while, even the federal government attacked Consumers Union, placing it on the House Un-American Activities Committeeâ€™s list of subversive organizations. But by 1970, the National Commission on Product Safety recommended the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, primarily a result of Consumer Reports and its work in discovering unsafe products. By 1992, the magazine had more than 5 million subscriptions.
Part of Consumer Reportsâ€™ success was due to the fact that the economy was changing. After World War II, the pent-up demand for consumer products made the magazine a natural byproduct of the growing economy. And as it gained credibility with its accurate reports, more consumers came to look to it for advice before buying products. In addition, its credibility was enhanced by the fact that it took no advertising.
As a result, media all over the world now use consumer reporting as one of the mainstays of their business coverage. In particular, television has found that consumer reporting that compares products by price and uses is favored by viewers, and many have full-time consumer reporters to help people fix their problems with faulty products or with unsatisfactory service from retailers and companies. U.S. News & World Report now has a section called â€œNews you can useâ€? that often has consumer-related stories, and even traditional publications such as BusinessWeek have included consumer reporting. BusinessWeek has a â€œpersonal financeâ€? section in the back of the weekly magazine that often offers advice on the best products to buy in certain categories, such as stereos. And it has a columnist, Steve Wildstrom, writing reviews of computer gadgets. The Wall Street Journal also has similar consumer reporting on electronics for its readers.
But will consumer reporting last in the mainstream media? MacDougall noted in 1981 that the number of full-time consumer reporters fell from a peak of 500 in 1974 to 200 by 1980, and those that remained â€œconcentrated on snappy, inoffensive superficialities rather than significant exposes of consumer rip-offs.â€? Today, many media feel pressured to avoid consumer issues because of the advertising concerns. Some people believe that true consumer reporting like that in Consumer Reports is virtually dead at newspapers.
Here’s hoping that Consumer Reports never changes.
I found this interesting Web site today. It has all kinds of business news related to Latin America and South America. If you’re interested in business in the region, then it seems like a must-read.
Here is some background info on the company: BNamericas is a bilingual news service that covers the most important original stories in 11 different business sectors throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. We have over 50 journalists and researchers located throughout the region to bring you the most important news affecting Latin America’s principal emerging economies every business day.
Our experienced team contacts business leaders and covers hundreds of daily news publications, both on-line and in print, to provide you with the most complete daily news coverage of your sector of interest available in Latin America.
The company is based in Santiago, Chile, and it has alliances with the Financial Times and the Miami Herald.
That’s the headline of a post I discovered tonight on a blog coming out of Houston. I’m not sure who the author of this blog is, or what his background is, but his name is apparently Greg judging from the name of his blog.
If you want to read his comment on whether blogs can save business journalism, it can be found here. I don’t agree with what he says, particularly about the currently quality of business journalism. But I do think he has a point in that people who write on blogs seems to be writing more critically about their subjects than what readers see in print. Writing for a blog seems to give writers more of a sense of freedom.
Also note that this posting by “Greg” is more than a year old. Still, I find it interesting and thought-provoking.
The University of Hong Kong is creating a program in business and financial journalism. It is being run by a former Reuters reporter who has a PhD from the University of Washington. This sounds promising for the development of business journalism in Asia. My experience in training business journalists from Korea the past two years has been that they are not as advanced in their reporting techniques or in their understanding of company financial statemeents as journalists here in the United States.
Anyway, if you want to read more about what the University of Hong Kong is doing, go here.
The National Association of Black Journalists gave out two awards in the business news category on Saturday in its annual Salute to Excellence awards competition. The winners were:
Newspaper – Business: Bob Norman, New Times Broward-Palm Beach, â€œMinority Report.â€?
Norman’s 2004 piece is about how a hospital district commissioner in South Florida uses his minority status for financial gain. It can be read here.
Newspaper – Business: Ron Nixon, Terry Collins, and Dee DePass, Star Tribune, â€œBorrowing Trouble.â€?
You can read all three parts of the Borrowing Trouble series here. It’s quite good and focuses on how many low-income consumers are stuck with high-interest loans.
I spoke today with Steve Shepard, my old boss at BusinessWeek. Steve stepped down as editor of the magazine earlier this year after 20 years at the helm. He’s now the dean of the new graduate school of journalism at the City University of New York, and as part of that program, the school will have a business journalism component.
I remember Steve as a very meticulous editor at BusinessWeek. He had a reputation of reading every single story that went into the magazine every week. He also was very interested in what was on the cover every week, and often changed the cover story during the week.
Here is what Steve had to say:
1. On how business journalism was perceived in the 1960s: “Very much a backwater. It was considered second-rate. It didnâ€™t really change until the mid-1970s when we had the Arab oil embargo, the near bankruptcy of New York City and the appearance of inflation and recession at the same time, which was a phenomenon so new. All of a sudden, business journalism became front-page news, and ordinary newspapers didnâ€™t know how to deal with it. That was the turning point. Ever since then, business journalism has taken its place in the mainstream in journalism as an important story. ”
2. What did it mean to have an engineering degree as a journalist? “It was an enormous help. First of all, it made me not afraid of complexity in general and not afraid of technology and science in particular. It was very useful when the PC revolution happened in the 1980s and the Internet revolution happened in the 1990s. I wasnâ€™t intimidated by it. And I think it also gave me an advantage. There were a lot of people who had liberal arts degrees trying to make their way in journalism, and I was a little bit different.”
3. How has BusinessWeek changed since he started there in 1966? “First of all, it looks completely different. It was a black and white magazine with virtually no color photography and dull graphics. All of that has completely changed. I think that itâ€™s also much more newsy and timely,. You can do stories closely to the deadline because of the technological advances. You can do a cover story on Wednesday and have it done by the time it went to bed on Wednesday night. You couldnâ€™t do that before, so the readers are better served. I think the core is the same in this sense. Business Week was then and is now a magazine of analysis and interpretation and commentary rather than what the news magazines were back then, which was a rehash of the weekâ€™s news. Business Week was never that. The core is the same, but it looks completely different, and itâ€™s more lively and topical.”
4. The role of business journalism education at the new CUNY graduate school: “Business and economics will be one of the four major subjects of concentration that you can major in. There will be a three-course sequence, and we will teach all of the media tracks, whether broadcast or print or interactive multimedia. There will be a lot of blogging and online journalism and things like that taught. But a good business journalist will have to become like a zoom lens on a camera to zoom in and understand whatâ€™s happening about a company and an economy, and them zoom out to get the big picture and the trend. And itâ€™s very hard to see both. The goal is to train journalists to do both.”
I moved one office over today from Allan Sloan’s and talked to Jane Bryant Quinn, arguably the most visible and most important personal finance journalist in the field today. Like most women who wanted to be journalists in the 1960s, she struggled to overcome gender discrimination in the newsroom. Like Sylvia Porter before her, she used her initials as her byline because personal finance advice was something that editors felt readers wouldn’t respect if it came from a woman.
Here are some of her other comments about personal finance reporting:
1. Most business and personal finance magazines went overboard with their investing advice in the 1990s: “I used to call it â€œfinancial pornography.â€? I think I was the first person to use that term. I do think that I was helpful in getting the magazines to run updates on their recommendations. It was Smart Money and Money that went back and looked at how they did. It wasnâ€™t done before I started writing about it. I think itâ€™s very important. Accountability is a problem when youâ€™re running a magazine because people want to see 10 stocks to buy now because all you really need is an index fund. Investing is a game of odds, and those are the best odds. 10 stocks to buy now is a waste of my time. But when I was kid doing the Business Week newsletter, I called up mutual fund managers and they would explain to me about this stock or that stock. But you spend a couple of years looking at the results, and you say thereâ€™s something a little off. You canâ€™t play individual stocks.”
2. Personal finance reporting is about to become more important in the media: “It will be more important than ever with the boomers retiring. The boomers who have run my life and everybody elseâ€™s life, weâ€™ve been going through the accumulation phase, and the bulk still are in the accumulation phase. But the first boomers are starting to look at the maintenance phase and the drawing down phase. When youâ€™re 65 or 70 and you have a fixed pot, and you have to figure out how to make the money last, thatâ€™s hard. If you make a mistake like putting your stock in WorldCom, youâ€™re facing a whole different kind of world. Itâ€™s going to be bigger than ever.”
3. She is a slow writer who agonizes over each sentence so that what she writes is clear to her readers: “Thatâ€™s what I work the hardest at. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I donâ€™t just sit down and write it. Iâ€™m a very slow writer, and I squeeze out the words. I will pull back a sentence and ask myself if itâ€™s clear. Thereâ€™s a lot of blood behind the keyboard before you see the finished work. Youâ€™re not doing all of the details that would confuse the readers, but youâ€™re including the salient details. And youâ€™re using enough explanation to make the experts happy. Itâ€™s a very fine line. Youâ€™re talking 900 words for my Newsweek column, so you also have to get the structure right.”
If you don’t know who Allan Sloan is, then you’re not serious about business journalism. As the Wall Street editor for Newsweek, Sloan is one of the most readable and entertaining journalists when it comes to writing about business, the economy and personal finance. He writes in a style even the average person can understand, and he writes about topics and issues that have an effect on the business world. Here is his most-recent column.
I had an opportunity to talk with Allan this morning by telephone from his home office in New Jersey, where he was working today because of the Rosh Hashana holiday that begins at sundown. Working at home allows him to work right up to sundown.
And Allan had some great insights, as usual. He got thrown into business journalism like so many of us and had to find his way around the beat. But he always focused on what affected people, and that’s what has made him a four-time Loeb winner.
Here are some of his better points:
1. Sloan was highly critical of business journalists today who like to be pseudo-investment analyst: “I just hope in the end business journalism doesnâ€™t turn into just an advertising vehicle and lose site of what itâ€™s supposed to do. Weâ€™re supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Too many people are acting out there like junior stock pickers. If we were really good at picking stocks and making investments, we should be on Wall Street instead of selling our picks for 50 cents a paper.
“The idea that they can tell people what stocks to buy and what investment strategies to take is ludicrous. Itâ€™s very, very dangerous, and we saw this during the stock bubble. I was out there saying no all the time, and a lot of people didnâ€™t want to hear it. Publishing that stuff was not the right thing to do. Being the skunk at the garden party is not a lot of fun, but if the Federal Reserve wonâ€™t do it, then I will.”
2. His writing style was borrowed from The Wall Street Journal leaders that he read in the late 1960s and early 1970s: “I would take apart their leader stories and learn the technique. I would say, ‘This is great. These are stories you could really read.’ They were putting tons of opinions in there with funny expressions. I just swiped them all, and put some of my own in there. It admit it, whereas others havenâ€™t. But the Journal had great influence on a lot of writers.”
3. He still enjoys writing about business, even though its been his career for 36 years now: “When I hit it right, I get to tell several million people who read The Washington Post and Newsweek what is happening and influence what is happening. Thatâ€™s sort of neat. Forty years ago, the best I could do was multiple two-digit numbers in my head and budget my checkbook. Now, look at who I work for and the influence I have. Thatâ€™s what I like. I like influencing events and helping out the readers and training the new generation.”
4. He still takes pride in stories he wrote more than 30 years ago at the Charlotte Observer: “In Charlotte, because I was the real estate reporter and nobody would talk to me, I ended up stumbling across a major scandal involving Duke Power where it turned out that Duke had done all sorts of land transactions and somehow the rate payers had ended up with the costs but the stock holders ended up with the profits. At that point, the person who was the largest homebuilder in the South had agreed to build all electric apartments. That was good for Duke, but not so good for the natural gas company in town. It happened to come out about the same time Duke Power was asking for a rate increase. It created a whole lot of uproar in Raleigh that ended up reducing their rates. I would have been even prouder if I had known what I was writing about, but the story made all the difference.”
Bob Jensen, a professor at Trinity University in Texas, has prepared an Enron Quiz. I think all business journalists should be required to take this quiz.
Here is the link to the quiz: Enron Quiz
If you have any suggestions, corrections, or additions that would help this quiz, please send them to Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org .