Tag Archives: Reporting tips

PR and business journalists

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Norm Bell, the editor of the Hartford Business Journal, writes about the communications relationship between public relations professionals and business journalists.

Bell writes, “We find interesting ways to make errors. And we don’t need help.

“We’ve been wrestling with some problems associated with sloppy public relations work. When we wrote a web item for HBJ Today about a firm getting an increased federal contract, we got a call saying we had it wrong. While this was a new contract, it was actually for less than the old contract, a fact not in evidence in the firm’s original telling of the story. Another company put out a press release about a financial development yet seemed surprised when our story didn’t include a business unit that hadn’t been mentioned.

“We really do want to get it right and we’ll work with you toward that end. But give us a fighting chance to get it right the first time. Say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s a goal we strive to attain every day.

“Then there was the call from the unhappy state media relations guy who was objecting to an unflattering editorial characterization of his group’s handling of a situation.

“He seemed to want to quibble about semantics, whether answering the call meant literally picking up the phone or something broader. He regaled me with all the steps that had been taken to win the deal. But, in the final analysis, he had to admit, they hadn’t closed the deal.”

Read more here.

Lessons in retail reporting

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TheStreet.com media critic Marek Fuchs talks about mistakes in business reporting about Best Buy and Bed Beth & Beyond.

CNN's Velshi criticized for loan modification story

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Bank of America is upset with CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi, who reported recently about a Philadelphia-area man who received a modified loan that kept him in his house, reports Jeff Blumenthal of the Philadelphia Business Journal.

“Michael McKeever of Goldbeck McCafferty & McKeever, Bank of America’s law firm in the matter, said the CNN piece was ‘less than honest’ about the Flannery case, saying the story reinforces ‘the victim mentality that we see with these cases.’

“Velshi, though, said that he tried to reach out to both McKeever and Bank of America for months to get their side of the story and both declined comment. He also said that neither responded to Flannery’s attempts to resolve the matter for months.

“‘So to say that Brendan Flannery was the uncommunicative one is not fair,’ Velshi said. ‘It was more of the story that Bank of America [was] being uncommunicative.’

“Velshi said his reporting led him to conclude that banks like Bank of America do not have the staffing to follow up with people like Flannery when they try to resolve the problem. He was careful to point out that he did not think Bank of America had done anything nefarious in the Flannery case but rather was not equipped to deal with his inquiries.”

Tatge talks business journalism writing

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Ohio University professor Mark Tatge recent compiled “The New York Times Reader: Business & Economics,” published last month by CQ Press.

The book uses stories from the New York Times business desk to explain complex business topics in a way that the average person can understand.

Tatge’s book looks at how these reporters balance compelling analysis and historical perspective, showing readers specific ways to practice the craft of business writing. Delving into the fundamentals of covering the beat, the book is divided into two sections—one on the economy (inflation, jobs, wagers, debt and taxes) and another on business (Wall Street, mergers, profiles and investigative reporting).

Tatge talked about his book via e-mail with UNC-Chapel Hill professor Chris Roush. What follows is an excerpt of that talk.

What do you think readers will learn from the interviews with the business reporters?

Actually, this will probably be one of the most interesting and best read features in the book. Readers will be able to examine firsthand how these very talented individuals do their jobs. It will give them insights and ideas into business reporting. I also personally feel it is always interesting to see how people get to where they are at. One of the most astonishing things I came across in some of the interviews is the fact that some of these very accomplished, talented journalists don’t have college educations. They also don’t have backgrounds in business, yet these journalists are top reporters at the New York Times. I think this is great. It also says that students don’t need to be economists or accountants to write about business. Understanding the topic is crucial, but some students shouldn’t be intimidated by the topic.

How do you think this book will be valuable to students interested in business journalism?

The book is a sampler of relevant topics that teaches students about business journalism by offering great examples of business journalism. It will give them a broad overview of the landscape. They first get a sense for the technical aspects of a topic – like writing about inflation or unemployment. They also can see how these stories are written. The book breaks down the building blocks needed to assemble particular stories — on mergers, earnings, unemployment – and offers a paint-by-numbers diagram of what a young reporter needs to make the story sing.

Read the entire interview here.

Utah papers fail in covering Overstock.com

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Former BusinessWeek investigative reporter Gary Weiss writes that the daily newspapers in Utah have fallen down on the job when it comes to covering online retailer Overstock.com.

Weiss writes, “Now, we can’t expect reporters to be accountants. But we do expect reporters to call accountants when confronted with companies that have a history of making false or misleading statements–particularly to their own newspapers.

“The lesson for Utah’s newspapers, and other newspapers in similar situations, is Journalism 101: Call an expert. Read the 10-Ks. Sure, you had to go to page F-53 of the 10-K to read about just how significant the 4Q 2008 restatement was — and how much the company had lied in the past. Given the company’s history of lies, evasions and misstatements, what else could they expect? Relying on the press release of a company like Overstock is simply inept.

“Years ago you had to pay document retrieval services big bucks to get SEC filings. Now they’re on the web, instantaneously. Sure these are big documents. So? If you can’t figure them out, there are people who can do so.

“The bottom line is that there is no excuse for incompetence nowadays in covering corporate slimeballs like Overstock.com. All it takes is Internet access, a telephone, and something lacking in Salt Lake City’s media–a little backbone.”

Read more here.

ProPublica to help local reporters find struggling homeowners

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The following announcement was sent out Thursday by Mike Webb, director of communications of ProPublica.org:

“ProPublica is launching a new project where we hope to pair local journalists with struggling homeowners in the loan modification program.  We’re doing this because more than 800 homeowners have shared their stories with us about the numerous problems they’ve had in obtaining a modification.  We’ve shared many of their stories in our reports, but there are just too many to publish.  So we’re hoping local reporters can talk to the homeowners and local banks to help your readers understand how the program works (or doesn’t work).

If you’re a journalist, sign up here and we’ll put you in contact with a homeowner in your area.  If you’re a homeowner, share your story with us so that we can match you up with a local reporter.  And here’s a map so that you can pinpoint the location of a homeowner who needs help.  As Paul Kiel and Amanda Michel note in their introduction, ‘Often, the media can be the most effective recourse for homeowners who have nowhere else to turn.’

“If local reporters are able to produce a story based on our pairing, please cite ProPublica and link to our loan mod section or a story.  And if you have any questions about the project, please feel free to contact me, Amanda or Paul.  Thanks for your help and please spread the word.”

Contact Mike at Mike.Webb@propublica.org or at 917-512-0233 (office) and 917-660-1846 (cell).

Ex-WSJ reporter's tips for covering companies and industries

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TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

Sarah McBride, a Wall Street Journal reporter for 13 years before leaving earlier this year with a buyout offer, spoke to students interested in business journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and provided the following reporting tips.

Tips on covering a company

1. Get to know board members. McBride pointed out that they have lots of information about companies at their disposal.

2. Ask random questions. You never know what people will say. McBride once got Sirus XM Radio CEO Mel Karmazin to say on the record that he wanted to take the company private.

3. If you chat with the CEO, let his staff know. Access to the CEO is like a “Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” says McBride, letting employees know it’s OK to talk to you.

4. Look for duopoly situations. Two companies that dominate an industry will “have all kinds of dirt on each other,” says McBride.

5. Watch out for canceled vacations. McBride said the PR guy for XM passed on a planned vacation shortly before the deal with Sirius was announced.

How to cover an industry

1. Think up things that could happen, and keep asking about them. If a CEO has made some mistakes, ask whether he might be fired, says McBride.

2. Look for tipping points. McBride broke the story that box office revenue surpassed DVD revenue for movie studios for the first time in a decade by noticing the change.

3. Company the industry to others. Look at the percentage of revenue that companies from the Internet for newspapers, TV stations and radio, says McBride. Newspapers get a lot, while radio gets little.

4. Schmooze with random people who might have an unexpected perspective. McBride talked to a Microsoft executive at a trade show who noted that the movie studios were selling the HD DVD rights to their productions in Europe while promoting only Blu-Ray technology in the States.

Covering the Toyota recall

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Los Angeles Times business reporter Ken Bensinger talks Sunday about how the paper begin its coverage of the safety problems with Toyota. The Times has been ahead of most media in covering this story.

Bensinger was talking on a panel at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference.

NYTimes exploring all technologies, not worried about Google or WSJ

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TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

The New York Times is not worried about what technology it uses to reach its readers as long as it reaches them, Arthur Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of the Times, said on Saturday.

Sulzberger said he had no problem using Apple, Google, Microsoft and other software companies despite complaints from other media executives about their control of content.

“I am not that other guy who rails against Google,” said Sulzberger, referring to News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires and Marketwatch.com. “Railing against Google is sort of railing against oxygen.”

Sulzberger was speaking Saturday at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual conference in Phoenix.

Explaining the changing economics of journalism, Sulzberger said he is perfectly happy purchasing at U2 song from Apple’s iTunes because he knows that he will listen to it 628 times. And then looking into the audience at Times business journalist Diana Henriques, he said, “As much as I like your work, Diana, I am probably not going to read that story more than twice.”

When asked about competing against The Wall Street Journal, which is planning to launch a New York edition next month, Sulzberger said “The New York Times has been in existence since 1851, and it has seen a lot of competition, and a lot of excellent competition. We don’t shy away from competition.

“The challenge we face is to translate our brand into a digital era,” he added. “The challenge that the Journal is taking on, and mazel tov as we say in journalism, is to change its brand as it adapts to the digital era. I’m not saying they can’t succeed, but that’s no small feat.”

After being asked how the Times business news coverage addresses current complicated topics in a way its readers can understand, the paper’s business editor Larry Ingrassia replied.

“This is particularly challenging time to cover the world, particularly the financial world,” said Ingrassia.

“We want to say who is it affecting and how is it affecting them,” added Ingrassia. “Whenever we are going into these stories, that’s my mantra.”

Using better Google for journalists

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Sean Carlson from Google has held sessions Friday and Saturday at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference on how journalists can use the search engine more effectively.

Here are some of his tips:

1. Don’t worry about capitalization. In addition, put minus (-) in front of words whose meaning you’re not working for. (When writing about H1N1, search “viruses -computer.”

2. Specific site search is the single-most helpful feature. You can refine a Google search to one URL. “bluefin tuna site:washingtonpost.com” will find articles on bluefin tuna at The Washington Post site.

3. The Google advanced search (http://www.google.com/advanced_search) function allows you to look for specific files, such as pdf files and Power Point presentations, if you know you’re looking for such documents.

4. Look at two sites to see what’s hot and what’s not in terms of searching. They are http://www.google.com/trends/ and http://www.google.com/insights/search.

5. There is a way to search just government sites. Go to http://www.google.com/unclesam.