Tag Archives: Writing tips

Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia

Humanizing the cyber security beat

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New York-based Bloomberg News reporter Dune Lawrence has been helping Bloomberg break news since 2004, when she joined the company, reporting on stocks and investors. She now covers hacking and cyber security.

Lawrence spoke with Lauren Meller of Bloomberg’s public relations staff about how she covers her beat. Here is an excerpt:

What challenges do you face when developing stories and sources?
A couple of times I’ve had whistleblowers come out of the woodwork and present me with a ton of documents, which brings its own challenges. What’s that person’s agenda? How do you make sure what’s being shown to you is authentic? How do you take the story in the direction it needs to go, while managing the expectations of the whistleblower, who might be even more invested in it than you are?

What does the future hold for this beat?
What interests me is taking a very technical subject and humanizing it. The Snowden saga was amazing in part because there’s a central figure to it, a human being. Cybersecurity, surveillance, privacy and the trade-offs between each are something that consumers, businesses and governments are all trying to negotiate, so that’s going to be a rich area for reporting for a long time.

Read more here.

economic data

How to take the economy’s measure

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An economist told business and financial journalists Saturday to beware of aggregated data because sometimes it hides important trends.

“Companies are increasingly managing and mining data to augment government sources,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist of Bank of the West. “What I see happening is a blurring of the lines between traditional government economic data and market, strategic planning and risk management.”

Anderson and Steve Landefeld, director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, discussed how to dig deeper into government and company data to get a better picture for how the U.S. economy is operating at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual conference, being held at Arizona State University.

Landefeld said the BEA uses electronic data complied from a variety of sources as opposed to getting information from individuals through surveys.

“We hope to pick up data more from economic transactions than from asking the individual,” Landefeld said. “There are biases present in household surveys.”

Landefeld broke down specific aspects of the components of GDP, such as foreign owned assets in the U.S. and encouraged the use of comparisons to give context to data.

Landefield said these foreign investment assets equate to about $25 trillion, which is a huge amount in nominal dollars but not when compared to the percentage of U.S. net worth.

“It’s nothing to panic about,” Landefield said.

Anderson discussed how government data, especially GDP, is central to economic forecasting.

“During the government shutdown, we were twiddling our thumbs for a few weeks,” Anderson said.

Anderson said a real GDP gap still remains.

“It tells me were still below our economic potential,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of excess slack in the labor market and deflationary pressures are very real.”

Anderson said there is increasing demand for granularity of data as policy makers, banking executives, and corporate boards want access to detailed parts of macroeconomic data.

“Our dependence on data is going to be more important compared to the past,” Anderson said.

Alex Dixon is a senior at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship.

Quartz tablet

Making business journalism that doesn’t taste like medicine

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Delivering informative news and not making it taste like medicine is one of the key challenges of business journalism.

On Saturday afternoon, Kevin Delaney, Quartz editor in chief and co-founder, and NPR’s Planet Money’s Caitlin Kenney discussed different ways to innovate business journalism and make it compelling for readers.

Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism at Arizona State University Susan Lisovicz moderated the panel discussion, which is part of the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers, being held this weekend at ASU.

Kenney showed clips from Planet Money’s T-Shirt Project, where the NPR team followed the making of a cotton t-shirt through four continents and a global economy.

Planet Money hoped to raise $50,000 for the project. Instead, the team raised $600,000 — which Kenney said motivated her to fulfill the high expectations from readers.

“People were so excited about the project because they had helped support it, and they really felt like they were part of it too,” she said.

The story of the t-shirt was told through audio, video and graphics — an “inherently visual” medium that drew readers in.

Delaney also said that making stories visual, through charts or graphics, is key to sticking out in the streams of news content.

News consumption is increasing, but fewer than 40 percent of Americans have a regular news habit, Delaney said. Instead, readers wade in and out of the streams.

Headlines are another way to make stories stick out to readers. Delaney said he has reporters write their headlines before they write their story.

“It brings a focus to the reporting and writing of the article,” he said.

Quartz caters to the business elite, and Delaney said he doesn’t allow throat clearing or sports analogies — respect the readers’ time, he said.

And instead of beats, Quartz reporters have what are called “obsessions.”

“We want people to write about stuff that’s important but also interesting,” Delaney said. “A lot of that stuff falls between beats.”

Nowadays, there are more forms of innovative journalism and more competition, but Delaney said he welcomes it.

“It is the readers who will ultimately decide if we’re successful or not,” he said.

Maddy Will is a UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication student attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship

financial bubble

Business journalism and corporate fraud

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For business journalists, catching crooked companies requires skepticism and close attention to the details that should cause hesitation, said journalists in a workshop Saturday.

Roddy Boyd, founder of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, said the foundations of detecting corporate fraud are in the “things that make you go hmmm.”

Boyd, who worked for Fortune magazine, the New York Post and The New York Sun, joined other business journalists at the Society for American Business Editors and Writers conference at Arizona State University being held Friday and Saturday.

Boyd highlighted a number of factors that should give a business journalists pause, including dramatic spikes and falls in revenue, and outliers and incongruities in a company’s mandatory filings.

Other red flags that could indicate corporate fraud are reverse mergers, an unknown auditor of a decent sized company and companies that are domiciled in states such as Florida and Utah.

“I expect I will die astounded that the regulatory apparatus finds itself unable to sanction some of these companies,” he said.

Boyd said his business journalism career has not always endeared him to the subjects of his writing.

“I’ve made some enemies,” he said. “You are never going to be popular doing this stuff.”

Boyd said reporters should look for trends and put things into perspective for the readers instead of getting bogged down in financial data.

“Don’t focus on the weeds,” he said. “Tell me what the forest looks like.”

Claire Williams is a UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication student attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship

Factory Man

Daily writing is a sprint, but book writing is a marathon

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For journalists used to the sprint of daily newswriting, writing a book can seem like a brutal marathon, a panel of journalists said Friday.

“Your body’s wrecked, your mind’s wrecked, you think, ‘why did I ever do this?’ A couple of days later, you say, ‘I want to do another one,’” said John Wasik, the author of 14 books, including the recent “Keynes’s Way to Wealth.”

Wasik joined Beth Macy, a reporter at The Roanoke (Va.) Times, and Thomas Lee, business editor and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, in a panel discussion at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference, being held Friday and Saturday at Arizona State University.

Macy wrote a book called “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town” coming out in July.
“My agent sold it as ‘Moneyball’ with furniture,” she said.

Lee’s book, which will be published this fall, tells the story of Target and Best Buy’s transformation to the digital age, called “Rebuilding Empires.”

He said he originally pitched the book as the story of the death of Best Buy’s empire, but his agent said that was too depressing. Ultimately, the story of Best Buy’s rebuilding turned out to be more counter-intuitive and went past the sound bites, Lee said.

Writing a book can be more satisfying than daily journalism, Wasik said. Expanding a story and creating a narrative is rewarding — but a lot of work, the panelists agreed.

“It’s a lot of time commitment —you don’t do it out of a sense that this is another hobby,” Wasik said. “This is a real commitment.”

Wasik said journalists should consider a few points when selling a book to publishers: what’s the pitch, why they’re qualified to write it and who will buy it. Working with the publishers to create a marketing plan for the book is key, they said.

It’s hard for journalists who are still working at their publication to make the time to write a book, the panelists said.

“You really, really, really have to want it,” Macy said.

Lee agreed: “It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.”

But Wasik said writing a book is worth it in the end.

“If you have a burning idea, put it together, think of it as something people need to read,” he said. “It’s the reason to exist.”

Maddy Will is a senior business journalism student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship

Michael Lewis

Lewis, SABEW winner, finds stories in markets

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Everything is a market to best-selling author Michael Lewis.

From the story of football player Michael Oher in “The Blind Side” to the drafting process of the Oakland A’s in “Moneyball,” Lewis said he writes about markets, not business.

Lewis answered questions from “Wizard of Lies” author Diana Henriques on Friday afternoon at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference, which is being held this weekend at Arizona State University. Lewis received SABEW’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.

His next book, “Flash Boys,” is coming out Monday — but the plot has been embargoed until a “60 Minutes” special Sunday night. The story will be centered around high-frequency trading, a subject Lewis came across when he was writing an article about a computer programmer who was jailed for stealing code from Goldman Sachs.

The popular novel-turned-film “Moneyball” also evolved from an article, but Lewis realized he had to make it a book the first time he saw the Oakland A’s players naked.

He told the team’s general manager Billy Beane and other officials that he saw the players naked and that it was unappealing — the players didn’t look like professional athletes.

But that was the point, the team’s officials said. When they draft players, they look for people who don’t look like the typical baseball player, because the handsome players with the good bodies are typically overvalued.

The book gathered traction in the business world.

“A lot of business is boring,” Lewis said. “Even people who do it don’t really know how to make it interesting to their families, and if they can find a sports analogy, then it solves the boringness.”

Lewis said he won’t write a sequel to “Moneyball,” but he had the idea for another baseball book while writing “Moneyball” that never materialized. It would have been called “Underdogs,” and it would have followed the players who go through the minor leagues.

“It was cursed by ‘Moneyball,’” he said. “’Moneyball’ was so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think.”

Through his books, Lewis has made financial journalism cool, said outgoing SABEW President Kevin Hall.

The trick, Lewis said, is to tell a story well and be passionate.

“If I was a boss, if I sensed genuine enthusiasm and passion for an unrelated piece of work, I’d say go do it,” Lewis said. “The reader picks up on what the writer is enthusiastic about. You can’t fake it.”

Maddy Will is a senior business journalism student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship

SABEW

Personal finance should be biggest biz desk beat

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With roots and connections to every niche of business journalism, covering personal finance should be the biggest beat in the business, a panel of top journalists in the field said Friday morning.

But a misunderstood lack of variation in subject matter — on the surface — makes it seem repetitive and less relevant than other beats, they said.

“If you cover personal finance, you know there’s only about 14 stories out there,” said Liz Weston, a syndicated columnist on the topic. “We just keep changing the anecdotes.”

The panelists, moderated by MSN Money’s managing editor Marty Wolk, spoke Friday morning about the intricacies of the beat, why it interests them and why it’s important to the reader. The panel was at the annual Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference, being held Friday and Saturday at Arizona State University.

Interest in personal finance stories has been increasing, Wolk said, particularly as baby boomers near retirement age and realize that they’ll need to figure out how to pay health care costs and living expenses without a working income.

He said the task beat writers face is covering every scheme out there that separates people from their money.

“You need to define it more broadly,” he said. “You need to think about all the different ways that people spend their money, invest their money, and have their money at risk, even without really knowing it.”

CBS News writer and syndicated personal finance columnist Kathy Kristof said stories come from understanding and showing how broader policy changes and larger events affect individual readers.

“Each of us has a different story to tell,” she said, using the Affordable Care Act as an example of something that’s simultaneously helping some people and hurting others.

“The same event can affect your readers in a number of different ways, so if you know that, and you can dig into it, and you can know your beat so well that you can take that spectrum and explain how and why and what they can do about it… That, to me, is what personal finance is really all about.”

Cassella is a UNC-Chapel Hill business journalism student attending the SABEW conference on a Talking Biz News scholarship.

Triangle Business Journal

Business news with deep analysis

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Sougata Mukherjee, the editor of the Triangle Business Journal in Raleigh, writes about the redesign of the newspaper and what it means for news coverage.

Mukherjee writes, “The business world moves faster than ever, so we now deliver all our breaking news twice a day to your inbox as Triangle Business Journal morning and afternoon editions. If you aren’t receiving these, go to trianglebusinessjournal.com to sign up. It’s easy, and it’s free.

“In a 24/7 business climate, sometimes twice a day isn’t frequent enough. The entire Triangle Business Journal news team is active across social media, sharing the latest headlines and offering rare insight into business events as they unfold. We invite you to not only follow our coverage, but to become an active part of it.

“Still, speed isn’t everything.

“As we prepared for this relaunch, business executives told us time and again: We need breaking news on our mobile phones and desktops, but we also need access to deep analysis of the week’s news. What’s it mean to me, my business, my industry and my community? How did this change come about? Who are the players behind the scenes?

“This edition, as you will see, is designed to deliver just that.”

Read more here.

Fact checking

Why fact checking is important in business journalism

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Bethany McLean, a business journalist at Vogue, writes about the importance of fact checking in business journalism on LinkedIn.

McLean writes, “I got my job in 1995, just as the last golden age of magazine business journalism, fueled by heavy spending dotcom companies, was beginning. Time Inc, which owns Fortune, was itself just transitioning into the modern world. The fact checking department used to be dominated by women, who worked for mostly male writers, and was still run by a wonderfully old school woman named Rosalind Berlin.

“Ros, as we called her, took me out to lunch when I first got to Fortune, and explained the procedures. You had to have different color pens, so that you could put a red check over facts that had been confirmed, by, for instance, looking up the proper spelling of something in an official directory. Or if you were using an anecdote that the writer hadn’t reported, it had to have been printed in three separate publications. If you wanted to make a change on a story, you couldn’t bring it directly to the copy room. You had to go to the editor, who would then mark it on his version, which was the one that went to the copy room. There were protocols!

“She also explained that as a fact checker, I wasn’t just responsible for making sure things were spelled right. The fact checker was responsible for making sure that the overall gist of the story was accurate, that it was supported by the evidence. If the story was wrong, it was the lowly fact checker’s responsibility to fight it out with the lordly writer and editor, who, needless to say, often didn’t want to be corrected. You had to be able to stand your ground, because if you didn’t, and there was a mistake… well, it was on you.

“Then, I was given my first story to check. I vaguely remember that it was something about new mutual fund products, and it was written by a freelancer. It sounded good — that is, until I started checking it. In essence, the entire thing was wrong. Up until that point, words on the page, in their unambiguous black and white, had always conveyed such authority that I didn’t question them. I never read that way again. An editor once said to me that good writers were really dangerous because you could be so seduced by their writing that you simply drank in their unsupported leaps of logic.”

Read more here.

mergers and acquisitions

Rumors, accuracy and the M&A beat

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Only one third of stories written about companies being takeover targets between 2000 and 2011 proved to be accurate, according to research by two business school professors.

“Accuracy” was defined by whether the rumored takeover target received an official offer within one year of the story. The researchers discovered that accurate rumor articles are more likely to mention a specific takeover price, to discuss possible bidders, and to indicate that negotiations are in an advanced stage.

The research, by Kenneth Ahern at the University of Southern California and Denis Sosyura at the University of Michigan, reviewed 2,142 articles written about 501 rumors between 2000 and 2011. Of those rumors, only 167 were followed by a public bid for the company. The Wall Street Journal was the most prolific publisher of such articles, with 158 during the time period. It was followed by Dow Jones Newswires with 67 and the New York Times with 38.

“The rumors published in the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones News Service are also more accurate than the average rumor, with accuracy rates of about 39%, compared to 33% for the average rumor,” wrote the researchers. “In contrast, the Los Angeles Times and NYT Blogs have accuracy rates less than 20%.”

Among the journalists covering mergers and acquisitions during this time period, the researchers found that Dennis Berman of The Wall Street Journal wrote the most accurate articles, with 62.5 percent of his rumored deal stories receiving a public offer within a year. Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times, who also covered mergers and acquisitions during this time period, had a 42.1 percent accuracy rate.

Nikhil Deogun of The Journal had a 53.8 percent accurate rating, while Robin Sidel of The Journal had a 55.6 percent accuracy rating.

Deogun now oversees editorial content at CNBC, while Berman is the business editor of The Journal and doesn’t actively report on M&A anymore. Sorkin also works for CNBC now.

Among media sources, Bloomberg News had the highest accuracy rate — 80 percent — of its rumored deal stories, according to the research. The Los Angeles Times and NYT Blogs both had accuracy rates of 16.7 percent.

“In the literal sense, as long as any person, anywhere, with a degree of knowledge suggests to someone else that a firm is ripe for a takeover, a merger rumor is published in the press as accurate,” noted the authors. “However, this is an extremely low bar for accuracy. It just implies that the journalist is not fabricating the rumor.”

To read the research, go here.