Tag Archives: Writing tips
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
A top business journalist suggested Friday that young business reporters should look for stories that celebrate industry as well as those that are critical and also expressed optimism about the future of journalism.
“It’s not something to mourn,” said Carl Lavin, the former managing editor of Forbes.com, who also worked at The New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, about the current changes in journalism away from print and toward online. “I see it as a huge opportunity.”
Lavin was the lunch speaker Friday at the “Getting Started in Business News” conference for college students interested in careers in business journalism. The conference is being held at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and attracted nearly 60 students from 15 different universities.
Lavin is the former deputy managing editor for online and multimedia at the Inquirer. He spent 20 years at the Times, including six years as deputy Washington editor.
While Lavin said that business journalists should play a role in being a watchdog against business and representing investors, he was critical of reporters who only looked for negative stories.
“There are inventive, quirky, interesting people in business who need to be celebrated and covered,” said Lavin. “The point of journalism is to embrace different views.”
Lavin said that a business journalist should due plenty of due diligence when writing about a company or an executive. He also provided suggestions for sources — venture capitalists, accountants and attorneys — in writing about new companies. He recommended that business journalist “follow” companies on LinkedIn to see when employees leave the company.
“You’re on the front line, not just as observers but as participants,” said Lavin to the students.
by Chris Roush
Merrill Perlman of the Columbia Journalism Review tackles Wednesday the topic of when business reporters should use the word “loan” and when they should use the word “lend.”
Perlman writes, “Many style guides are pretty absolute, if not unified. The Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage both want ‘loan’ only as a noun, with ‘lend’ as the verb. The Chicago Manual of Style is a little more subtle and permissive: ‘Lend is the correct term for letting someone use something with the understanding that it (or its equivalent) will be returned. The verb loan is standard only when money is the subject of the transaction.’
“The CMOS limit of the verb ‘loan’ to financial contexts implies but does not explicitly state that ‘lend’ should be used when the item changing hands is nonfinancial or figurative — be it a book, ears, or a tenor. Increasingly, though, people are using ‘loan’ as a verb regardless of what is being borrowed.
“According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, ‘loan’ as a verb fell out of favor in England after the seventeenth century. Because the provinces were still using it, the very proper British turned their noses up at it. Usage authorities well into the twentieth century continued to disdain the verb ‘loan’ as a lowly Americanism, even though some of the critics themselves were American. But ‘loan’ as a verb is now considered standard American English (although only when money is involved). Because ‘lend’ and ‘loan’ have become virtually interchangeable in practice, it’s only a matter of time before all uses of ‘loan’ are considered standard. The style guides are spitting into the wind.”
Read more here.
Alan Wastler, the managing editor of CNBC.com, writes Wednesday about the jargon that often infiltrates business news stories.
Wastler writes, “Witness ‘quantitative easing,’ the term used to describe the Fed’s purchases of various securities as way of kickstarting demand and boosting the economy. To me it’s more like ‘quantitative buying’ … critics use a simpler term still: printing money. Nevertheless, ‘quantitative easing’ is what’s taken hold in text and airwaves.
“Such jargon creep is common in beat reporting or specialty reporting. Reporters and editors are dealing with sources who use specialized language all the time. So the journalists begin to adopt it — you don’t want to sound like you don’t know what your talking about to a source, after all.
“But many times journalists forget when they are talking to a source and when they are talking to their audience. That’s unfortunate, since the journalistic mission is to explain complicated and serious subjects in a way that most people understand. (Of course, there’s the opposing danger of ‘dumbing down’ material, but that’s another blogpost).
“Occasional use of jargon can be okay as long as you explain it. Unfortunately, as the use of a particular piece of jargon becomes more common, the explanation gets dropped.”
Read more here.
Derek Thompson, a staff writer for TheAtlantic.com, has some fun Tuesday with a recent Onion business news story that was extremely vague.
Thompson writes, “But there’s no reason why economic news has to be so nebulous or boring. Business journalism — in print and on TV — needs more clear journalism that says: Here’s what it’s all about, in English. Journalists are generally fixated on the next turn of the wheel in an ongoing business story, but it’s often valuable to step back and describe the wheel, and why the wheel in the first place.
“The big picture of economic stories eludes a news audience. During the health care debate, for example, I recall a lot of people who could cite the slogans and jokes (Death Panels, ‘You lie,’ socialism, hands off my government Medicare, etc) but say very little about the actual bill — what an exchange was, for example, and why they should even care.
“Who’s to blame? Nobody and everybody, I guess. It’s easier for both hosts and audiences to debate bumper-stickers than bills. In fact, you could argue that some important parts of the health care debate — in particular, end-of-life-care — got more attention, some of it useful, because the Death Panels bumper-sticker made for such a sexy newspeg for discussing the actual bill.
“The challenge is how to find the sweet spot between sexy and contexty. I don’t have a definitive answer to that challenge.”
Read more here.
Andy Bechtel, who writes The Editor’s Desk blog, interviewed UNC-Chapel Hill journalism professor Chris Roush, one of the co-authors of the new stylebook, The Financial Writer’s Stylebook, aimed for helping business journalists do their jobs better.
The book was unveiled Friday at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in New York.
Q. What are some of the common problems you see in business stories and headlines?
A. My biggest pet peeve when reading a business story is seeing a business term or phrase used incorrectly by the reporter and not corrected by the editor. It’s apparent that someone who was interviewed for the story said the term or phrase in the interview, and the reporter thought it sounded important, so they decided to use it. But they don’t know what the term really means. I see this a lot with net income vs. operating income.
Q. The stylebook uses a “rating system” to help writers and editors know when to define business terms for their readers. How did that come about, and how does it work?
A. This was Bill’s idea to help distinguish the book and provide some easy guidance. The Wall Street Journal traditionally defines business terms in its stories even though most of its readers probably know what the term means.
We decided to take that to the next level and provide a ranking, of one dollar sign to five dollar signs, to tell journalists whether the business term needs to be defined in the story. No dollar signs means that it doesn’t need to be defined at all. Five dollar signs means that the term should be defined in all publications, and the ratings goes down to one dollar sign, which means that only general interest publications such as daily newspapers need to define the term.
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Chrystia Freeland, the global editor at large for Reuters and a former top editor at the Financial Times, writes Saturday in the New York Times about what she sees as the problem in business journalism.
Freeland writes, “Lewis is ‘eternally grateful’ to his subjects for their cooperation. Sorkin, a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, is ‘truly grateful’ to his. One can imagine Blomkvist sputtering with rage, but you don’t have to be a fictional Scandinavian social democrat to wish that business journalism in the United States was more about afflicting the comfortable and less about cozying up to them. In the spring, the high priests of American journalism at the Columbia Journalism Review published a tough critique of Sorkin by Dean Starkman, who argued that ‘Too Big to Fail’ was on one side — the wrong side — in the ‘mini-struggle’ between ‘deal journalism and the work of accountability-oriented reporters.’
“That article rightly highlighted the important investigative work done by reporters with a ‘more confrontational approach,’ like Gretchen Morgenson and Don Van Natta Jr., both of The Times, and Mark Pittman of Bloomberg News, who wrote a 2007 series predicting the collapse of the banking sector. But the bigger, more complicated truth about the financial crisis is that it wasn’t caused by evil businessmen. The overarching story is one of systemic failure, not individual wrongdoing. It wasn’t the Bernie Madoffs who plunged the world into recession. It was low capital requirements, weak limits on leverage, over-the-counter traded derivatives, soft rules on mortgage lending and global financial imbalances.
“If your attention wandered as you read that list of abstract terms, you are not alone. A growing body of cognitive research is demonstrating something schoolteachers and entertainers have known for a long time: Most of us respond better to personal stories than to impersonal numbers and ideas.”
Read more here.
Kyle Stock of The Wall Street Journal reports about some Stanford University research that provides clues to whether a CEO is lying while speaking.
Stock writes, “A pair of professors at Stanford recently tried to do just that. The team built a model that tries to flush out executive lies, using psychological and linguistic studies and transcripts of conference calls from companies that later restated earnings.
“They fed their filter almost 30,000 earnings transcripts from 2003 to 2007 and found that it worked quite nicely. Executives who later had to revise their books displayed some very consistent clues.
“For one, they seldom referred to themselves or their firms in the first person; ‘I’ and ‘we’ were replaced by terms like ‘the team’ and ‘the company.’ Deceitful executives passed up humdrum adjectives like ‘solid’ and ‘respectable’ in favor of gushing words like ‘fantastic,’ and (not surprisingly) they seldom mentioned shareholder value.
“They also tended buttress their points with references to general knowledge with phrases like ‘you know’ and to make short statements with little hesitatation, presumably because they had carefully scripted the untruths in advance and had no interest in lingering on them.”
Read more here. Specific companies were not identified in the study.
Outgoing Forbes editor William Baldwin writes Monday about longtime Forbes auto writer Jerry Flint, who died this weekend at the age of 79 after suffering a stroke.
Baldwin writes, “One of his notions was that journalists, at least the sort that ruled the newsrooms of big newspapers a few decades ago, were too full of themselves. They wrapped themselves in a mantle of objectivity by attributing views to ‘industry observers’ or other murky sources. If you’ve got the story wrong, that kind of attribution isn’t going to make it right.
“The rules of newspaper journalism had writers beating around the bush with such declarations as ‘In automobile circles, it is whispered that … ‘ Jerry once satirized this kind of mealy mouthed reporting by drawing chalk circles on the floor of a car company men’s room, standing on them and whispering some observation about where the industry was headed. ‘Now I can say that this is being whispered in automobile circles,’ he explained.
“Today the profession has gone too far in the other direction, with breezy bloggers handing down pronouncements unsupported by any original reporting at all. Jerry had it right: First get the facts, and then you can take the marbles out of your mouth.”
Read more here.
Sarah Ellison, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote about the paper’s sale to Rupert Murdoch in “War at the Wall Street Journal,” talked to Laurel Touby of MediaBistro.com about business journalism and what it was like to write a book about her employer.
Nick Malawskey, a business reporter at the Centre Daily Times in Pennsylvania, has a nice goodbye column to his readers in Sunday’s paper.
Malawskey writes, “In the end, I think I’ll just say thanks.
“Thanks for reading; thanks for the phone calls, the e-mails; thanks for the friendships, the acquaintances; thanks for letting me into your homes and businesses; thanks for sharing your dreams and visions.
“But mostly, thank you all for the opportunity to come and live in Centre County.
“I tell my friends that I feel like my whole life has been one long loop on U.S. Route 322 — raised in Harrisburg, schooled at Lock Haven, made a start in Lewistown, matured into an adult in Centre County. Now I’m headed home.”