Tag Archives: Writing tips
Philip Corbett, the deputy news editor at the New York Times who is also in charge of the paper’s style manual, takes a look at the cliches that have crept into the paper’s business coverage.
Corbett writes, “In one stretch of business coverage last month, we used the phrase ‘double down’ three times in four days. But itâ€™s not just in business stories â€” this blackjack allusion seems to be enjoying a sudden vogue throughout the paper. It also appeared recently in an Arts column about cable news anchors and a Foreign story about Iraq strategy.
“And what do you know? In one recent reference, we actually used it to mean doubling a bet at the blackjack table. That was in a story about casino dealers.”
Later, Corbett adds, “Since the financial crisis erupted, all of America seems to have been divided into two streets: Wall Street and Main Street. Politicians have used the contrast incessantly (no prizes for guessing which streetâ€™s residents they stand with). Pundits and columnists have also latched onto the facile dichotomy, and the wire services have done their share.
“For the most part, weâ€™ve avoided the paired reference outside of quotes. But itâ€™s so obvious that even an occasional use in our own voice seems clichÃ©d.”
Read more here.
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Like BusinessWeek, which is soliciting story ideas from its readers online, personal finance magazine SmartMoney is also tapping into its readers and their issues with the current market turmoil to guide its coverage.
SmartMoney.com editor Tom Weber tells Talking Biz News that the magazine recently set up an online financial crisis answer center for readers to share their questions about the current economic upheaval. There’s also a toll-free number for readers to call.
“Weâ€™ve found that the queries our readers submit shed a good deal of light on which issues are of greatest concern right now,” says Weber. “And what weâ€™re learning from readers is informing our future coverage decisions.”
Weber declined to discuss stories the magazine has in the pipeline, but he did provide some examples of past stories.
“One example is reader frustration,” says Weber. “I can tell you we got complaints about not being able to reach brokers during the hectic days in the market. That lead to a piece where we tested broker response times ourselves.
“More generally, we’ve also been struck by the level of detail in many of the questions and concerns from our reades. It’s not just ‘should I get out of the stock market?’ but ‘are money-market accounts or muni bonds really safe?’.
“It’s been a reminder that Americans have become incredibly sophisticated about their personal finances, more than you think. We’re adjusting to include even more detail in our stories.”
Allen Wastler, the managing editor of CNBC.com adds his two cents to the current discussion in business journalism about what words to use to accurately describe the stock market’s daily gyrations.
Wastler writes, “The market-write, typically updated 6 times a day rain or shine, is the bread and butter of business coverage. Yet the work is often under-appreciated.
“And then, to add insult to injury, the market writer often gets slapped around for word choice. A 50-point drop: is that a ‘fall,’ ‘trip,’ or ‘stumble.’ How about a 100-200 point drop? ‘Dive’ or ‘dip’? More than 300-points? ‘Rout’? ‘Sell-off’? When can we use ‘face plant’?
“Of course if you have days like you did last week, the dreaded ‘c’-word gets considered. That’s usually where a committee gets involved. The ‘c’-word means so much. A few arguments popped up in the business journalism community about some organizations that chose to use it last week, albeit with some qualifiers like ‘slow motion.’
“But arguments ensue about the little words too. One man’s ‘dive’ is another man’s ‘stumble.’ And when you get reversals of direction, like we’re apparently going to get this week, one woman’s ‘rocket shot’ is another woman’s ‘jump.’ And readers often let us know when their thesaurus disagrees with ours.”
Read more here.
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers will hold a conference call Thursday on personal finance stories to write now during the Wall Street turmoil.
The call will be held at noon Eastern Standard Time.
Panelists on the call will be Gail MarksJarvis, the personal finance and markets columnist at the Chicago Tribune; John Wasik, the personal finance columnist for Bloomberg News; and Pamela Yip, the personal finance columnist at the Dallas Morning News.
Marty Steffens, the SABEW chair at the University of Missouri, will moderate the panel.
Those wishing to join the call should dial 1-218-936-7999. You will be prompted for the access code, which is 316748. In order for SABEW to estimate the number of callers, please send an e-mail to SABEW at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To send questions in advance or during the call, please e-mail Steffens at email@example.com.
Jason Salzman writes Saturday in the Rocky Mountain News that the term “right to work”Â shows bias in reporting.
Salzman writes, “Rocky reporter Joanne Kelley told me she and others have been ‘really careful to describe how the laws work and what it all means.’ That’s true. But labels matter, and Kelley and Vuong said I was raising a valid issue.
“Kelley puts ‘right to work’ in quotation marks to ‘signal it’s been dubbed with that label by others.’ Kelley points out that she’s even seen a union use the term.
“So what? The goal should be the pursuit of fairness, and I suggested to Kelley that, to be fairer, she should alternate between using ‘right to work’ and ‘right to work for less’ as descriptions for Amendment 47.
“Overhearing my conversation with Kelley, Rocky business editor Rob Reutemann rejected my suggestion because ‘one is an editorial comment [right to work for less], and one is not [right to work].’
“To me, both ‘right to work’ and ‘right to work for less’ are editorial comments, particularly because ‘right to work’ isn’t even part of the Amendment 47′s actual ballot language.”
Read more here.
Ellen Simon of the Associated Press reports that business journalists are being cautious about using the word “crash” to describe what’s going on in the stock market.
Simon writes, “CNBC host Dylan Ratigan was among those uttering the word on Thursday, calling the decline ‘a cascading crash.’ The Wall Street Journal, the most influential publication in the financial world, hedged somewhat on Friday’s front page, saying the scary drop over the past several days ‘amounts to a slow-motion crash.’
“But not everyone was prepared to go that far.
“The Associated Press did not use the word ‘crash,’ referring to Thursday as a ‘runaway train of a sell-off.’
“‘A car crash is sudden, and this is over eight days,’ said AP Business Editor Hal Ritter. ‘You can argue either way, but it’s better to give readers the important numbers for this week, 1987 and 1929, so they have the perspective to make their own judgments.’
“While The New York Times’ news columns called Thursday’s trading a ‘rout’ in which ‘panicky investors dumped stocks en masse’ in a ‘stomach-churning 90 minutes’ at the end of trading, the paper carefully avoided the word ‘crash,’ saying the 20.8 percent decline over six trading days ‘is similar to the drop in the Dow on Black Monday, Oct. 19, 1987.’ (And that, of course, is a day most people refer to as a crash.)
Read more here.
Randy Dotinga of the North County Times in California writes Wednesday about the public radio business show Marketplace, which has kept its sense of humor when reporting about the current state of the economy and the market.
Dotinga writes, “‘We work at that aspect of the show,’ said Kai Ryssdal, the host of the afternoon version of ‘Marketplace,’ heard locally on KPBS-FM. ‘We try to make it listenable, fun, accessible and entertaining in a lot of ways. That’s a very conscious effort.’
“‘Marketplace’ has been around for about 20 years and now attracts around 9 million listeners a week to its morning, afternoon and weekend shows. While it’s impossible to know for sure until ratings come out in a few months, it seems likely that it may have even more listeners now that the economy is falling apart and people are paying attention.
“‘It’s an incredibly important moment for the economy, for business journalism and for the show,’ said Ryssdal, who’s been the show’s host since 2005. ‘It’s vitally important and essential that people understand (this story).’
“Ryssdal — his father is from Norway, hence the unusual name — said the show purposely stays away from the CNBC-style nitty-gritty of bid-ask ratios, put options and oil inventories.”
Read more here.
Brian Stelter of the New York Times writes Sunday about how business journalists on television have struggled to provide explanations and answers to viewers in the past week about the Wall Street turmoil.
Stelter writes, “Jonathan Wald, the senior vice president for business news at CNBC, said the networkâ€™s priority remains getting information to viewers in real time.
“‘If you see anchors on the set with phones to their ears and computers at the ready, you know it means they are reporting right up until the time the red light goes on,’ he said.
“While collateralized debt obligations are hardly TV-friendly material, the gradually unfolding pace of the crisis was tailor-made for the medium. The Internet is increasingly the medium of choice for stock quotes and market commentary, yet TV still provides a drip of news.
“When Paul DeBettignies, a 38-year-old information technology recruiter in Minneapolis, saw that CNBC was showing live programming the last two Sunday nights â€” at times normally reserved for documentary reruns â€” he knew something ‘had to be wrong.’”
Read more here.Â
RIchard Perez-Pena of the New York Times writes how many business journalists are toning down the words they use when describing the market in the wake of last week’s Wall Street upheaval.
Perez-Pena writes, “So in most of the news, stocks have ‘slid’ and markets ‘gyrated’ but not ‘crashed.’ Companies have ‘tottered’ and ‘struggled’ rather than moved toward failure and bankruptcy.
“‘Weâ€™re very careful not to throw words around like â€˜meltdownâ€™ and â€˜free fall,â€™ â€? said Ali Velshi, senior business correspondent at CNN. ‘If someone wants to say the markets are in free fall, weâ€™ll discuss it first,’ he said, and the outcome is most likely to be a change in wording.
“Marcus W. Brauchli, the new executive editor of The Washington Post, said that covering Wall Street differed from any other industry. ‘When financial institutions are suffering a crisis in faith about themselves, journalists are inherently a little bit more prudent and cautious.’
“This year, the media have been accused of contributing to the collapse of both Bear Stearns and IndyMac, a large California thrift, so journalists are more aware of the risk of stoking fear â€” and the risk of being blamed.”
Read more here.
Paul Tharp of the New York Post writes Friday that a quote used in a New York Times story about Morgan StanleyÂ has now been retracted.
Tharp writes, “The editors of The Times ran an embarrassing note yesterday discrediting one of its most attention-getting stories about the Wall Street crisis: that troubled Morgan Stanley wanted a quick marriage with equally troubled Citigroup to save their respective hides.
“It turns out the sole quote on which the tale was based was never uttered, the editors’ note admitted.
“The original story said Morgan Stanley chief John Mack was talking with Citigroup head Vikram Pandit, when Mack remarked, ‘We need a merger partner, or we’re not going to make it.’
“Both banks emphatically denied the remark, and after an internal probe, so did the paper.”
Read more here.Â