Tag Archives: Writing tips
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and now the head of ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism operation, says business journalism has improved a lot in the past 25 years, but it could be even better.
“Reporters and editors understand much better the importance of the credit markets and of trade and global finance than we did a generation ago, but the crucial role of credit default swaps in setting up the recent disaster wasn’t picked up soon enough,” said Steiger in an e-mail interview. “Usually when people ask this question, they are asking whether we are sufficiently skeptical, but the level of skepticism tends to be cyclical, peaking after an economic or market collapse.”
Later, Steiger added, “That’s why it is always important for journalists to ask themselves whether the vogue of the moment is overdone, and vogues can lean downward as well as upward. When an economic expansion lasts as long as from 1982 to 2006, it is seductive to see market declines as buying opportunities rather than intimations of mortality.
“Indeed, for most of that period a reader was better served by optimistic coverage than by the opposite. Taking career risks and being deeply invested paid off, for the most part, far better than hunkering down and staying in cash. At the same time, when everyone buys into the same upside story, particularly when it is hard to explain in words of one syllable, that is a great opportunity for journalistic skepticism.”
Steiger alsoÂ said that he believes that the Journal is overall better under News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch’s ownership, reiterating a comment he has made in other media.
“Iâ€™m particularly impressed by Rupertâ€™s willingness to invest large sums in a difficult market to improve both the print and online versions,” said Steiger.
Read the full interview here.
Crain’s New York Business editorial director Greg David writes Sunday about well-known journalist James Brady, who died last week and wrote a column for the business newspaper for 21 years, from 1984 to 2005.
David writes, “Jim always got the biggest response for his columns attacking George W. Bush, a sign of how his liberal views meshed with those of most New Yorkers. I always believed the strength of his column was his unmatched knowledge of 50 years of fashion, media and sports in the city. He gave Crain’s a depth we would have otherwise lacked.
“Now that I have been around New York for a while, I use Jim’s work as a role model for my column, which runs on this page. I define my mission as using what I know about the economy, politics, business and journalism to provide context, inform, prod and even exasperate readers.
“I have also worked very hard over my career to match the seamless, smooth and seemingly effortless prose Jim could create in almost no time at all. I still have quite a ways to go.”
Read more here.
Here is an excerpt:
TA: I like the matter-of-fact tone in this series. You guys called a spade a spade when you found wrongdoing or gross negligence. I think this is part of whatâ€™s been wrong with newspapers in years past, was that when they found stuff they too often made their readers read between the lines.
JD: Weâ€™ve all been beat reporters and done dailies, and you donâ€™t know the answers often. Youâ€™ve got what this guy said and what that guy said and youâ€™ve got to try to balance it. If you spend eight months and looked at 200,000 criminal backgrounds, by the end of it you know the answer. Youâ€™ve presented your findings to everybody whoâ€™s gonna get named and had long, sometimes contentious interviews with them.
My editor is a guy named Mike Sallah. Iâ€™m a much more flowery writer than he is, and he just said â€œNo. Just tell it.â€? Like a sledgehammer. And we fought over that a lot, but I think he was right.
Marketwatch media columnist Jon Friedman named CBS financial correspondent Anthony Mason as the broadcast journalist of the year for his explanatory reporting on the financial crisis.
Friedman writes, “Night after night, Mason took pains to help his viewers understand what was unfolding on Wall Street and in Washington — and, most important, why they should care when a powerful company in New York such as AIG blows up.
“Television news shows thrive on flash and glitz — the car chase, the snapshots of the war, the dramatic speech on the stump by presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain or a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass.
“But economic news, no matter how significant it may be, doesn’t usually rank high on the list of dream stories for a network correspondent. It’s notoriously difficult to present these stories in a colorful way, unless a news show resorts to clichÃ© images like showing a pump at a gas station or people waiting in line at an airport.”
Read more here.
Hal Morris, writing on his Grumpy Editor blog, wishes media outlets would decide on the correct style for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Morris writes, “While the formal name is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a new logo shortens it to Walmart.
“Associated Press, as in a story in Tuesdayâ€™s newspapers reporting that the company is about to add Apple Inc.â€™s iPhone in its stores, uses the hyphenated version: Wal-Mart.
“The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg, New York Times and most media outlets also go for the hyphenated form.
“But with mailed advertising material and on some of the companyâ€™s own advertising pages on the Web, the New York Stock Exchange-listed firm is labeled Walmart* (thatâ€™s with a tiny ‘flower’ at the end).
“Other advertising observed places a ‘flower’ between Wal and Mart, making itÂ Wal*Mart.Â That markÂ also appears between Wal and Mart in bigÂ letters on sides of the company’s long-haul trucks.Â That version also is seenÂ on the opening page of Walmartstores.com.”
Read more here.
Varadarajan writes, “No, Murdoch has not ruined the Journal, as many had feared he would. In fact, in the estimation of not a few, he has already made it a better newspaper. The A-hed, which had acquired an aching mediocrity in the last years of Paul Steigerâ€™s reign as managing editor, is actually readable again–and often pegged to the news (which is no bad thing in a newspaper). Page One of the Journal used to be, arguably, the most smug front page of any newspaper in the world, in that it exercised a pompous right to ignore the news, and to inflict on its readers a species of ‘long-form journalism’ rooted in the belief that size was everything.
“Like Olâ€™ Man River, those ‘leders’ — the in-house name for front-page stories — just kept rolling along, with their anecdotal openings, buried leads and 2,000-word jumps to other pages of the paper. These pieces were often edited by four or five different editors, each making his or her own self-aggrandizing demands and corrections, often with scant respect shown to the hapless reporter whoâ€™d written the darn piece in the first place.
“Let us give Murdoch his due: The Journalâ€™s news stories are now shorter, sharper, newsier and more relevant. The paper is expanding. He is the only press mogul who does not have to butcher his payroll and put reporters on the dole. And yet, people complain, which can only lead one to conclude that there is an ad hominem foundation to many critical evaluations of the Murdoch Journal: To wit, many people simply do not like Rupert Murdoch. In fact, he scares people.”
Read more here.
Hal Morris, writing on his Grumpy Editor blog, notes the preponderance of “buts” in stories about Black Friday shopping.
Morris writes, “Best balance — without a but — was in the Midwest where Grumpy Editor noticed this paragraph by Doug Schorpp in the Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa:
“‘Itâ€™s difficult to get a handle on the effects of the economic slide on Black Friday shopping. Some retailers said they saw only a slight dropoff in the usual hordes. Others said they were as busy as in previous years. Shoppers still waited in lines for hours for stores to open, showing up in big numbers to hunt down sales on the unofficial first day of the holiday shopping season. Many stores opened as early as 4 a.m.’
“The ‘buts’ may not be over.
“Today is Cyber Monday when millions of shoppers with Internet access go online seeking thousands of holiday promotions from retailers.
“Web sales may set a record, but…Â ”
Read more here.
Derek Donovan, the readers’ representative at the Kansas City Star, notes that the paper’s headlines about the stock market all seem to be similar.
Donovan writes, “Just today, you have ‘Dow drops as investors worry’ on A-1 and ‘Investorsâ€™ anxiety fuels dips’ on C-1. Yesterday saw ‘Disappointing earnings outlooks fuel dip; But analysts say investor anxiety appears to have lessened, although volatility remains.’ One on Oct. 3 worked two of theÂ buzzwords in: ‘Stocks plunge as economic anxiety keeps rising; Investors worry that the government’s financial rescue plan won’t ward off a recession.’
“As I’ve said many times before, it’s pretty easy to take potshots at headlines.Â They’re extremely difficult to write.Â The editor has to sum up the story accurately and succinctly, and it has to fit in the space allotted on the page.
“And, well, a lot of financial news has been pretty similar of late, too.Â But I still agree that The Star should look for some more variety in reporting what’s going on in the markets.”
Read more here.
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.”