Tag Archives: Writing tips

Struggling with the middle class


Timothy McNulty, the public editor of the Chicago Tribune, writes Friday that the media tends to use the term “middle class” without knowing exactly whom they’re writing about.

Timothy McNultyMcNulty wrote, “I don’t have a good definition, and I am not saying the paper should try to define middle class, but some income numbers are so out of reach for many readers that it is important to be specific about who is being discussed.

“In recent months, for instance, a business columnist suggested middle class refers to people making ‘around’ $100,000.

“But a national desk story out of Dayton, Ohio, described a far different measure: With the demise of so many manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, people were anxious about losing their middle-class jobs that paid $63,500 to $85,000.”

Read more here.

Prediction: WSJ will be a better read


Jack Flack, who writes a blog for Conde Nast Portfolio critiquing the intersection between PR and media, argues that The Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch‘s ownership will become a better read.

Jack FlackFlack wrote, “Jack Flack predicts things will move quickly. Relative to other news organizations, the Journal runs on an editor-driven, team-first/me-second culture that is fully capable of executing a Student-Body-Right any USC tailback would be proud to run behind. Also, Journal staffers, who have long complained of the notoriously grinding ‘thoroughness’ of the editing process, will likely be energized by the coming emphasis on speed and decisiveness, not to mention seeing fewer of their best bits of reporting left on the editing room floor.

“The net effect is that the Journal will indeed become a better read, with juicier, timelier stories that are framed more dramatically. Yes, the editing will not be nearly as conservative, and thus the number of occasional embarrassments will increase, but not to any degree that will sufficiently diminish the paper’s credibility.”

Read more here.

Cavuto: Good business news is like hiding peas in pudding


Fox Business Network made anchor and managing editor Neil Cavuto available to answer questions to the TV Newswer blog, and he answered questions from Alissa Krinsky about how the new network is going after two months on the air, his views on making business news interesting, and his battle with multiple sclerosis.

Here is an excerpt:

Neil CavutoTVNewser: The secret to making business news interesting to the public:

Cavuto: As much as I try to make business news engaging and fun, for some, it will never be that way. I know that, but I won’t stop trying just the same. I refuse to believe business news is a niche service. Overly dry, arcane, pointless business news might be, but it needn’t be. I remember telling a Washington Post reporter that it’s very much like hiding the vegetables in pudding. I have two little boys, neither a fan of vegetables, but when hidden in pudding, they’re unintentionally getting their vegetables and none too worse for the experience.

I guess you could say that’s my approach to business news. I am forever banging my head trying to look at an angle or a relationship others are missing. I demand others I work with to do the same. A favorite line is, ‘what jazzes us might not be what jazzes folks back home.’ Find a way of making sure it does. We owe them at least that much.

Read more here.

Herb Greenberg talks business journalism


Herb Greenberg is senior columnist for MarketWatch and is one of the top business journalists in the country because of his investigative reporting on companies.

His column also appears in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. He joined MarketWatch after six years as senior columnist for TheStreet.com. He previously spent 10 years as a six-day-a-week business columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Before that, he was the New York financial correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, where he covered the food and restaurant industries.

Greenberg talked to Talking Biz News about business journalism and how he does his job. What follows is an edited transcript of that e-mail conversation. 

Q: How did you first get interested in business journalism?

A: Through the back door. It was 1974. I had just graduated from the University of Miami. I took a job at the Boca Raton News, then Knight-Ridder’s smallest paper. They had a business section every Sunday. It was a “chore� that was rotated around the newsroom. When it got to me, shortly after I was hired, I did a story about how baggers at the Publix supermarket chain could rise to managers and make pretty good money. I had fun doing it. Remember, this was the post-Watergate era. Everybody wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein. I looked around the newsroom and realized nobody else wanted to do business. It was simple supply/demand.

Herb GreenbergI became the paper’s first-ever business reporter. We were located in area where many wealthy retirees included a Who’s Who of corporate America. It was also a big convention spot with well-known speakers from business and economics. I started interviewing many of them, including the likes of Lee Iacocca, who lived there (wouldn’t let me use my tape recorder), and then-Treasury Secretary William Simon (nice guy), who I tracked down on a beach. This was a heck of a lot more interesting than covering meetings of the city’s recreation commission. The irony is that when I was a copy boy several years earlier at the late and great Miami News, part of my job called for me to check in with a stock broker every day to write down in pencil the local “over the counter� closing quotes. (Why do I suddenly feel ancient?) After that, I swore the last thing I would ever want to be is a business reporter. Most of what I learned was on the job, ratcheting up the education with multiple job changes – each one putting me out of my comfort zone.

I’ve since covered virtually every industry in most parts of the country. And I’ve been blessed with a series of great editors. However, I like to refer to my days at Crain’s Chicago Business in the early 1980s as the boot camp of my career, with Greg David, then managing editor – now editor of Crain’s New York Business — as the drill instructor from hell. It was an absolutely horrible experience, but also the most valuable. It’s the first place I learned about writing with “tensionâ€? and “forward spin.â€? Somewhere in your career (preferably when you’re young) you need to work for a Greg David.

Q: What’s been the biggest change in business journalism during your career?

A: There was the move of business sections from behind sports. There was the doubling, tripling, even quadrupling of business news staffs, many of which have since been cut by half, a third and a fourth. There was the generally more aggressive approach to business reporting at daily newspapers, which put business reporting on par with political and sports coverage. And there was the rise of competition from all kinds of media, including TV and now blogs.

But for me, hands down, the biggest change (which also happens to be the most important change for serious investors) was Internet access to SEC filings. SEC filings are central to what I do, and there is not a day I’m not on the EDGAR site multiple times reviewing multiple documents. Ease of access, almost overnight, changed how I do my job. We always had access. But those of us not in Washington, or without dedicated reporters at the SEC, had to pay exorbitant prices to have the documents faxed or sent overnight – and then hoping they would be the right ones. I’ll go so far as to say the ability to simply search an SEC filing for certain words and phrases, using a computer’s “find� function, is the single best tool in my arsenal.

Q: You’ve written for daily newspapers and for web sites. How does the business journalism differ?

A: It doesn’t –- at least not the actual act of doing journalism. It’s more a matter of form, and along those lines there are two differences, and they apply to all types of journalism, not just business: You no longer are constrained by space, which means you’re not forced to slice out critical copy, or the kicker, at the last minute because a story is too long to “fit.� And, at least in the earlier days, before newspapers starting wising up, you could be more competitive by not having to wait until the early edition of a paper to actually publish.


BusinessWeek digs up Errol Flynn


Hal Morris, writing on his GrumpyEditor.com blog, wants to know how old the people are writing BusinessWeek after unearthing a reference to 1940s movie star Errol Flynn.

Errol FlynnMorris wrote, “The section, edited by Harry Maurer and Cristina Lindblad, led off with an item headlined ‘Shocker on the Street’ dealing with selection of a new CEO at Merrill Lynch.  The short opened with, ‘Practically everyone assumed Larry Fink was in like Flynn.’

“In like Flynn?

“Grumpy Editor hasn’t heard that phrase in some time.  Once widely used, now it continues into the 21st century.

“Obviously, that item’s writer has much gray hair — or recently watched the History Channel.

“The ‘in like Flynn’ term made the rounds during World War II.  It came out after a February, 1943 Los Angeles trial in which movies’ swashbuckling action hero, actor Errol Flynn — known for his romantic exploits —was acquitted in a statutory rape case involving a teenage girl.”

Read more here.

Wharton to hold seminar for biz journalists in San Francisco


The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania will hold a one-day seminar for business journalists in San Francisco on Jan. 28.

The deadline to apply is Jan. 18.

WhartonThis one-day program will feature Wharton Accounting Professor Mary Ellen Carter, who will the lead sessions on “Fundamentals of Accounting” and “Understanding Financial Statements.”

The Wharton Seminars for Business Journalists, now in their 39th year, offers participants an opportunity to expand their knowledge, increase their exposure to leading experts and broaden their perspectives in a stimulating environment. This program is free of charge and open to a limited number of journalists.

To apply, go here.

WSJ columnist signs $6.75 million book advance


Keith Kelly of The New York Post writes that Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow has signed a $6.75 million book advance with Hyperion to write a book about a terminally ill college professor.

Jeffrey ZaslowKelly wrote, “Pausch, a computer science professor, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is generally regarded as terminal. He’s expected to live just a few more months.

“He became a bit of a celebrity this fall after Zaslow wrote several columns about a moving and upbeat lecture Pausch gave in September. It was part of a ‘Last Lecture’ series taking place at several colleges in which professors impart life lessons to their students as if the lecture were the last they’d ever deliver.

“As part of the deal with Hyperion, there is believed to be some kind of payment to Pausch’s family. The professor is married with three young children.”

Read more here.

Zaslow’s column, “Moving On,” appears in the Personal Journal section and focuses on life transitions — whether losing a loved one, changing jobs, getting married, moving into retirement, or handling success or failure.

At a global operation, words have new meaning Down Under


CNBC reporter Mike Huckman writes Wednesday about a mistake in word usage that caused some hilarity in the business news network’s Australian operations.

Mike HuckmanHuckman wrote, “I was assigned to do what we call the ‘PM cut-ins’. Those are the little news blurbs wrapping up the day’s market activity that CNBC reporters and anchors do for MSNBC and for our sister networks overseas including Europe, Asia, India and Australia. Yesterday, shares of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae got spanked.

“It was a major story. So, being the fan that I am of puns and alliteration I wrote that, ‘Shares of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae took it on the fanny.’ I thought I was being witty and clever. Well, in a way, perhaps. Because when I got back to my desk I found this email in my inbox from the CNBC producer of ‘Squawk Box’ in Sydney:

“‘Just a quick point – which we found absolutely hysterical this morning… but in Australia ‘fannie’ means something completely different to what it does in the US…. So your reference to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae getting hit on the fannie was hilarious… I know it means your backside in America, but in Australia it means a woman’s front side… if you get what I mean? hahaha!’”

Read more here. 

Oil industry book lifted passage from Wikipedia


Noam Cohen of The New York Times writes that a book by George Orwel on the oil industry lifted five paragraphs almsot verbatim from a Wikipedia entry.

Orwel, who has been a senior writer for Oil Daily and Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, declined to talk to The Times.

Black GoldCohen wrote, “Copying from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia produced by tens of thousands of contributors, does not raise the same legal complications as copying from a copyrighted book. According to Mike Godwin, the lead lawyer at the Wikimedia Foundation, under Wikipedia’s license anyone can reprint material found there as long as Wikipedia is given credit and the license itself is reprinted, assuring that the material continues to roam free.

“‘Wiley’s concern is not over copyright trouble,’ Mr. Godwin said. ‘They want to represent their work as scholarly work. Their name is on the line in terms of scholarly ethics, more than the copyright issue.’

“A Wiley spokeswoman said in a statement that the publisher would ‘provide corrections to all future reprints of this book.’ In its statement, Wiley, which is based in Hoboken, N.J., said the passages were ‘inadvertently added by our author to the text without attribution.’”

Read more here.

Sun-Times biz editor send global warming letter to Tribune reporters


Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune writes that Chicago Sun-Times business editor Dan Miller has sent a letter to two reporters at the Tribune urging them to keep an open mind about global warming.

Dan MillerRosenthal wrote, “Efforts to reach Miller by phone and e-mail for comment Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful. Sun-Times Editor in Chief Michael Cooke indicated Thursday that he did not know about the Heartland packages and wanted to talk to Miller, a 2006 Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame inductee. The Nov. 12 letter ‘From the desk of Dan Miller, Business Editor, Chicago Sun-Times,’ does not explicitly urge a stance. But, according to Bob Steele, an ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute for media studies, it’s still problematic.

“‘Independence is still a linchpin principle for the credibility of journalists and journalism,’ Steele said. ‘When we become activists, we at least raise the perception that we are not independent. And if we are activists in the way it appears [Miller] is, then it’s more than just a perception.

“‘He is actively urging a particular examination, and I would suggest a point of view, on a substantive public policy issue. He’s also pitching it in a problematic way to other journalists, using his journalistic connections in doing so.’”

Read more here.