Tag Archives: Writing tips
The Chicago Sun-Times handles its stock-picking story unlike any other paper I’ve seen. It doesn’t have readers compete against pros or reporters, and it doesn’t have a dart pick stocks. Instead, it asks its readers to send in their stock picks, and it offers a trip to the reader whose stock goes up the most. There’s no competition except against other readers. There is, however, a monkey picking stocks.
Here are the details: “It’s time to brighten your days by entering the Sun-Times’ Monkey Business stock-picking contest, 2006 edition!
“Send us your favorite stock, and we’ll track it all year. You’ll win the contest if your stock has the greatest price appreciation of all entries during 2006. Winning stocks in past years have gone up 300 or 400 percent.
“This year, we have a new prize to offer. Apple Vacations is writing up a vacation plan that will take our winner away from the cold and snow of next winter.
“Send us a pick of one stock only via e-mail or regular mail. The stock must be listed on a U.S. market and trade for at least $5 a share. This is so nobody can win on a penny stock that goes from a nickel to a quarter.”
Just one question: What if the same stock is picked by two different people? How do you break the tie?
Mary Morgan, 45, who had been business editor at The News since 2000, was named opinion editor at the paper.
Morgan joins Victor Schaffner, the paper’s editorial page editor, Petykiewicz and Laurel Champion, publisher, as members of the paper’s editorial board. The group forms editorial positions for The News.
Mary McDonough, 33, an assistant metro editor, was named interim business editor. She joined The News in 2003.
Read the story in the News here.
I’ve seen plenty of business newspapers and business sections run stock-picking contests where they ask professional analysts or money managers to pick stocks and then gauge the performance against average every-day people or random selections.
But I’m beginning to wonder whether these stories provide any sort of service to readers of business and financial news.
The Wall Street Journal has run one of the longest contests in this genre. In 1988, the newspaper began a regular feature where investment professionals picked stocks and compared their performance against stocks picked by throwing darts. The feature has been wildly successful and copied, and academics have studied its significance.
In the WSJ contest, the experts outperform the darts by a wide margin, but they outperform the broader market by a statistically insignificant spread, noted researchers Allen Atkins and James Sundali in Applied Economics Letters. Another study of the WSJ picks by University of Massachusetts business professor Bing Liang showed that the picks by the professional investors have been â€œindistinguishableâ€? from the dartboard picks 90 percent of the time.
Then there’s this: A dartboard selection of stocks has outperformed selections by WSJ readers, according to this Motley Fool column. The dartboard picks rose 6.3 percent, while the others rose 4.3 percent in the last six months of 2005.
The Motley Fool writer adds: “The bottom line is that these contests are fun — and not much else. It might be interesting, though, to revisit these contests after a longer period, such as five or 10 years. But even that’s not fair, since any human with brains would likely have sold off most poor performers over long periods, instead of just holding on through the end of a contest. In a long-term contest, I suspect that human brains would prevail over darts — perhaps even if the human brains just invested in a simple index fund.”
Seriously, do we as the business journalism community actually think that we have readers who pick stocks based on these selections? I think they’re often interesting reading, but that’s about it. Maybe it’s time to do away with stock picking contests.
Ken Ward Jr., of the Charleston (WV) Gazette had an excellent article last week examining the business ramifications of the mining disaster at Sago and how regulation of the industry has been lax.
Here is an excerpt from his story:
“Over the past 30 years, the number of teams taking part in the once-popular national mine safety contest has dropped by nearly 70 percent, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.
“From 2000 to 2002 alone, the number of MSHA-approved safety teams nationwide dropped by 10 percent.
“By law, every coal mine in the United States must have at least two mine rescue crews. As of 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, there was actually just one rescue team for every four underground coal mines nationwide, according to a computer-assisted analysis of the MSHA data.
“Since at least 1995, the United Mine Workers union repeatedly has warned about the ‘depleted rescue team structure in this country.’
“In a 2002 letter to MSHA, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Deep Mine Safety wrote that the ‘loss of experience’ and ‘lack of readily available’ rescue team members ‘has been dramatic.’
“As rescuers retire, their positions are going unfilled. Smaller coal companies are opting not to have their own teams, and instead contracting out to rescue companies.”
Ward’s story is so damning about the mining industry it’s scary. My bet is this story — and the Gazette’s coverage — wins some awards in a year.
Tomorrow’s business sections are typically some of the smallest of the year. With the market closed today, there’s not a lot going on. Some newspapers have put announcements in today’s paper stating that business news will be found in the back of the sports or metro sections on Tuesdays. Few business reporters probably worked today given the holiday.
Got any strange or unique ways your business section will be used tomorrow? If so, I’d like to know about them. With the Labor Day holiday, a lot of business sections write stories about workers. With the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, there are typically shopping stories to write. But what do you write that’s business-related for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday? I haven’t seen any stories.
That’s the question that Jon Friedman, who writes the media column for MarketWatch, is asking. Michael Eisner, the former CEO of the Disney Co., now has a show on CNBC, the business news network.
Writes Friedman: “I know that CNBC, a General Electric unit, is desperate to woo viewers to primetime — or any time slot, for that matter. It has already shuffled the lineup of its daytime stock market analysts in an effort to look up to date and fresh, well in advance of the likely emergence of the Fox Business Channel sometime in the next year.”
Friedman notes that the last celebrity show on CNBC was with John McEnroe, which had low ratings.
Read Friedman’s entire piece here.
Got to love this small item in the Albany Times-Union this morning that begins with the headline “Realizing the synergy,” that reads:
“One of the joys of being a business reporter is translating the industry jargon into English.
“A recent local software company that describes itself as ‘a leading provider of fulfillment and integration solutions for retailers operating in multi-channel environments’ recently announced a new contract. Couldn’t they have written that the company ‘provides software for retailers that allows them to ship their products cheaper and more efficiently?’
“Another example: a New York health insurance company announced a merger last year.
“The news release said that ‘at least $25 million in pre-tax synergies are expected to be realized in 2006.’
“That’s quite impressive, we’re sure. But in our eyes, dollars are saved, synergies aren’t realized.”
Amen, brother. I was amused in my Business Reporting class last semester how many different ways my students would come up with to explain a company firing or laying off employees. There was “reduction in force” and “temporary displacement” and the ever-nebulous “workforce right-sizing.”
TheDeal.com is a web site that many business journalists look at for information about mergers and acquisition news.
But it also has a regular feature called Media Maneuvers, and on Friday it critiqued a New York Times’ business section profile of Michael Kopper, the former Enron executive who was the first to plead guilty in the accounting scandal.
The Deal’s writer, Yvette Kantrow, didn’t think much of the piece. She wrote: “The Jan. 8 piece clearly has pretensions of providing us with an in-depth personality probe of Kopper, who three years ago became the first Enron Corp. executive to plead guilty and to turn government witness, thereby avoiding jail, at least so far. But at the end of the day, we’re left with a typically Timesian view of the world, where people are best summed up by, for lack of a better word, their class.
“The formula is simple: Take a few choice factoids about a subject’s background – where they grew up, where they went to school, what their parents did – throw in some anonymous quotes sourced to ‘friends,’ add a few facile cliches, or better yet, literary references, and – voila! – instant character portrait, New York Times business section style. For extra panache, run it on a Sunday, when people have more time to savor that Andy Fastow-as-Gatsby reference. Accurate? Not really. But it sure sounds good.”
Read the entire Deal.com piece here.
I’d link to the actual profile by Landon Thomas Jr., but it’s been taken of f the NYT web site. The lead was this: “MOST mornings these days, Michael J. Kopper wakes up early, slips on a pair of khakis and hops into his Nissan sport utility vehicle for the short commute from his duplex in a Houston suburb to his job at Legacy Community Health Services, a community clinic.”
In the wake of the shakeup in the Dow Jones corporate boardroom, Wall Street Journal Online is looking for a new news editor.
Here is how one blogger characterized it: “First the management shakeup, now a call for new blood: experienced but deferential to a fault, and able to squeeze more out of cheaper, greener talentâ€”to be molded in the image of the ‘content managers’ who now run the thing. Masochistic cheepness artist wantedâ€”a ‘news editor’ whose job description contains editing the news only as an afterthought.”
Here is the blog.
Hesseldahl notes that on Tuesday, AP issued a one sentence NewsAlert about Apple beginning to ship computers with Intel chips in them.
Says Hesseldahl: “It’s the first time in my memory that a product announcement by Steve Jobs has caused the AP to send an alert — especially since this development was fully expected. And it says a lot about the intensity of media attention Apple generates. When is the last time a NewsAlert went out based on the words of Michael Dell or Bill Gates? Clearly, the AP’s editors determined this news was important enough to warrant such action.”
He later adds: “When I see Jobs interviewed on TV, he remains so irritatingly on-message, reporters seem almost sorry to do their jobs and change the subject by asking an off-topic question, about his health, or about something unrelated to the message of the day — say concerning the state of relations between his other company Pixar (PIXR ) and Disney (DIS ). He rarely opens up to publicly reflect on his life, which both deepens the mystery and heightens the curiosity.”
Some would say that the Apple coverage today is reminiscent of the coverage of the Internet industry from the 1990s, and we all know where that got business journalism.