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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Making business journalism work for growth

Mamun Rashid writes in Daily Star

Every city or region in the world, no matter how small, teems with interesting business and economic stories that affect the daily lives and pocketbooks of readers and viewers. Yet this news area is often neglected by reporters and editors who tend to concentrate on stories revolving around government, politics and other official institutions. Many journalists might secretly think that business and economics are boring, full of complicated terms and confusing numbers. Journalists can find a gold mine of good stories in business if they know where to look and how to use what they find. In addition, because these stories are so often overlooked, they provide a good way for weekly or small daily newspapers and other media outlets to beat the competition by presenting those stories first.

Headline is important

In many ways, a business and economic story is no different from any other. It must be accurate, thorough, well-researched, balanced and fair and contain multiple sources of information. In business stories, though, some forward looking statement, future prospects of an industry or a company, numbers and specific data are critically important. A story about banking/multinational company's performance over a certain period can reveal a lot of information about foreign banks or the multinationals and their investment curve if the news is properly depicted. The trend of capital increase each year also discloses the company's long-term commitment, hence giving a message to the general readers or the potential investors about the future economic prospects of a country. Even taking views from important people like the regulators or the industry leaders can also make the news more informative and interesting and augment more private sector investment.A business reporter must never hesitate to ask questions about money and spending and to dig for the answers if they're not readily available. Another difference is the angle (approach) that a business reporter takes on a subject. For example, when writing about a new housing development subsidised by the government, the general assignment reporter may be primarily interested in how tenants for the apartments will be selected, how much they will pay in rent and about political and neighborhood support and opposition for the project. But the business reporter may also want to know which contractors have been awarded the construction bids for the project; how much each contract is worth; how many employees will be hired in the construction phase and then later to manage the project; where the capital (money) comes from to fund the project; and how that money will be repaid. Every story, of course, could contain all of these elements. It is the details about numbers and money that often are missing in media stories, and that's where the opportunity comes for those who are interested in pursuing the business angles and take lead.

Reliable sources are essential

A variety of knowledgeable sources are needed for almost all business stories. In most cases, reporters should start at the top and try to interview the key decision-makers. When writing about a company, for example, try to interview the top business executives. It's the top business people who can best describe the firm's business strategy and often they are the only ones who can release certain important information. Reporters who establish themselves as accurate, reliable and fair professionals can win the confidence of top business leaders and will get better stories because of it.The “numbers” people in an organization the chief accountant, chief financial officer or treasurer are other invaluable resources because they can often help explain confusing budgets and other financial statements. In the interests of accuracy and thoroughness, they may be quite willing to cooperate. Business reporters must make every effort to meet and know business leaders in the community and to cultivate the contacts they make in the process of reporting stories. These sources can provide background, tips on developing news stories and perspective on business and economic trends.The people and the corporate culture at organizations: Journalists sometimes think that they have no opportunity to write about people stories because it may not be directly linked to a business report. But doing so they often miss out the important fact that the people working for the company and the corporate culture, affects every business everywhere, and a company always banks on its talents to the same extent as it banks on its customers. Writing about people stories, innovations and trends in business and or corporate culture often tells you how ethically a company is running its business and may also prove invaluable to many readers.

Business Stories

Highlighting the booming or buoyant sectors in an economy is the key to strengthen the country's economy and facilitate growth. Business stories can come from anywhere, but an organised division of subject areas can help reporters and editors ensure that they're keeping an eye on the entire picture. For instance, if we consider. Banking and finance: Banks often are the largest and sometimes the most influential institutions in a community. Readers and viewers should be kept informed about the status of these banks: writing about trends and changes in banking, finance and lending are of utmost interest to readers and viewers. Bankers, while required to maintain confidence about individual clients, can also be good sources of information about other events in the business community, since they usually have a wide circle of acquaintances and knowledge about the local situation.Retail: Every area has myriad retail businesses of all sizes and shapes. These basic businesses drive the local economy's engine. Their success or failure is always a story, and may also tell a lot about how the local economy and local residents are doing. Trend stories those that focus on changes in strategy, types of retail businesses, competition or pricing issues are the foundation of good retail reporting, especially when the reporter is the first to report on a new trend. Hospitality and tourism: In developing countries or regions, tourism is often seen as a potential savior for the economy. Attracting paying visitors can indeed have a big payoff, in terms of attracting revenue, creating jobs and producing taxes. However, business reporters must look critically at such efforts. Merely announcing an effort to attract tourists or tout the advantages of local sites is not enough. These are just a few of the potential areas for local business stories. Others include agriculture, manufacturing, sports and advertising/media, to name just a few.

Avoid the press release

The good business reporter never has to learn about a news story from a press release or press conference. Instead, the reporter strives to be the first with the news, gleaned through regular contracts with a wide variety of sources in the business community. By the time a press release is issued or a press conference is held, the reporter is just one of a pack covering a story. In cases where the public announcement of a new venture or major change is the reporter's first clue about a news story, it is still essential to use multiple sources, to look for competitors and rivals and to look for the labor angle to provide a comprehensive, balanced story that goes well beyond the single-source story.

Global Element to Business Stories

No matter where in the world you live and report, there are multinational corporations, government policies and international treaties that affect you, your community and your readers. The key is finding the information that brings a broader worldview to local business writing, and puts it in a global perspective. It is a mistake to assume that readers in a small city or rural place are not interested in, say, global trade or international agreements. They just need to understand why they care and what, exactly affect them in their daily lives. It is the job of the business writer to tell them, to figure out how to bring these policies, news and information home to the local level and make it understandable to all levels of readers. There are a number of resources and Web sites at your fingertips to help you find a global angle, and this backgrounder is designed to help you find them.

It might be business, but it's still journalism

Being an economics reporter means being a good writer, a good communicator, not just someone who is knowledgeable about the subject matter. So if you want to do what you're doing better, don't spend all your spare time studying heavy economics textbooks - read a good novel instead. Being a good communicator also means we have to be expert journalists, not experts in finance or economics. And we have to keep doing what all journalists do, expertly judging things with the same instincts - Is it new? Is it big? Is it different? Is it interesting? Is it entertaining, even? And why does it matter?And we should approach the information we are given with the same caution and concern: Where did it come from? Does the source of the information have an interest in seeing the story presented in a particular way? Who else can I talk to so that I can confirm that the information is accurate, fair and balanced? Have I spoken to everyone involved in the story, or at least enough people to get a fair cross-section of opinion? Have I asked experts (since I am not the expert) what they think about it? Have I got some good quotes? What is my lead going to be?Creating the wow factor: An economic reporter should always think of creating a `wow' factor in his piece that will lead to an information bank for the readers. You might have been given some information to start with, but you build the rest of it yourself. You begin by asking yourself - or your news editor or colleagues all the questions you can think of that might make the story better, more interesting and easier to understand for your readers. And if there is something you don't understand, don't just put it in your story and hope for the best. Take command of the story and build it from a variety of sources, not just the one that issued the press release or held the press conference.The ultimate aim for any business or economic reporter is to add value for the readers and make journalism work for growth.

The writer is a columnist. This article is the excerpt of a working paper.

A very timely and useful piece of writing by Mr. Rashid. I assume that corporate blogging is a small tiny step towards informal business journalism in Bangladesh. Call it citizen journalism, call it corporate journalism or whatever, but the fact remains that established media has some limitations about what to print about corporates and what not to. Business journalism, thus, is limited to reporting news only, but what about the views and news that eventually make the news that readers read? Why an example of an employee maltreatment will not be a business news too? Its true that if the content remains unedited, unvalidated, unchecked, anybody can defame a target corporate with malicious intents, nevertheless, an equilbrium is always reached where false information is rectified by others in the process.

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