Business Journalism Infopool
What does a business journalist cover?
Business journalists look for meaningful subjects that impact business affairs, at both a commercial and individual level. This could mean reporting on sweeping new laws and regulations affecting business people, or routine daily activity on the market exchanges. Any person, place, issue, trend, idea, or event that impacts business interests could be news-worthy. Almost all newspapers, TV, radio stations, and magazines have a business section, but some broadcasts, magazines, newspapers, and websites are devoted exclusively to covering business and financial topics.
How does a business journalist find interesting topics?
The simplest way is to keep track of the hot topics online or from other business sources. Events like corporate mergers, tax issues, or new technology may have implications other journalists didn’t cover. It’s important to know what’s already in the news and to keep up with current business trends and concerns.
Some business journalists will find interesting topics in local news and adapt them to a wider audience. For instance, a local farmer may have filed a lawsuit against the government that could have national significance for agriculture. Many topics reveal themselves in the course of following other news stories. Occasionally stories can be suggested through networking with business people locally or online. This can bring up important issues like fraud or sky-high pricing that merit further investigation. Insiders may be talking about some billionaire’s fantastic plans for the future that the world should know about.
Oher business journalists will specialize in certain areas based on their own skills, knowledge, and experience, such as technology or automotive manufacturing. Established journalists will also likely receive tips or ideas from those with an inspirational personal story to tell or a dark secret to reveal.
What are typical sources for business journalists?
Journalists rely on facts, so it’s crucial that sources of information give accurate accounts of what was done or said. There are many possible sources of information, even for the same story. Reliable sources are those that can be expected to provide verifiable information, while others may not be at all trustworthy. The only way to judge sources is to stick with reliable contacts or verify the accounts yourself.
Some of the most reliable sources are other business journalists. For example, a local newspaper reporter may pass on a story his editor decided not to run to the local TV station. If the reporter is known to be ethical, well-trained, and well-connected, the story can likely be trusted. However, even journalists can make mistakes. They may have missed facts, or misinterpreted the facts they do have. Every business journalist should work out a system for fact-checking.
The best sources are often people involved in the issue. These are also called primary sources. It could be a broker aware of insider trading or a CEO committed to solar energy. These are the people who know the story and the real events from the inside. The broker could expose a network of clandestine negotiations, or the CEO provide bold insights into the economics of climate change.
Often primary sources will reveal important facts or events through written statements, reports, blogs, websites, or journals. These can be excellent sources that are easy to follow and use, but it’s not unusual for people to copy or embellish someone else’s account, or even fabricate facts in pursuit of their own agenda. It’s important that all written sources be fact-checked, and the identity and reliability of the author established.
Occasionally you may come across business documents that may have originated with an employee or official but were never authorized for release to the media. These leaked documents usually come from people who want the public to know what’s happening behind the scenes. They copy or steal the documents and deliver them to the press because they have no authority to do so on their own. Sometimes it’s from a company targeting a rival business. Leaked documents should also be fact-checked. The journalist may also have to think about possible legal suits such as defamation.
These are accounts from people who don’t take part in the central events, but witness or play a small role. These could be sources like police reports or public statements from a spokesman. Secondary sources are essentially someone else’s take on what they’ve seen or heard, and thus basically less reliable hearsay. A business journalist can get important information or insights in this way, but must be cautious, as secondary sources can be very inaccurate.
At times some anonymous person will call or send some piece of information that could develop into a great story. But a business journalist should approach these sources with extreme caution, even when the source’s identity is known. If the information turns out to be wrong, the journalist will be the one to suffer the consequences, including damage to their reputation and career. Any tip-offs should be checked against more reliable sources.
How do you get relevant information?
Developing a good story takes more than a simple fact or piece of information. Verifying facts and uncovering more useful information can be the hardest part of a business journalist’s job. However, there are some resources you can use.
Your own experiences can help to guide you. It’s important to take notes, photos, videos, and anything else you can to have your own personal record of your investigation. Your experiences are affected by your moods, tastes, and past experiences. The same goes for any colleagues, friends, relatives, or witnesses you may have spoken with. Whey you’re stuck, reviewing your records might uncover something you missed or misunderstood the first time around that can suggest a different course of action.
Everywhere people gather to converse, gossip and rumors take shape and begin to spread. There is often some validity to the idea that there’s a kernel of truth behind it. It’s not so unusual for business journalists to spend time at corporate events, trade shows, company lobbies, and even bars and restaurants that staff or employees may frequent. Making conversation and keeping your ears open can uncover some observations that help to develop your research.
It can also be beneficial to look through the local newspapers for the towns where factories, plants, or headquarters are located, or where CEOs or other principle figures live. Articles about new construction, local jobs, auctions, foreclosures, police logs, and so forth could suggest or reinforce broader issues. Constantly asking “why” something was done could lead to deeper understanding of what’s really going on.
While it’s important to remember that nothing on the internet should be considered completely accurate, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s inaccurate, either. Business and finance are very important issues everywhere, and command a lot of attention. With the internet, all of that information is at your fingertips. If a lot of time spent scanning articles about finance or trading is boring to you, you might want to consider another field of journalism.
Understanding where and how to go about looking up public records is an essential part of journalism. Public records involve taxes, property, education, legal partnerships, lawsuits, family, and more. If you’re willing to dig, you can reconstruct a person’s or a company’s entire history. Known facts that don’t match official records are always a subject of interest. Take the time to get familiar with navigating official websites, courts, town halls, and so forth.
The art of the interview is an important skill for every business journalist. It’s perhaps the most basic way of getting answers to your questions. But it can also be both difficult and intimidating, depending on the stature, surroundings, and attitudes of whomever you’re speaking with. There are soft and hard interviews. For example, compare asking a scientist to explain a new ink patent to grilling a foreign head of state about corruption and embezzlement.
Fortunately, interviewing skills can be learned through both training and experience. There are certainly right and wrong ways to approach it. Barking out questions at a public meeting is not interviewing. The search for the truth can require looking at things from different perspectives, or asking the same question in different ways in order to uncover the basic requirements of who, what, where, and how that the interviewee may be reluctant to confide.
As it happens, many journalists approach interviewing as a simple process of asking questions and noting the answers. Others approach interviews with agendas or assumptions and keep pushing if they don’t get the answers they want. It’s important to remember that an interview is always about establishing the facts, and that often takes empathy, emotional control, charm, knowledge, subtlety, and even guile.
Every journalist’s basic mission is to seek the truth and report it. Accusations, falsehoods, and personal vendettas can do a lot of damage both ways. In the history of journalism, dishonest reporting has ended careers, ruined reputations, and led to countless lawsuits. It’s important that business journalists approach their work with sound ethics, always being as fair and accurate as humanly possible.
Every business journalist should be prepared to take responsibility for the story they produce. It’s essential that stories be framed in the right context to avoid misinterpretation, and in a way that minimizes harm to the people involved, including colleagues. Transparency in sources, claims, and data is important to establish accuracy. Journalists are primarily serving the public, so it’s important that they be able to act impartially and independently, without bias or influence from other parties.
How can a business journalist make sure he/she reports in an ethically sound way?
Journalists should always:
- Verify all information, preferably with the original source.
- Remember that deadlines are no excuse for mistakes.
- Make efforts to ensure that nothing is misquoted or misrepresented, either in statement of fact or conclusions.
- Identify sources and update information.
- Avoid making promises.
- Refrain from illicit or deceptive means of gathering information.
- Provide access to evidence if required, and be open to questions or rebuttals.
- Avoid assumptions, prejudice, or stereotyping.
- Never distort facts or withhold contrary information.
- Avoid conflicts of interest, gifts, pay-offs, or other forms of bribery.
Who are the typical readers of business journalism?
The state of business, and industry is an important factor in everyone’s life in our society, either as a habit or in times of concern. It directly affects the economy, jobs, housing, interest rates, international relationships, pharmaceuticals, stock prices, retirement accounts, and virtually every aspect of our lives.
Those who are regular audiences for business reporting are investors, or those with important business connections or interests in banking, economics, labor relations, shipping, manufacturing, marketing, and any of the other aspects of doing business. Millions of people faithfully check stock prices, do online research, or sit down to watch the nightly business news. They tend to be intelligent people with college degrees, high incomes, and ambitions in careers or personal finance.
What is their expectation?
The expectations of the business audience are primarily accurate reporting of useful or interesting information. Of course, there’s a wide degree of latitude as far as interests. Some people may find gold prices endlessly fascinating, while others are only interested in a good scandal or how a billionaire spends his/her money. But all of them expect accurate and timely information.
At the end of 19th and early 20th century, newspapers were full of reports that were sensational more than factual. This became known as “yellow journalism” and often served business or political interests more than they did the public. But the advent of radio, then television, and the anti-establishment watchdogs of the 1970s changed that. Especially now, in the age of the internet, business news is freely available to everyone.
There is competition within the news media itself; a journalist that provides false information becomes the news. Even in the age of video and computers, mistakes are still made. But millions of dollars and jobs could be affected, so honesty and accuracy are paramount. Indeed, it’s almost unforgiveable when those standards aren’t met.
How can a business journalist create ‘value’ for his/her audience?
Every incident of bad reporting reignites the public perception that the media is out of touch, or controlled by corporations or politicians. Too often, bad stock advice or the endorsement of a particular product or company seems to indicate incompetence or bias. Tendencies to hype stories or treat the news as a marketable product don’t help.
The best way to provide value to any audience is to report accurately and impartially on every story. People want to know the real facts, and they want to know how it affects their lives. They want to understand the story in terms of dollars and cents, time frames, and locations.
It’s also important to consider the audience in order to understand what will be of value to them. For example, an audience primarily concerned with healthcare costs won’t find value in a story about tariffs on lumber imports. Stories that make a strong emotional connection are always meaningful, but if there’s little accuracy, there’s little value.
It’s important to remember in terms of career, knowledge, and talents that there are different media involved, such as print, radio, TV, and the internet. Even those can be further subdivided into satellite radio, industry magazines, and so forth. Here are some facts to indicate how audiences interact with different business media:
- A third of Americans check headlines throughout the day.
- The most frequently used sources are television (87 percent), internet (69 percent), radio (65 percent), and print (61 percent).
- Television is considered the most reliable source by 68 percent of the public.
- Almost half (49 percent) of people check other sources for more information on an interesting story.
- Only 23 percent of people read a newspaper regularly – down from 41 percent 10 years ago.
- Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 48 percent in that time.
- Two million people read The Wall Street Journal every day. But another 44 percent visit the online version.
- There are only 20 Fortune 500 companies that engage with audiences on Facebook, but more than 80 percent of small businesses do.
- Social media earned $8.3 billion for business advertisers in 2015 alone.
- People aged 55-65 are more than twice as likely to engage with business content than younger people.
Anyone who has an interest in a business-related topic and can tell a good story could become a business journalist. Many journalists start out as correspondents for a small local paper, or freelancers marketing articles to industry magazines or websites.
For those with the right skills and sufficient dedication, freelance business journalism can be a rewarding and lucrative career, especially if you’re able to build up a good following and reputation with your skills and insights. Freelancers do the work that they love, while remaining independent and able to work or move about as they please. Freelancers might travel the country tracking down details on a big story, or sit right at their home computer researching and writing on familiar topics.
Business journalists can also find many employment opportunities with business reporting agencies, including TV news, radio, websites, magazines, and printed publications. There are still many national and local newspapers that can use a good business journalist. Most TV and radio news programs include business reporting, at both a national network level and for local stations and affiliates. Some journalists may even get a foot in the door as an intern or fact-checker before moving up to bigger stories. For unknowns, keeping a portfolio of your work is a good way to demonstrate your skills.
You don’t have to think in terms of a specific media, however. The line is blurring as technology allows people to research, write, and make online videos all on their own, though this is more entertainment than credible news at this time. Many of the people on TV or radio aren’t journalists at all, but on-air “talent” reading the business stories that others write and produce. Someone whose work normally appears in print might be invited to explain or present a good business story on a TV program. A TV business reporter can do the research on a particular subject and become a best-selling author. A network anchorman may moonlight in a lesser market, such as doing radio spots.
Many successful journalists go on to expand their careers and become authors, publishers, editors, TV anchors, and news directors. If you need help in jump-starting your career, you can turn to helpful career resources online, in magazine, or provided by business journalism schools.
Success at business journalism is not unlike success at business itself. If you can relate to your audience and consistently provide a valuable, quality product, your reputation, your career, and your income will continue to grow.
Business journalists may be covering stories at local, national, and international levels, on an almost infinite number of topics. Some will specialize in a particular economy, industry, or format, such as editorial business blogs or the latest news on emerging computer technologies. Business journalists need to be able to break down complex economics, statistics, and business processes into terms that the average person can understand. Coming up with stories could be as easy as relating the day’s stock market news or result from months of investigation into workplace safety concerns. Because of the immense scope of possible interests, jobs are available in a range of media and informational niches.
However, work in business journalism requires business understanding, and usually a college degree. Business reporting can be complex, fast-paced, and stressful. Tight deadlines, travel, and long hours are common. You must also be ethical and have a strong sense of serving the public good. If you can meet these requirements, and find the prospect exhilarating rather than intimidating, business journalism may be a good fit.
As in most cases, what comes out of your career depends on what you’re willing to put into it. High school or college students intent on a career in business reporting should consider pursuing degrees in journalism with secondary majors in business and economics. Related studies such as psychology or sociology can also help.