Blah Blah Blah: Business Reporting, Explanatory Journalism, and How to Not Lose Your Reader to Boredom

By Matt Holzapfel

versatility-is-key-the-ability-to-write-long-and-short-about-news-and-people-about-facts-and-experience-and-for-newspapers-or-new-media-is-essential-1

Graphic by Matt Holzapfel (canva.com)

For the average Joe newspaper reader, business reporting and explanatory journalism work likely aren’t the most exciting things to read over a cup of morning coffee. This is exactly why some of the “best and most creative journalism in America”often falls under these categories. Many reporters who have dared to stick their noses into this kind of work possess the innate ability to make even the most painstakingly boring piece come to life. The keys to this process are explained in this chapter of America’s Best Newspaper Writing, and some stories that exemplify this kind of work are featured as well.

“The Life of a Cowboy: Drudgery and Danger” by William E. Blundell; The Wall Street, June 1981

For many people, the “lowdown” on the declining number of true cowboys still left might not come across as the most appealing piece to read. William Blundell, however, blends details and true stories of real life cowboys with language that is still relatable for the common reader. Besides being a very interesting and informative piece on the life of the real-life, non-Hollywood dramatized cowboy, the piece also contains many stories and details about the life of a cowboy that many of Blundell’s readers likely had no idea about prior to reading his work. It’s not all rodeos and cowgirls (that works right?) like you might think.

“Making it Fly: Designing the 757” by Peter Rinearson; The Seattle Times, June 1983

Aside from the humorous title, there isn’t much appealing to most readers about the behind-the-scenes process of testing a Boeing airliner. As long as it takes off and it flies and it lands, people don’t often care to know much else about planes. Peter Rinearson knew that in 1983 when he wrote this piece about the testing and ultimate failure of the Boeing 757 jetliner, so he decided to spice up his story a little bit. Rinearson emphasized the use of simple and clear prose (as seen in the graphic to the right) first and foremost. This is because most people reading this story won’t be experts in airplanes, and therefore need to hear the details in layman’s terms in order to fully receive the piece as Rinearson intended. Secondly, Rinearson noted that his goal during the process of observing the testing of the 757 was to make sure that he understood, so his readers could understand.

“Property Tax Exemptions: Legal but Terribly Unfair” by Michael Gartner; The Daily Tribune, August 1995

Facts. Facts, facts, facts. Michael Gartner loves facts, and for good reason. The simplest bridge between misunderstanding and understanding is a few simple facts. “Blistering logic and passionate style” is how the book puts it. In Gartner’s business report on the immorality of certain properties being tax exempt, he not only explains what buildings and organizations are not being taxed in his area but also what that means for the people of this town. He says things like “should” and “could” and would”. “The property tax on that, (the Elks Club) at the business rate that other restaurants pay, would be $10,087. Would be, but isn’t.” To further relate to his readers, Gartner explains the guidelines for becoming exempted from taxes, possibly to spite the local government and their “unfair” tax policies. “You can have your taxes rolled back if you are in an urban revitalization district and improve your home or building,” writes Gartner. “You can petition to have the taxes on those improvements forgiven for three years or reduced for five to 10 years. It’s the exemption that allowed The Daily Tribune to escape paying taxes – about $3,100 a year – on $100,000 of improvements for three years.” Calling out his own newspaper, bold.

Other Examples of Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism:

Wells Fargo Fires Managers, Denies Bonuses in Account Probe by Laura J Keller; Bloomberg News; February 2017

This may be the most basic form of business reporting, but it does still contain some of the attributes mentioned above, and some new ones that spice it up. There are subheadings that provide readers with a break from the continuous block of text, and a brief explanation as to what went wrong, what it means, why it’s wrong, and what’s being done about it.

Why Walmart is Soaring While Macy’s Flounders by Charisse Jones; USA Today; February 2017

The title of this article actually seems like it might appeal to a large group of readers, especially those who shop at Walmart or Macy’s. Then the first sentence starts with “the latest financial results”, and there it is folks! Most of the audience has likely been lost. They want that technical definition turned in plain English for them, or they may lose interest. Luckily, the entire article does not follow this trend, as Jones related the struggles of Macy’s and the successes of Walmart to customers and even explained what Macy’s is doing to try and get back on their feet.

UPS Tests Show Delivery Drones Still Need Work by Sarah Perez and Lora Kolodny; TechCrunch; February 2017

Finally! A business article about something that people actually want to hear about. Drones are all the rage in this day and age, and authors Perez and Kolodny are likely well aware of this. They take one of the public’s favorite things, getting package deliveries, and blended it with one of the most popular new-age technologies, drones. That’s one way to get and keep a reader’s interest, know your audience.

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