And as what is arguably the most important money event of the year is about to hit, the business press as a whole is likely to do it again.
The nut graph: That’s the paragraph where you tell people why the story is important. It’s a standard piece of journalistic writing and as rule rides high in a story, so people will know what they’re reading is important. In radio and TV it’s a reference early in the segment, since you want folks to pay attention.
It’s where you tell readers that the Fed’s rate decision will affect mortgages and loans throughout the world. Or it’s where you point out a multi-billion dollar merger will lessen competition and affect prices for consumers. Basically, it’s where you flag WHY READERS SHOULD CARE.
Problem 1: A lot of times, particularly for outfits covering business nuts and bolts day in and day out, the nut graph is left out (or in broadcast, unmentioned). This may be an in-the-weeds oversight from covering the subject continuously. Or it may be on purpose: Why “dumb down” the story when the audience is well aware of the obvious importance?
Problem 2: When the nut graph is put in, it often lacks inspiration and connection. The reporter has a nut-graph boilerplate she uses for all Fed stories. She knows it will satisfy the editor and let her move on the guts of what/why in the story.
It’s routine, like a runner tagging up in baseball.
If reporting is going to be routine, we may as well let machines do it.
Irony: A common complaint of those in the business journalism racket is that the audience should be bigger. We’re writing about money! The connective tissue of society! All things and all people are touched by money…people should pay attention!
Yet when it comes to business stories the nut graph –THE place to connect with the reader – it’s often left out or a routine write-off.
Typical example …
“The Fed decision lies at the heart of mortgages and bank loans throughout the country.” Yawn.
Indeed, it’s the general news outfits that often do a better job pointing out why a business story is important to their audience.
From a general newspaper…
“The Fed’s decision affects anyone who has a home mortgage, a car loan, a savings account, or money invested in the stock market.”
Sure, if you’re writing a forex report for a wire service that is read strictly by traders, you may not want to detail the wide-ranging impact of Fed policy. They know.
But these are the days of search and social, where readers likely haven’t come through a home page screaming “This is Business News.” It may be that when they decided to look up the latest on “home loans” Google decided to give them your story or video.
Indeed when the Fed finally makes its move on interest rates (the money story of the year), many folks who don’t normally follow the twists and turns of yield curves and Fed policy are likely to encounter news on it anyway.
So you don’t know if your story will end up in front of someone familiar with the business world or not. Burnish your nut graph.
Allen Wastler is the former managing editor of CNBC.com and the former managing editor of CNNMoney.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.