Media Moves

Know the difference between revenue and earnings

April 26, 2017

Posted by Phillip Blanchard

Testy Copy EditorsThe eighth installment in the “Fast and the Furious” had the roads to itself and inched past the $100 million benchmark in the final moments.

Studio estimates say “The Fate of the Furious earned a chart-topping $100.2 million over the holiday weekend. (Associated Press)

Those weekly reports of movie box-office receipts are notable not only for their strained language (“had the roads to itself” – get it?), but also for misreporting the numbers. “The Fate of the Furious” did not “earn” $100.2 million Easter weekend. It grossed that amount, according to those “studio estimates.”

That’s like reporting that Citigroup earned $18.12 billion in the first quarter this year. That was revenue; profit was $4.1 billion that quarter, according to the company’s report to the Securities and Exchange commission.

“The Fate of the Furious” reportedly cost about $250 million to make.  If the reports of a worldwide gross of $532.5 million are accurate, the movie did very nicely indeed on its opening weekend, more than doubling what Universal spent. But it didn’t “earn” $532.5 million as Variety reported.

The Los Angeles Times used to get it wrong, too. But in the past year or so someone pointed out that “gross receipts” does not mean “earnings,” and thus reported “Fate of the Furious” numbers correctly the next week. But it seems that accuracy depends on who is writing the story.

By the way, it’s wholly appropriate to question these widely reported numbers, attributed to studio “estimates.” Someone should look into how the statistics are compiled. That’s not our job; it would require “reporting.”


More on earnings: The Washington Post, back in the Golden Age, often ran earnings reports from the wires when it didn’t have staff stories. Each earnings story was edited locally by the financial copy desk, and checked against the SEC filings.  The desk also conformed to the desk’s sensible style rules like “profit” for “net income,” dropping the largely useless per-share figures, and cutting the pointless expectations of “analysts.”

So, the Post would have edited this excerpt from AP this way:

The nation’s largest bank by assets reported net income profit of $6.45 billion, or $1.65 per share, compared with net income of $5.52 billion, or $1.35 a share from in the first quarter last year. a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected the bank to earn $1.51 a share.

Alas, the Post changed business editors, eliminated the stand-alone daily business section, and dropped the dedicated financial copy desk and assigned its duties to the universal “multiplatform editors.” Copy editors who knew financial news drifted away.


Empty quote of the week: We’re in growth mode now,” said Ed Lozano, authority board member. “We’re in big-dollar capital investment mode. We’re going into uncharted territory on cargo.”  (Allentown, Pa., Morning Call)


Phillip Blanchard is a former business editor at the Washington Post. Previously he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers in upstate New York. He is founder of Testy Copy Editors. Email:

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