Frankie Flack: Help biz reporters understand what they’re writing
Writing business news is unquestionably an increasingly difficult task. Each year its seems that the financial markets become more sophisticated and faster moving as companies become larger and more complex.
It is not an enviable task then to be the lonely reporter, who likely got into journalism due to some aversion to numbers, finance or business in general, to understand what is going on and then put it in terms their readership can understand.
No, this column is not going to be a big love letter to business reporters. The point here is that the complexity of the financial markets and business universe creates a nearly impossible task for many business reporters. I would argue that the decimation of local business sections around the world can be attributed to this fact, among others. Conversely, it has also created many news outlets that do possess the skills to really dive into business news, but the resulting product is mostly unintelligible for the average citizen.
While I think there are serious problems with this structure from a macro-perspective, I am not going to use this column as an outlet to critique something so broad as media’s duty to its readership.
Consider the coverage of Goldman’s aluminum warehouses. Some outlets dove into the nuances of commodities trading, LME rules and market imbalances while others focused on the basic functionality of shipping aluminum. Unfortunately, the best story lies somewhere in between these two approaches.
What the divergence in readership knowledge means that PR people need to be ever conscious of both the background of the reporter and his or her outlet. For example, the beat reporter at Bloomberg News will likely focus on different issues within a company then say the New York Post or even NBC News.
This tends to be a pretty easy issue to navigate, but it can become tricky when a company makes a move so complex that even the most sophisticated journalists need assistance in unpacking the news. In this case, the PR person needs to be shrewd in helping journalists understand the issue and selective in choosing areas to underscore the nuance of key facts.
What I mean by this is that in a fast-moving situation where a good amount of confusion about the basic functionality of the announcement appears, a good PR person should not get bogged down in making sure reporters understand every little nuance involved.
This is something that many executives will insist on, but is often a fruitless effort that only incrementally helps the resulting coverage.
Typically, I will walk through the basics upfront, even if the reporter professes to be an expert in this area. Many times I have found that this exercise of focusing on the simple functionality of the announcement allows both PR and reporter to level-set and makes it much easier to address questions. Additionally, this exercise helps me keep everything straight in my head.
For example, in a litigation issue I would walk through what type of suit was initiated, where it was filed and what the court allows to happen next and then run through the main arguments of the case.
This way many of my answers will likely refer back to something I’ve already said.