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Business reporting and explanatory journalism- America’s Best Newspapers

September 28, 2012

“America’s Best Newspaper Writing” chapter five provides insight into improving explanatory journalism and business reporting. While journalists typically avoid numbers, the incorporation of numerical data provides the report with credibility. Furthermore, the artful use of words provides context and allows the reader to comprehend the significance of the numbers. Although numbers can dry, anecdotes connect the data and adds flavor to the story as well.

Peter Rinearson’s article titled “Making it Fly: Designing the 757,” executes this formula well. Rinearson refers to this technique as gold coins and explains just as gold coins lure a traveler along a trail, “in the same way, readers who are rewarded with interesting nuggets will move down into the story” (121). The reporter captures comical instances, such as the petite gate agent’s demonstration with the heavy door and the flying chickens, that pull the reader through the string of numbers, dates and indications of airplane models. An article published in the Wall Street Journal also explains the meaning behind the numbers strewn throughout the piece. Although the volume of numbers is at first intimidating in “Stocks fall for third day straight,” another WSJ article, Alexandra Scaggs categorizes the data so readers are more comfortable with the material.

Rinearson also effectively uses dialogue between sources to show a conflict and explain the resolution. The analogies also help the reader imagine the construction and argument surrounding the design process. Rinearson quotes H.G. Stoll’s comparison between the proposed airplane model and “taking the front end off a Cadillac and put it on your Datsun” (129). The metaphor allows readers to relate a more familiar object to the one discussed in the article, facilitating understanding. Also, the details concerning the mechanics of the door and structure of the cockpit demonstrates the reporter’s knowledge and cultivates his credibility.

Similarly, Michael Gartner’s editorial, “Property Tax Exemptions: Legal but Terribly Unfair” uses numbers to establish the public’s trust, which is especially important in an editorial when the reporter advocates for a clear position. He explains the value behind each number, transforming the number into a significant fact rather than on obtrusive statistic. He punctuates the lengthier paragraphs with short sentences that stand alone. Gartner also employs the technique of repetition to emphasize his perspective and the flaws with the current property tax system. He acknowledges that he is reiterating himself, which better communicates the intentionality of his repetition rather than sounding redundant.

William E. Blundell also uses repetition to accentuate a theme. In his article “The Life of a Cowboy: Drudgery and Danger,” the relationship between the humans and the cattle and the horses and the cows flows through the entire piece. The theme is used to explain the necessity of the traditional cowboy, but also to indicate the rarity of the once-honored profession. Although most cowboys have upgraded to a more technologically advanced form of transportation, “there is a strange chemistry between horse and cow, a gentling effect,” Blundell write (117). The cowboss, Jim Miller, ridicules those that tried to steer cow with motorcycles, which enhances the journalist’s portrayal of the cowboss while simultaneously illustrating the dwindling industry. Toward the end of the article, another source laments “people and cattle don’t mix,” again suggesting a growing ignorance of the industry and the cowboy profession (120). Like the two other examples, numbers are also prevalent in Blundell’s piece, but he couples the numerical facts with a meticulous account of the punching process and literary language. While the reporter notes the cowboss’ salary, he also captures the “icy anger” in Miller’s blue eyes (120).

Sophia Hollander and Eric Holtaus also provide history and evidence to explain the increasing threats in New York in “Tornado Alley, no, but City gets stormier.”

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