Business and Explanatory Journalism Analysis

By Daniel Temple

September 8, 2008

It takes a special kind of reporter to write business and explanatory journalism. These reporters are often given stories that most would consider “dull” or “uneventful” and yet they transform them into insightful and exhilarating pieces.

At the heart of business and explanatory journalism is one of the most fundamental aspects of reporting; to inform. However it takes great skill for a reporter to adhere to this basic writing principle while still maintaining a certain sense of excitement. They must convey their message to the audience in a manner that is quick and effective while still managing to entertain and amuse.

The stories that are covered range in terms of topic, but they all generally relate back to the issue of business and numbers. Whether it is a business profile or an insightful look into economic lifestyles, the story must be able to communicate monetary or numerically related information.

Often times, efficient reporters will tell their story in the form of a series. This allows them to delve into all the necessary information and statistics without making the entire story too long or drawn out. They will spread the series out over the course of multiple publications, each time building upon the previous article.

1.  Wall Street Journal –

The first example of business reporting comes from an article in The Wall Street Journal, released August 29, 2008. This article talks about the recent movement of urban residents looking for all-glass windows and walls, how the glassy design is often costly and damaging to residence. It goes into the costs of owning and maintaining such a place but does so in a manner that is informative yet interesting. It doesn’t fall over itself with boring statistics but instead establishes the reader with an idea of what it would actually be like to own an all-glass apartment. It references a number of actual glass owners and chronicles the issues that have arisen including sun-bleaching and oven-like heat. A solid article that succeeds in finding the balance between figures and fascinating.


2.  Wall Street Journal-

The next example of business reporting also originates from The Wall Street Journal, released August 24, 2008. This article discusses the rising cost of college living and how, in some cases, it might be economically beneficial to live off campus instead of in a University dormitory. The article starts off by offering an example in which living off campus would indeed be several hundred dollars less than living on campus. It provides several hard estimates for both private and public schools, in a way that readers can relate it to their own lives. What makes this article interesting though is the outlined list of considerations that the author provides for her readers. This really puts her article on a more personal level as it is now less of an economical analysis and more of an advice column.

3.  Washington Post-

This next piece is an example of exemplary explanatory journalism. It was published as a part of a series for the Washington Post on October 2, 1994. The reporter, Leon Dash, actually won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism with this series. One of the reasons for the successes of this piece is the way Dash simply doesn’t throw numbers at the reader. For the first several paragraphs, Dash outlines his topic and source of controversy. He briefly describes the poverty and overall situation that goes with lower-economic urban living. He then fires off a variety of numbers and statistics in bullet-form, in the middle of the article, in order to provide supporting information to his claims. This is outlined very effectively as the reader is able to easily retain the statistics given and thus can recite it to others when discussing the article and/or economic situation. Dash then wraps up his article with a few more points and explanations but still relies on his previously stated statistics to back him up. The reader is allowed to be drawn into a deeply touching yet plausible and approachable story which has a humanly message but a numerical foundation.

4.  Great Falls Tribune-

This next article also won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism. It was written for the Great Falls Tribune and describes the role of alcohol in the life of small Montana community. What is first striking about this article is the way it was designed. After a brief introduction, the author lays his information out as it occurs chronologically. This draws in the reader because it can be seen as a real-time event that is easy to follow along with and understand. Like the Washington Post article, this piece takes its time going into heavy statistics and instead builds up interest with human stories and accounts. It is around the middle of the article that the author begins to employ statistics and numbers to provide a firm foundation for his work. The author then follows this with a few more human accounts and stories in order to maintain the interest of the reader. At the conclusion of the article, the author provides a quick graphic that summarizes the most poignant information that occurred of the course of the day’s account. The work, in its entirety, is well done because it has a solid balance of human interest and cold numbers. It presents the information in a manner that is interesting and relatable and finally it concludes the piece with a table of information that is easy for the reader to retain and take with them.

5.  The Oregonian-

The l This next article chosen was also a Pulitzer Prize winner, written for the Oregonian and published October 18, 1998. This article follows the journey of the french fry and how it impacts different regions of the world economically. Like the Great Falls Tribune article, this piece takes a different approach in conveying its information by tracking the french fry and giving specific details at certain stops for the product. However this article chooses to scatter its statistical and numerical information throughout the work, rather than try and lump it all together. Though some of the information can be a little dry, the article attempts to keep the readers interest by showing how it affects certain communities across the world. At the same time the work is entirely relatable because it revolves around a product that we as Americans consume nearly every day. The author uses the same technique as Peter Rinearson in his article for The Seattle Times in which the reader is rewarded with little “nuggets” of information along the way. The article is an excellent example of taking statistical information, making it relevant and relatable, and then using it to keep the reader moving forward.

While these articles are outstanding in their own right, it must be noted that many of them were intended as part of a series. In order to capture the full scope of the message, one must read the work in its entirety. Nevertheless, these are still 5 examples of effective business and explanatory journalism that demonstrate the key principles and fundamental techniques necessary for quality reporting.

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