Robert's Feed
Mar 28, 2011

The scrapple of writing tips

Every hack must sling some hash once in a while. Here are my leftovers. Plenty more to come after this.

Sector.” Avoid it. Same with “bolt-on acquisitions.” Don’t write these things. There is never a good time for them.

Mar 24, 2011

Calling people at home for a story? You heathen!

A public relations person at a well known company told one of my reporter colleagues here that he was stalking board members of a company that he covers. Why? Because he called them at home, and had not told her before what story he was working on. He was supposed to obey company policy and go through her, not call people at home. She suggested that this was not only wrong, it was unethical.

Her email:

It has come to my attention that you are now calling our Board of Directors at home.  As I have said before, our process is that you need to submit your request for an interview through this office.  I have never had an issue before with a Reuters reporter – they have all shown a great level of professional courtesy while at the same time doing their jobs.

Mar 22, 2011

HP, Dell assess Japan earthquake impact

SAN FRANCISCO/BANGALORE (Reuters) – Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is assessing the impact to its business from the disaster that struck Japan earlier this month while rival Dell (DELL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) said it sees no immediate disruption to its supply chain.

None of HP’s offices around Tokyo sustained major structural damage, the computer maker said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It also said that all its employees are safe.

Mar 21, 2011

What we mean when we talk about ‘hustle’

It’s easy to work a wire service job by coming in at your appointed hour, working hard all day long on interpreting poorly written press releases and security filings, and then leaving, not to think again about the grind until you return to it.

But the best reporters bring what Americans often call “hustle,” the idea that you can take the predatory nature of the pool hall shark and combine it with the Protestant work ethic and once you mix it with journalism, gradually get to the point where you break news.

Mar 20, 2011

What I do when I start out and I don’t know anything

1. I read everything that everyone has written about the beat I’m covering. I go back five years. Everything.

2. I write down every name. If the people have enough experience in the business, I’ll check the archives 20 years back to find out what they were saying when I was in college.

Mar 16, 2011

Tepid demand: it’s too hot, please make it tepid

I have come to hate the phrase “tepid demand” in news. It’s not a cliche in the general sense of the English language, though it is one in business journalism. I hate it because we and other news outlets use it all the time.

    Bloomberg: Microsoft Corp will stop introducing new versions of the Zune music and video player because of tepid demand… Dow Jones: Natural-gas futures ended nearly flat Wednesday, settling slightly lower as market participants weighed forecasts for mild weather and tepid demand in the U.S. against the impact of rising global prices for the heating fuel in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis. Mint: The exemption of export duty on iron ore pellets may not be enough to boost production as miners may be deterred by tepid demand in global markets and the high cost of building such plants.

It’s not just our competitors. We love it. If it’s not tepid, we’re not eating it.

Mar 16, 2011

Don’t you know who I am? I’m Bernard Kouchner!

Most editors will tell you that names make news, and there is no doubt that they are correct. They mean that we should not write stories that lack some color, some personality and hopefully some personalities. Don’t confuse that with the more dubious proposition that names are news.

Warren Buffett? Bill Gates? Aung San Suu Kyi? Stick them in the headline, by all means. People generally know, even if they can’t spell “Aung San Suu Kyi” or “Buffett” (Buffet, as many write…)

Mar 15, 2011

“Sluggish” — pour some salt on this word

“Sluggish” is one of the most common words on our news file. Why? Is there no substitute? Can we stop overworking these exploited slugs before they demand a collective bargaining agreement?

March 15

    Borders filed for bankruptcy last month after years of struggling to compete with online book sales and a sluggish response to electronic book readers. Consumer goods giant Unilever <ULVR.L> <UNc.AS> is stepping up new product launches to drive growth as it raises prices to offset commodity cost hikes and struggles with sluggish economies in Europe and North America. Brazil retail volumes rose more than expected in January, underscoring the resilience of domestic demand in Latin America’s biggest economy even as economists worry about sluggish industrial production. Spain’s Telefonica <TEF.MC>, the euro zone’s largest telecoms operator, lost market share in its home mobile and internet markets in January, as customers switched to cheaper rivals in the face of a sluggish economy.

And this was only by the early afternoon on the East Coast. Try total sluggish output for March 14.

Mar 14, 2011

Surge shares soar: the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of business news

If you had to divide the cars in this world into two kinds, you might say you have these: the durable ones that have tough motors, a reliable suspension and absolutely no pretenses toward being pretty the flashy ones that get the dudes and the chicks all hot (for different reasons, sometimes), but need constant maintenance.

So it goes with the words we use in our stories. In the past few years, I’ve read increasing use of the words “surge” and “soar.” Often, they characterize stock movement or the results of operations at various companies:

Mar 13, 2011

Foray melee: retreat, regroup, reassess

Words spread like diseases among journalists. Just  before I left  for India, my copy editor colleague Steve Orlofsky observed a sudden rise in the use of the cliche, “double-edged sword” in stories arriving at our desk in New York. I said that it seems like certain words and phrases suddenly gain currency, begin showing up with a flare, quickly turn limp and overused, and die… until we resurrect them.

I found one breaking out when I arrived in Bangalore, and  it has only shown up more the longer I’ve been here — “foray.”