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:
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.”
One of the authors of “The Financial Writer’s Stylebook” is University of North Carolina professor Chris Roush. He also runs the website Talking Biz News. I like Chris and have interviewed him for expert comments to add to journalism stories that I have written for Reuters.
I write about all sorts of business words and jargon here, so it’s an appropriate place to say that I plan to subscribe to his fiwords.com website ($12 a year sounds more than reasonable), and I plan to buy the book. There are never too many sources of information to help us make business reporting interesting, and the key to doing that is to understand it ourselves.
One of the books I brought with me to Bangalore is Rene Cappon’s “The Associated Press Guide to News Writing.” This is far from a dry journalism tome. It makes me think more of Lou Reed’s funny-angry monologues on his “Take No Prisoners” live album. Cappon hectors, pillories and scorns from a high throne the banalities and crimes of news writing. Every journalist who reads it will find some offense to Cappon that he or she has committed at some time. After railing about cliches and bad metaphors and similar problems, he abandons the narrative format and offers a “list of words to swear at.” We have used plenty of these here. I in particular see a few that I use. There are more that we like in our business reporting, and I’ll highlight them on this blog. Meanwhile, here’s Rene:
“These cliches are among the dreariest in captivity, in one editor’s opinion anyway. The list is not exhaustive. You may or may not find your favorite here.”
AOL cut more than 900 jobs around the world today — 20 percent of its staff — and India took a pretty tough cut from the axe: 400 jobs, according to several sources, and 300 contractors, according to another source. The nice thing for Reuters is that we have a big bureau in Bangalore, not too far from AOL, and plenty of our people know other people there and were able to get important details about the job cuts.
I coordinated some of the coverage from here since I’m hanging out in the bureau, and was happy when I heard that my colleague Nivedita Bhattacharjee got time to talk with one of the employees who was laid off today. Here is some of what he told her. We agreed to his request for anonymity because he wants to get work again and does not want to disqualify himself from jobs because he spoke to the press.
I reread many books on writing and reporting before I left for Bangalore. I found plenty to underline this time. I’m also sharing some of those thoughts here, not to make any new points, but to underscore old ones. Books like William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” are classics on some campuses, though I learned about it only after graduating from college.
Zinsser wrote these lines in his book. I’ll add some more later. Everybody who writes should heed them.
We recently ran a story in which we asked lots of important people about whether stock exchanges buying other stock exchanges in other countries would inflame nationalist pride. Most of the important people said “no.”
Foreigners swooping in to buy national stock exchanges — those proud centerpieces of capitalism — would surely meet fierce resistance. Right?
Few journalists spurn the opportunity to assail the use of rent-a-quotes, our name for experts and analysts who are almost always available when news breaks to offer a comment. They speak well and concisely. They have learned how to polish their thoughts and deliver them in a way that looks good in a story. The danger that many encounter is that their thoughts transform themselves from polished to glib. They gain an increasing confidence that they can address just about anything. Nothing feels better to a know-it-all than reinventing himself as a pundit. We journalists deride such people, but even as we do that, we’re checking our telephones to see if they’re calling us back.
We can’t live without rent-a-quotes so we try to find the ones who are smart, not facile. The problem that arises after we identify that smaller group is that some begin to fancy themselves the editors of the stories in which they appear. So what do you do when you interview such an expert and he claims that you misquoted him? Even better, what happens when you tell him that you didn’t misquote him, and he says that he might have said what he earlier said he didn’t say… but says he didn’t mean it that way? He demands a correction.
Here’s the Kenneth Cole story that we did in the Bangalore bureau on Monday. We fleshed out the update with an old New York Times column in which the ousted CEO Jill Granoff talked about how wonderful it was to get recruited by Cole, something that I thought delivered some irony to the story of her departure. We also added some good comments from analysts and put together what I thought was a respectable day story. I missed one thing in the first paragraph, however: We made it sound like Kenneth Cole founded the company on an interim basis, when in fact he is taking “the reins” on an interim basis after getting rid of Granoff. Oh well. Next one.
American clothing designer Kenneth Cole surprised investors by taking the reins of the clothing and footwear company he founded on an interim basis, ending CEO Jill Granoff’s nearly three-year run.
Kenneth Cole Productions Inc <KCP.N>, founded by the designer in 1982, also forecast a first-quarter loss on costs related to store closures.
The news of Granoff’s departure and the weak forecast drove the New York-based company’s shares down as much as 13 percent to $12.23 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.
My blog entry on reporting the Washington Post Co’s quarterly results without an outside voice produced a comment from my Reuters colleague and columnist Felix Salmon. That makes me happy because things that interest Felix tend to interest lots of his fans. It also makes me happy because Felix always produces a well considered point of view, regardless of whether I agree.
I wrote about something that happens all the time in business news: A company says something, then the stock moves. Sometimes it moves in the direction you would expect, other times it moves for some other reason. Sometimes it just moves — up, down, or maybe nowhere. We’re supposed to explain why the share price is moving or not moving, and for that we’re supposed to find outside voices who can speak with authority about the company, the line of business it’s in, or other financial topics. It’s such a standard part of daily news reporting that you learn to do it automatically.