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.
My editor Ian last week decided that Bangalore bureau reporter Ananthalakshmi would cover the Washington Post Co’s fourth-quarter results. She’s one of the reporters here who covers the for-profit education business, and seeing as the Post’s primary revenue and profit generator is its Kaplan education business, I couldn’t agree more that that was the sensible move. I pointed out that most people know the Post Co for its newspapers, however, particularly The Washington Post. It was that remark that led me to being the other reporter on the story.
That was swell as far as I was concerned. It would be my first reporting byline from Bangalore, which I had been hoping to do at some point during this trip. I also got to work with a reporter who knows her stuff on education, a subject that, though I have edited stories on it before, is not an area of expertise for me.
BANGALORE (Reuters) – The Washington Post Co reported a lower quarterly profit on Wednesday as looming government regulations and lower enrollment hurt its for-profit education business and advertising revenue fell at its flagship newspaper.
The results at The Washington Post and the company’s other papers are hardly new. Few who follow the fortunes of the business expect U.S. newspapers to stage sustained rallies. What soured the market were the results of its Kaplan educational test preparation and for-profit college unit.
You learn all sorts of amazing things when you settle down in the Reuters Bangalore newsroom for a few months. You discover that there are more than 60 reporters here who cover news about U.S., U.K. and Canadian companies. Six more cover commodities news, including those nasty, “inadvertent” releases of poison gases and other mishaps. There are a dozen “filers,” which at newspapers you would call the copy editors. (I’m one of those)
What else? There are editors-in-charge, a bureau chief, a training editor, reporters handling research notes from analyst firms, people who poll economists and release data about what those people think, and people who churn out newsletters for Reuters customers on tight deadlines.
I’m here at home late at night and have no examples at hand, but I can tell you with confidence that there is one great difference between Indian English and American English. Well, there are several, but it’s a little one that dominates my attention: when we choose to use the definite article “the” and the indefinite articles “a” and “an.”
For several years now, I have read stories in the Indian press and stumbled when I expected a “the,” “a” or “an” and didn’t get one. Other times, they have come up when I least expected. I don’t know why this is, though I suspect that linguists from all over the world have studied the situation at one time or another.
Day three in Bangalore and I’m already worried that I’ll accomplish nothing by the time I leave. Rather, I’ll accomplish lots of things, but it won’t be enough. Any newsroom is a world to itself, and the people in it have a million motivations and differences, and when you’re working with all of them, only individual contact and contact in small groups will do if you want to share the stuff you know that might benefit them, whether it’s here or somewhere else down the road.
At least I was able to spot a trend. Monday was about speeding up the copy flow from the reporter to the editor to the public. No, we didn’t solve it, but we spent time on it — that is, I and a small group of other reporters. Tuesday was about unusual obstacles that should have nothing to do with journalism, but which block reporters from doing good journalism. Again, problem not solves, but I did write it down and I’m discovering that I like the idea of dealing with IT people to solve problems that will lead to better journalism.
I arrived for my second day in the Reuters Bangalore bureau and confirmed something that yesterday I only suspected: no matter how many years you spend in journalism, interpreting and explaining the public statements of the companies we cover is a task that demands devotion and muscle.
Part of why I came here was to work on writing. Many Reuters reporters spend their days covering business news, and that means risking absorbing toxic, verbal poisons. The people and companies you cover when you write daily stories about business prefer to make their public statements abstruse and difficult to understand. It lets them fulfill their legal obligation to tell the truth, but in such a fuzzy, ill-defined way, and in such a poorly written way, that they hope the lazy reporter will not bother to simplify their words. The result is a story that says nothing. The result of that is a company that escapes its obligations to be completely honest with the public. The result of that is a less informed public and a poorer world — whether the poor be investors/gamblers or people who have suffered, however minor, from the company’s actions.