Resources Index

Shorten your ramp as you start a new business beat with tips, background, and pitfalls for covering topics from agriculture to transportation. A model for sharing knowledge in your own newsroom.

Reynolds Center Beat Basics by veteran business journalists

Good business journalists look for anecdotes, or personal stories that drive home a point. The numbers we use help punctuate the anecdote. When I worked at Forbes Magazine, we would spend days trying to find the number or simple, easy-to-explain metric that best described the point we were trying to make. Was the company a rising star or a dog with fleas?

Finding that key metric could make or break the story. A metric might be something as simple as how much American Airlines saved removing an olive from every salad served to passengers. Metrics are simply a measure or yardstick. They come from good, solid reporting.

To help ease your transition, here are a few other tips…:

  • Meet the movers and shakers. Spend some time learning who the industry leaders and laggards are. Is it a mature, slow-growing industry dominated by giants or a fast-growing sector with new faces?
  • Spend some time to learn the language. Every beat has a lingo. You need to be able to speak it. Airlines measure revenue per available seat mile. Banks have net interest income. Retailers report comparable-store sales.
  • Find a mentor. Countless industry insiders, chief executives and journalists helped me establish myself as a business reporter. They taught me the ropes and gave me tips on how to navigate the terrain.
  • Develop a list of go-to experts. These are technical sources such as accountants and tax attorneys who can help you make sense of complex topics.
  • Find the followers. Read what other reporters write. But it is more important you connect with people who provide goods and services to the industry you cover – the suppliers, consultants, analysts, lawyers and investment bankers.
  • Always triple-check your numbers. I once wrote about FedEx’s new package-handling system but overlooked a glaring error. The article stated that packages whiz by at “540 feet per second.” A clever reader caught the mistake and wrote: “By my math that equates to 368 mph. Please explain to me how FedEx keeps the packages from catching fire.”
  • Remind yourself to be patient. Learning a beat takes time. Don’t expect to become an expert overnight.” Source: Covering business: An introduction

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