Linda Austin is the executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. A former business editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, she spent a decade as a top newsroom leader, serving as the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky; executive editor of The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and managing editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. She offers business-story ideas and notes good #bizreads @LindaAustin_
By Linda Austin
on Feb 27, 2014
Reynolds Center Executive Director Linda Austin teaches at a workshop in Fort Worth in 2012.
After five years of leading the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, I’m leaving the center in March and will become project manager of APME’s NewsTrain.
The change fits with a shift in my personal life. I am moving back east, where I am starting an international training consultancy. Stay tuned for details @LindaAustin_.
I have so enjoyed working with you all to improve business coverage. Receiving feedback such as this on a regular basis has been unbelievably gratifying:
- “I’ve always been thrown into beats and stories without any preparation. The Reynolds Center is a godsend.” – Mary Lisa Gavenas, freelancer
- “I regularly check the site for tips and resources – and I always come away knowing so much more.” – Lily Leung, Orange County Register
- “The Reynolds Center transformed me into a better business journalist.”– Brad Kane, Hartford Business Journal
Those kind words are echoed in the annual survey we do of our trainees. Ninety-six percent graded our training as either an A or a B, and 94 percent said they would recommend Reynolds training to a colleague.
Maintaining that record now falls to my top-notch colleagues, who are more than up to the task. Working with them to help other journalists improve their skills is an amazing opportunity. If you or someone you know is interested in the training director position, please apply here. We are also looking for a marketing manager.
I am ever so grateful to the many people who’ve contributed to the center’s success. So a big “thank you” to:
- The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which has generously devoted millions to funding the center since its inception in 2003.
- The more than 20,000 journalists who have attended our training and the thousands who have visited our website or followed us on social media. You’re the reason we exist: to help you cover business better. We really appreciate your taking advantage of our offerings and suggesting how we can improve them.
- Our trainers and bloggers, who are the heart-and-soul of what we do here at the center. We are in your debt for the time, energy and expertise you share with your fellow journalists.
- The many wonderful organizations, universities and media outlets with which we’ve partnered. It takes a village
Mark Horvit of Investigative Reporters and Editors and Linda Austin (rear of class) help attendees of a Reynolds Center workshop before the Native American Journalists Association Conference in Phoenix in 2013.
to raise a profession’s skill set, and we’ve been honored to work with the American Copy Editors Society, Asian American Journalists Association, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, NPR, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), Radio TV Digital News Association, Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Society of Environmental Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, Texas Center for Community Journalism, plus many more groups, media outlets and universities.
- The talented people I have had the privilege of working with at the Reynolds Center. You cannot find folks more committed to improving the quality of business journalism than Kelly Carr, Andrew Leckey, Cassandra Nicholson and Robin J. Phillips.
- My other colleagues at the Cronkite School, from Dean Christopher Callahan on down. They have been unfailingly supportive of the center’s efforts and gladly shared their talents and time.
In this role, I’ve been privileged to get to know so many exceptional journalists. I hope to work with many of you in my new role at NewsTrain, which offers high-quality, low-cost training through regional workshops. What we do as journalists is critical to a democratic society; we owe it to ourselves and our audiences to continually improve our skills.
Ruisha Qian (left), then a University of Missouri student, watches a colleague work at a Reynolds Center workshop on computer-assisted reporting in Indianapolis in 2012. The center has another CAR workshop on July 18, 2013, in Phoenix.
Whether you’re looking for training in investigative business journalism, SEC-document digging or social-media sourcing, the Reynolds Center has you covered with our schedule of free training for fall 2013.
Jump-start your business coverage and your career with online and in-person sessions taught by award-winning journalists and professors.
In addition to our live training, you can find help anytime at BusinessJournalism.org, where we provide free self-guided training, beat basics and daily coverage tips off the news.
REYNOLDS CENTER’S FALL 2013 TRAINING SCHEDULE
Learn in just one hour a day with these free webinars:
And don’t miss these free workshops:
Apply for fellowships for seminars in Phoenix Jan. 2-5:
Try our training at journalism conferences:
- Orlando @NABJ: The Business of Me, July 31, with Twitter’s Mark S. Luckie.
- New York @AAJA: Covering Your Local Economy, Aug. 21, with NPR’s Marilyn Geewax. Just $21.49. Full conference registration not required.
- Boston @ NLGJA: Social Media ROI for Journalists, Aug. 23, with Reynolds Center Digital Director Robin J. Phillips.
- Boston @ NLGJA: The Energy Revolution: Finding Powerful Stories Everywhere, Aug. 23, with NPR’s Marilyn Geewax.
- Anaheim, Calif. @EIJ: The Business of Me, Aug. 24, with Twitter’s Mark S. Luckie. Just $25. Full conference registration not required.
- New York @SABEW: Investigative Business Journalism, Oct. 4, with Loeb Award winner Brian Grow of Reuters.
Don’t see what you need?
To suggest topics for training or host a workshop, please contact Executive Director Linda Austin at 602-496-9187. You can also sign up for biweekly updates on upcoming free training.
ABOUT THE REYNOLDS CENTER
Since 2003, more than 19,000 journalists have learned to cover business better through free training from the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. The center is at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix. It is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, the Reynolds Foundation has committed over $145 million nationwide through its Journalism Program.
By Linda Austin
on Nov 09, 2012
Photo by Flickr user theogeo
Want to help us design an online curriculum leading to a credential in business journalism? The Reynolds Center is emailing a short survey this weekend to recent training registrants.
If you get a survey, we’d really appreciate your taking five minutes to respond.
If you don’t get a survey and would like to receive one, please email LindaAustin@businessjournalism.org.
By Linda Austin
on Jun 11, 2012
Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park in New York City display signs for passers-by on Oct. 15, 2011.
DETROIT – Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson spent last fall in New York City covering Occupy Wall Street. It was a heady time, with hundreds of people occupying a park near Wall Street, carrying signs such as “Eat the Rich!” and demanding more for the 99 percent not among the nation’s wealthiest.
While the tents and chanting crowds are gone, Harkinson still sees good local stories on the economy inspired by Occupy’s message about income inequality.
The former Houston Press writer offered 10 local story ideas on the economy to jump on now at the Reynolds Center’s June 7 workshop on Covering Your Local Economy: It’s Everybody’s Business. It kicked off the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 35th Annual Convention.
His ideas follow:
Handout with links to resources and story examples (PDF) | PowerPoint presentation is also below.
This illustration appeared with Joe O'Sullivan's story in The Pacific Northwest Inlander in Spokane.
- Localize the inequality story. An example of such a story well-grounded in data is “Back to Work: Meet the Region’s Skilled but Undervalued Workers” by Joe O’Sullivan in The Pacific Northwest Inlander, an alt-weekly based in Spokane, Wash. Another such story is “Pulling Apart: The Piedmont Triad’s Rapidly Expanding Income Gap” in YES! Weekly by Jordan Green, based on a Stanford University study on growing segregation by income from 1970 to 2009.
- Tell the story of a besieged middle-class worker in first person. Harkinson used an “as told to” format to tell the story of a harried air-traffic controller. He cautions that you can’t do this format in one interview, but must go back to the interviewee and review edited quotes with him or her.
- Become a wage slave and write it up. Don’t lie on your resume; don’t name the business; and use stats from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, NLRB and OSHA for context, Harkinson advises. This approach, made famous by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, “Nickel and Dimed,” was also used by Mother Jones writer Mac McClelland, who wrote: “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave.”
- Profile squatters and foreclosure defenders. Squatters occupy empty houses, and foreclosure defenders refuse to leave their foreclosed homes. Harkinson’s profile of a group of squatters in New York City provided a narrative to talk about the foreclosure crisis. Take Back the Land, a national squatting-support group, says the number of local groups pursuing the tactic has grown from about 15 last summer to around 75 today.
- Profile your local plutocrat. Look for locals among the ultra-rich by scanning the Forbes lists of the 400 wealthiest Americans and the highest-paid CEOs. Your local tax assessor can also give you the names of the biggest residential taxpayers in the county. Example story: Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece on the Koch brothers, principal owners of Koch Industries Inc.
- Profile businesses that serve billionaires. Examples: executive-protection firms, guard-dog trainers, butlers, bulletproof-car makers, safe-room builders, and high-end restaurants. Example story: New York Times story on $230,000 guard dogs
Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson speaks at the Reynolds Center workshop in Detroit on covering your local economy.
- Profile a wealthy neighborhood. The IRS offers income data by ZIP code. Forbes also has a list of America’s most expensive ZIP codes, and market-research firms, such as Esri, have a wealth of hyperlocal data. Be sure to talk to businesses in the neighborhood, Harkinson advises. That’s how he got the detail that the Beretta gun store in Highland Park, Texas, sells more firearms than any other Beretta outlet in the world.
- Find a local Warren Buffett or other heretic. Investor Warren Buffett, who’s worth $44 billion, doesn’t think he should be taxed at a lower rate than his secretary. To find local rich people who hold similar views, look for those who go against type at protests and seek wealthy people who are involved in political groups such as MoveOn.org or who contribute to liberal politicians. Career changers and recent retirees are often more willing to talk.
- Locate a local hedge-fund landlord. Harkinson found that private-equity groups are taking advantage of depressed housing prices and low mortgage rates to become landlords. To check on how they’re doing, he suggests calling agencies that field renter complaints and checking for lawsuits against the firms. Real estate agents can help you identify the largest players in your market.
- Look into decaying cities as laboratories for innovation. In addition to repurposed buildings, artistic projects and urban gardens, look for alternative economic systems with a bottom-up, community-driven model. Examples: Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
For more ideas on covering your local economy, Marilyn Geewax, who also instructed at the Detroit workshop, will teach a free webinar on Economics 101 one hour a day from June 26-28. You can sign up here.
By Linda Austin
on Mar 16, 2012
What do you think of when you see that number? A nickel? Five fingers?
How about 5-to-4? What comes to mind?
A Supreme Court decision? A baseball score?
What if the number is bigger, say 313? Can you picture that?
How about 313 million, the current population of the United States? How easy is that to visualize?
That’s how Duke University Knight Professor Sarah Cohen made the point that when numbers get very large – or very small — they get harder to picture and understand.
In those situations, one way to help your audience understand numbers is to provide an anchor. Speaking at a session today sponsored by the Reynolds Center at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Conference in Indianapolis, she outlined these possible anchors to give meaning to numbers:
- A standard or goal – Ask yourself, “What would good look like?” For example, what would good GDP growth look like?
- Historical numbers— Is there a golden period to which current numbers can be compared? Perhaps in the economy that might be the late 1950s and early 1960s.
- Portion of whole – For example, at the time of the Million Man March in 1995, a turnout of 1 million black men would have represented 1/12th of all the black men in the country at the time.
- Other places – How do other similar towns or companies compare?
Other tips on numbers in the news from Cohen, who was an economist before becoming a Pulitzer-winning journalist at The Washington Post, included:
- To make a very small number more understandable, divide it into 1. For example, .0081 is the proportion of the U.S. population who die every year. 1/.0081 translates to 1 in every 124 Americans die each year.
- If you have a story filled with numbers – and not people — it needs to be really, really short.
- Unless you’re dealing with really small numbers, decimal points may not be meaningful. “I’m a big fan of rounding,” Cohen said.
- Limit yourself to no more than 12 digits, including dates such as 2012, in a single paragraph.
More resources to make numbers meaningful in your stories:
By Linda Austin
on Mar 08, 2012
Use this checklist when you’ve completed your story, but still have it on your computer screen. After completing checks 1-3, you’ll print out your story and use the printout to complete the rest of the checks. Here’s more on how this checklist was created.
For a printable copy of this checklist with check boxes, click the printer icon in the upper-right corner of this page: Accuracy Checklist for Journalists or download a PDF and print it out.
By Linda Austin
on Mar 08, 2012
This excerpt is from a new checklist for journalists designed to bring the error-reducing advantages of checklists to the newsroom.
Only one-quarter of Americans say news outlets get the facts right, according to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. That’s a new low since 1985, when Pew first asked the question.
Two-thirds say stories are often inaccurate, a new high. This gap is a troublesome one for a democracy that relies on the free flow of accurate information for decision-making.
In my experience as an editor, I found journalists want to get the story right. They know that without credibility, a news organization offers very little of value to its audience or advertisers. And dealing with unhappy people about errors in stories is about the least fun aspect of any journalist’s day.
But sometimes, journalists aren’t quite sure how to check their work. The checklist is a proven way to reduce errors in other fields; it just hasn’t caught on yet in newsrooms, despite some notable efforts at the Detroit Free Press (PDF) and the San Jose Mercury News (scroll down the PDF).
Others, including Craig Silverman and Steve Buttry, have developed accuracy checklists for journalists, and I consulted them as I set out to combine the best of their and others’ ideas into a new accuracy checklist for journalists.
Silverman, author of the Poynter.org “Regret The Error” blog, has written for Columbia Journalism Review about the efficacy of checklists:
“Checklists have been proven to work for pilots, doctors, nurses, and even people
working at a nuclear power station. For example, the use of a World Health
Organization surgical-safety checklist helped reduce inpatient deaths (PDF) following
operations by 40 percent, according to a study published in the New England
Journal of Medicine.
“Checklists also work for journalists. We just don’t use them.”
The San Jose Mercury News found 10 percent fewer errors in a group of its journalists who used a checklist (PDF) for eight months in 1999-2000 compared to a similar group who did not, as part of the American Society of Newspaper (now News) Editors’ credibility project.
Please take the accuracy-checklist challenge, and see whether you get results. Try using my list for a month and see if it saves you from any errors. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please comment below, or email me. Thanks for giving my checklist a test-drive!
By Linda Austin
on Jan 17, 2012
Robin J. Phillips, Web managing editor for BusinessJournalism.org, will be teaching a free Webinar on Feb. 28 called, Getting LinkedIn -- Sourcing through Social Networking.
Jump-start your business coverage and career with free training in business journalism this spring from the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.
Journalists can learn at their desks with the center’s free, live Webinars on topics such as investigating private companies and nonprofits and using LinkedIn to find sources, plus understanding local economic studies, municipal bonds, business editing, financial statements and economics.
The center also has free regional workshops in Lexington, Ky., and Fort Worth on uncovering the best local business stories. It offers free workshops on tracking companies’ influence on politics before the Investigative Reporters and Editors conferences in St. Louis and Boston. And there’s free, hands-on training in computer-assisted reporting before the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Conference in Indianapolis.
Plus, the center provides free self-guided training, beat basics and daily tips off the news at BusinessJournalism.org.
REYNOLDS CENTER SPRING FREE-TRAINING SCHEDULE
Learn in just one hour a day with these free Webinars:
And don’t miss these free workshops:
To suggest topics for training or host a workshop, please contact Executive Director Linda Austin at 602-496-9187. Please sign up for biweekly updates on additional free training.
ABOUT THE REYNOLDS CENTER
Since 2003, more than 10,000 journalists have learned to cover business better through free training from the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. The center is at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. It is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.