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Learn business beat basics with Mark Tatge’s book

June 18, 2010

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When Mark Tatge began teaching business journalism students three years ago at Ohio University, he realized that the book he wanted to teach from wasn’t exactly written yet.

So the veteran business journalist set out to write his own.

Tatge’s ” The New York Times Reader: Business & Economics,” published by CQ Press, highlights top business stories and offers methods for writing about business and the economy.

The book offers key stories from The New York Times, interviews with journalists and practical tips for reporters starting out on the business beat. At nearly 300 pages, the reader is packed with information on topics that range from inflation to jobs and unemployment.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to scan through the book, we’ve got you covered. Tatge shared some of his top tips for reporters new to the business beat or those looking to brush up their skills:

What are some critical skills business journalists must have?

“They need to just have a very basic understanding of how a company runs, from a sales, revenue and profits standpoint. And how do companies make money or lose money? Why? They don’t have to have an accounting degree… but you really need to understand just some of the basics of what operating profit is, what net income is and that would be number one.”

What do you look for in good business stories and how did you choose the stories for the book?

“I picked these stories because they are very good at explanation, they’re very good at analysis, and I don’t mean analysis in a financial sense, but analysis in telling me why this is important, why I should read about this and how this event falls into the larger picture… There are background elements in every story and a lot of explanation that puts this in context.”

Mark Tatge

In today’s economy, what types of business stories need to be written?

“There is so much out there to be writing about right now, it’s like a smorgasbord and you should sample everything. You really have your pick. You have one of the worst downturns in 80 years, since the Great Depression. You have problems in Europe with the Euro. You’ve got businesses that are trying to raise money and expand. There’s everything from a corporate profile to economic stories to the small business entrepreneur stories”

What are the most important elements of business reporting?

“I always stress that business is about people. It’s about write about people and the things people do or they don’t do. It’s not about writing about a building or an object. Business itself is just a corporation and a legal document to be filed with the Secretary of State. We don’t write about corporations, we write about the people who run those corporations. And we don’t write about the economy, we write about how the economy affects people.”

Here are a few more tips from Tatge on covering the business beat:

  • Read as much as you can about business, both business publications and books about business. Look at how things are explained.
  • Find a good resource of financial terms. Tatge recommends Barron’s Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms.
  • Be patient. Beginning business reporting is like learning a foreign language, it takes time.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.
  • Find experts inside and outside of your organization to help translate business terms and practices.

In this video, Tatge talks about teaching business journalism at Ohio University.


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