Tips from Top Journalists: Roy Peter Clark Talks Money

by April 9, 2015

Roy_peter_clark_2011Roy Peter Clark sees potential in business journalism for career development and new ideas. He would know. His reporting resume and long list of books for writers demonstrates a deep knowledge of how journalism can pull audiences in, and keep them interested.

Clark, known as “America’s Writing Coach,” helps writers hone in on their skills and perfect their craft. He is a senior scholar and vice president at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the founder of the National Writers Workshop and has written multiple books dedicated to teaching writers to use clarity and brevity in their work.

We asked him for some thoughts and tips about covering money stories.

Q: How have you seen business journalism evolve? Where do you see it going in the future?

A: Business journalism has a parallel in sports journalism, I think.  Both have a strong following. Both have talented reporters and writers.  Both are using many more formats than in the past.  Keep your eye out, in particular, for the analysis of data and for examples of data visualization.

[There will be] tons and tons of experimentation. New things created, new things abandoned.  Clearly, the group we once called the “audience” want to play a more active part in telling the story of our lives and times.  If journalism becomes more democratic, in that sense, we will see good results.  A big problem looms:  Who will pay for enterprising journalism in the public interest.  No one knows.

Social media have expanded the number of authors and publishers by about a billion.  I use social networks to tell stories, to develop ideas, to find sources, and to find a wider audience for my work. I love Twitter.  If I could only choose two forms of communication, they would be Twitter and books.  The short and the long of it.

Q: What advice would you offer student journalists looking to report specifically on business?

A: Become more numerate.  Learn how to tell stories.  Read good business journalism wherever you can find it, beginning with the WSJ anthology of page one stories: Floating Off the Page: The Best Stories from The Wall Street Journal’s “Middle Column” (Simon & Schuster).

Q: How would you encourage writers to write a good money story without getting lost in the numbers?

A: Sounds odd, but:  Can I write a money story without using a single number?  If not, then: What is the fewest number of numbers I need?  One? Three?  I learned this from Bill Blundell, an influential writer and editor from the Wall Street Journal.

Q: How can money and business reporters make their articles stronger in terms of readability and interest, instead of just reporting on numbers?

A: Try to get some cute puppies into the story.  Just kidding, sort of.  Except that cute puppy videos get millions of viewers on YouTube.  How can I monetize that interest?

Money is such a motivating factor in life, that it makes sense to keep your eyes on it while reporting and writing many kinds of stories.  So “follow the money” is a good mantra.  Here’s another one:  Who stands to win and who stands to lose?  Say there is a crippling blizzard:  who will make money as result of the storm, who will lose it?