Every business feature needs data, right? Why? Because without the numbers, you can’t substantiate the trend or news you’re writing about, nor can you look reliable and solid to your reader. This blog looks at five reliable places to look for data for your next business story or feature.
Because I’m from a tiny country (New Zealand) the number of nonprofits in the U.S. always amazes me. Whatever my business topic, a nonprofit group (holding compelling data) always exists. For business features with a health focus, I often consult the American Heart Association (which also links to newsy CDC data and other news stories on its homepage). Many of the AHA’s highlighted stories contain a business focus. For instance, last week’s top story concerned the sad trend of soft drink companies targeting poor and developing countries to boost their sales, just as tobacco companies once did. The Reshoring Initiative, a nonprofit working to restore American manufacturing, offers great updates on new factories and which larger operations, like General Electric, are bringing parts of their operations back home. In its media center, the Reshoring Initiative also highlights bigger trends and reports, like the Made in USA Resource Program, which aims to help retailers save $1.1 trillion lost to overstock and out-of-stocks. Because goods are manufactured too far away to respond quickly to changing consumer demand, the only solution, according to RI, is to bring more manufacturing home.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Another first stop: government agencies, particularly the national ones that provide newsy updates and robust data. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection addresses any threat to public health and safety, for instance information and updates on the Zika virus. The CDC also offers an entire database of statistics and data on a range of diseases including smoking, life expectancy and food-borne illness. The data lists may even trigger story ideas that you can localize for your local news organization. Did you know, for instance, that the percentage of breastfeeding mothers supplementing their babies with formula has declined 8% from 2003 to 2008? This insight makes me wonder how formula companies respond? What marketing campaigns exist, if any, and which states are most supportive of nursing mothers? One more tip on government agencies: If you can’t decrypt the graph or data, call or email the press officer. We must interpret (and cite) the numbers correctly.
Ask your experts to estimate most current info
One drawback of CDC data, and any government data, is that the most recent data (though solid and helpful) is often old. To supplement the hard data, often I ask experts to guesstimate most current figures. So, if reporting on the trend of declining formula use, I’d quiz a few lactation consultants at local pediatrician offices to approximate what percentage of new mothers they’ve encountered breastfeed versus supplement with formula (and whether this number has moved in the last few years). I’d also ask an analytical question: To what do you attribute these changes? Better intervention between new mothers and obstetricians? Greater consumer concerns about the benefits of formula? This kind of questioning humanizes the data you’ve gathered from the CDC and offers more depth and insight.
Survey real people
To add extra depth to my reporting, I often supplement my data with anecdotal surveys from lay people tied into the trend I’m reporting on. For instance, if I’m reporting on the ongoing trend of domestic manufacturing, I seek anecdotal data on whether businesses in Raleigh, North Carolina, my nearest hub, are considering reshoring part of their operations. You could also look for surveys companies and consulting groups like the Boston Consulting Group conduct about consumers. For the trend piece on declining use of formula, I’d spend time interviewing a few nursing mothers on their choices, and for descriptive color, I might ask permission to visit a breastfeeding support group.
Of course, you can always search top-tier news publications (Wall Street Journal, Market watch, BBC etc.) looking for other reporting on your topic. I keep a Word document going with any data I find so I can then consult the first and original source of any data.
Photo by Debbi G McCullough during the mkLotus show house West Coast Green expo in San Francisco, Calif. 2007.
Debbi G McCullough runs Hanging Rock Media, an editorial services company, and edits and writes for the Guardian’News & Media Guardian Labs studio. She also teaches business communication part-time at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and is a hobby artist.