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3 essential qualities for today’s business journalist

November 28, 2016

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Becoming a better business journalist means doing the right research, asking the right questions and having the right contacts. ("Write" image by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay)
Becoming a better business journalist means doing the right research, asking the right questions and having the right contacts. ("Write" image by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay)

If you report on business, you already know that the media industry has changed dramatically and continues to evolve. To stay afloat, you must write well, maintain deadlines and report accurately, but what else helps your work become noticed and sought-after? Here are three essential qualities to thrive as a business journalist.

Dig deep for research

Business reporters must provide solid research and thoughtful analysis. If you’re quoting data, don’t reference the numbers reported in a secondary source such as the Huffington Post or The Wall Street Journal; go to the original source of the study and link to that. If the data you find is more than two years old, reach out to the organization’s media specialist and ask if any fresher numbers exist. You can also supplement the information by surveying several experts and asking them how they’ve seen the numbers change.

Get the most from an interview

To help distinguish your reporting and writing, you need memorable quotes. And yet it’s becoming increasingly tricky for reporters to secure interviews, let alone get their sources to provide candid ideas. These tips and approaches usually work for me:

• Show you’ve done your research before the interview so the source doesn’t feel you’re wasting their time.

• Listen well and in turn continue to ask deeper questions until you get to the substance of the idea.

• Don’t accept a superficial, jargon-y or confusing answer; ask your sources to rephrase what they said until the message becomes crystal clear.

• Avoid starting off with probing questions; ease into them.

• Strive to make the interview more of a conversation than an interrogation.

• Offer some of your own ideas to stimulate a discussion.

Create a strong knowledge network

Finding sources on a tight deadline can be tough. But if you have a strong knowledge network—a broad range of people who can comment on the issues you cover—you’ve already done half the work. To build your network of experts:

• Attend conferences within the sectors that interest you.

• Apply for fellowships so you can meet with other reporters from different regions and countries and share resources.•

• Travel, both domestically and abroad. No quicker way to meet people than getting out there.

• Read well. Store the names of any experts you read (and like) so you have a go-to name when writing on their topic.

• Ask for referrals. Typically, my last question in most interviews becomes, “Who else do you recommend I speak to when reporting on this subject?” Even if you don’t need to interview the person in the end, you’ve gained a referral to a fresh expert for the future.

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