America’s Best: Chapter 5, Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

inBusiness Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

While it may not appeal to a wide range of readers, business reporting and explanatory journalism can be some of the most creative pieces in news

William E. Blundell

William E. Blundell is one of the best and most well-known business writers of today. He explains his use of a six-point outline for every story: 1. History, 2. Scope, 3. Central reasons behind the story, 4. Impact, 5. Contrary forces, 6. The future. In his story, “The Life of a Cowboy: Drudgery and Danger,” he follows this outline and the effect shows. His six-point outline helps to drive home the overall theme of the piece, which is especially important to explanatory journalism. In this type of journalism, you must make it clear to the reader why they should care and how your story is about more than just cowboys or business.

Peter Rinearson

Peter Rinearson excels in making technical stories interested to readers who are not technology-minded. He tells his students to use interesting nuggets — almost like a trail of gold coins — to keep readers invested in business or explanatory stories. Rinearson practices this in his piece “Making It Fly: Designing the 757” where he details the creation of the Boeing 757 in a way that draws in readers of all backgrounds. Throughout his reporting process, he asked questions and was always thinking about the reader first, which are two great skills that any young reporter should emulate.

Michael Gartner

Michael Gartner’s writing is “lyrical, clear and meant to be read aloud.” He emphasizes the need for music within the words written on the page. He works in formulas and values repetition, which is important in any genre of journalism. His use of different paces to slow down or speed up his story keeps his readers entertained, which is one of the most important parts of explanatory journalism.

Other examples:

The winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism in 2016, T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of the Marshall Project, excelled at explaining the injustices in rape reporting and investigations. They won the Pulitzer Prize for a series of pieces, but their piece describing the ways rape can better be reported and investigated proves to be an example of great explanatory reporting. It breaks down technical and legal terms in a way that is understandable, relatable and easy to follow. This is especially important with regard to this topic because it is one that affects many people, though too few people have the vocabulary to adequately discuss it.

Tripp Mickle and Valerie Bauerlein wrote a recent article for the Wall Street Journal’s business section titled “Nascar, Once a Cultural Icon, Hits the Skids.” This article is a recent example of business reporting and the two reporters do a good job of making this very technical and potentially boring story into one that feels very personal. Their use of a narrative lead helps to bring in the reader and brings a feeling of nostalgia for this american pastime. The article starts off very narrative and goes on to become more technical and with a greater emphasis on the business descriptions. While not the best example of business writing, it does an exemplary job of describing the failing business of Nascar in an entertaining and personal way.

Finally, Amy Harmon of the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Writing in 2008 for her articles on DNA testing. Harmon added humility to her stories by using narratives from real people. Her collection of work on this topic is a great example of  explanatory journalism because it shows how to make these stories feel personal.



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