Good, interesting business stories are not created by magic. They share certain attributes. Here are some of the key elements in a good business story:
- The topic is of importance to a general audience, either news or a trend.
- It provides clear, accurate numbers without overwhelming the reader or viewer.
- It explains the significance of the story and the numbers.
- It relies on multiple sources, to provide balance and context.
- It showcases human voices (quotes) and it has a human “face.”
- It is factual, without personal opinion or bias
You may have noticed that many of those attributes are the same things that are key elements in just about any news story. That’s not an accident. Business stories are just the same news stories you have been doing throughout your career, only on a different topic and with a little different language.
As with other news stories, there are three basic kinds of business stories:
- News stories contain factual information that is fresh, has not been reported previously, about a topic of wide interest
- Feature stories delve behind the news to find a different angle or an uncovered aspect; sometimes called a human interest story
- An analysis explains the significance of events or trends in more depth, may include predictions and interpretations from experts
Business stories should anticipate readers’ or viewers’ questions and answer them clearly. In the sections ahead, we’ll learn techniques and tools for doing just that. Business stories do not need to be – should not be – dull or complicated.
- First rule: Understand what you’re writing about. Ask and ask again until you’ve got it down.
- Don’t “bluff,” or pretend to know more than you do. That will only get you in deeper trouble.
- Would your mother understand the story?
- How about your grandmother?
Identifying your audience
Your mother or grandmother might be good people to keep in mind as you pursue business stories: Business stories should appeal to the average person, as well as to knowledgeable business people and specialists in various fields – banking, real estate, manufacturing, sales, energy and so forth.
Remember that a banker does not necessarily know the terminology or trends in another field, just as an accountant may not be familiar with terms used by real estate specialists. There are specialty publications in every field – engineering magazines for engineers, medical texts for doctors – but most business stories are written for a general audience, for someone who may be in business or whose only exposure to the business world might be as a consumer.
Defining terms and explaining concepts helps make a business story accessible to all readers and viewers. A good place to get started is the glossary of business terms that is included with this guide, or online services like http://www.investopedia.com/.
Numbers: how much, how many
When asking questions or preparing for an interview, keep readers or viewers in mind. Who is the audience for your story? This will determine what questions you ask, which numbers you need to find and which numbers you will include in the story.
In addition to the five Ws (who, what, where, when and why) of any other news story, a business story must always answer the questions “How much?” and “How many?” But you must use numbers carefully:
- Spread the numbers throughout the story, putting the most important at the top and those less important further down in the body of the story.
- Use graphs or graphics whenever possible to illustrate the numbers and reduce the need to include a lot of numbers in the story.
The foundation of a good business story is a good idea – a news event or topic that matters to readers and viewers.
This post was originally part of an online course by ICFJ Anywhere, which supports journalists worldwide with free training on a range of topics. Courses are offered in a variety of languages including English, Arabic, Persian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish and French. For the latest ICFJ Anywhere course offerings, click here.