By Jim Pumarlo
Your newsroom has just finished brainstorming on how to beef up its business reporting. The conversation happens to be at the same time your newspaper has a major announcement itself. What better opportunity to signal to your readers a new page in local business reporting.
The headline: “Publisher announces the call for redemption of all its public debt”
The story begins: “XYZ Publishing Co., parent company of the local newspaper, announced the call for redemption of all of its public debt. The company elected to redeem all outstanding notes under its publicly funded indenture, and deposited funds with the trustee to pay off these notes … XYZ Publishing Co. refinanced its debt under more favorable terms …” The company’s CEO adds, “Today demonstrates just how far we have come in proving that there is a sustainable future for our company.”
Say what? The press release may as well have been written in Chinese. It would have just as much meaning for most readers.
This is not the first corporate financial press release that has created more confusion than clarity. Consider these two leads. Again, the companies remain unidentified to protect the guilty:
- “Company A announced today the final results of its previously announced private offers to exchange certain of its outstanding debentures and senior notes (collectively, the “Old Debentures”) for a combination of a new series of the Company’s debentures due 2042 (the “New Debentures”) and cash (the “Exchange Offers”).”
- “Company B announced new software and services designed to help Chief Marketing Officers (CMO), Chief Procurement Officers (CPO) and other key line-of-business executives realize quicker business results by delivering intelligence guided customer experiences, across all digital channels, aligned to the buying and shopping preferences of each individual.”
It’s a good bet that most reports written in this vernacular are immediately deleted from an editor’s e-mail “in box.” That’s unfortunate, because the financial gobbledygook means something – maybe something quite important to your community – if translated into plain English. Reporters do have avenues to do so.
First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask the question. Track down the appropriate contact – whether at a local facility or corporate headquarters – and ask for an interpretation. It’s also an opportunity to develop a pro-active relationship for identifying and reporting the employer’s good and bad news.
Reporters also should become familiar with the Edgar website of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml. All foreign and domestic companies are required to file registration statements, periodic reports, and other forms electronically through EDGAR. Anyone can access and download the information for free.
Lastly, regularly monitor the websites of your major local employers for press releases and shareholders news.
It’s heartening to see newspapers devote resources to regular business coverage. Stories about employers and employees have a big impact on communities. What happens at the workplace might even overshadow a decision of the local city council. Today’s challenging economy warrants even greater attention to business as an everyday beat.
There are a variety of ready-made business stories to pursue, even for those newsrooms with limited resources.
Localize stories that may be found in metro newspaper business sections. Customize state employment figures for your community or region. Report what companies are doing to comply with requirements of the federal health care reform legislation. Profile local companies that have found a niche in the global marketplace.
Go beyond the proclamations. Events such as Manufacturers Week or Small Business Week present opportunities for coverage, but stories must be meaningful. Find a local angle. Are companies challenged to find skilled workers? What’s the local economic impact of in-home businesses? If a community does not have a recognition event, why not organize it yourself?
Use your chamber of commerce as a resource to track important happenings on the local business scene and not simply as an avenue to publish photos of each and every visit by the Red Coat Ambassadors. Then set guidelines for many of the standard stories: new businesses, closed businesses, anniversaries, expansions, businesses offering distinctive services.
The underlying lesson is that any story, no matter its importance, will be of minimal value unless it is easily understood. That’s especially true in business stories that are written at some corporate headquarters. Editors and reporters need to ask the necessary questions to link the story to your communities. The result will be a win-win scenario for the business and your readers.
Jim Pumarlo writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. His newest book is “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage.” He also is author of “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers.”