Amy Dunkin and Toddi Gutner taught a workshop this morning on financial literacy and reporting.
Dunkin was BusinessWeek’s longtime personal finance editor and now works as director of special projects at the CUNY J-School. Gutner covered personal finance at Forbes and BusinessWeek and is currently a contributing writer at The Wall Street Journal and the Conference Board, an economics and business think tank.
They enlisted two guest speakers – also prolific business reporters – to share some of their financial reporting wisdom with the class.
Chris Farrell is economics correspondent for Marketplace and Marketplace Money, American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio business and personal finance programs, respectively. He is also contributing economics editor for BusinessWeek magazine.
Lewis Braham is a freelancer who has written personal finance stories primarily for BusinessWeek and the web site SmartMoney.com. He has also been published in Fortune and various investment newsletters. He holds an MFA in creative writing from CUNY’s Brooklyn College.
Here, Chris Farrell weighs in on personal finance. Video by Chris Clemens.
After the jump: Tips on how to write a great personal finance story.
- News you can use: Stories offer advice, guidance, explanation, tips, something readers/listeners/viewers can take away to use in their personal lives.
- Topical: There’s a misconception that service journalism is not news. Stories should always be pegged to current events, or offer something newsworthy that will advance the ball. It’s sometimes harder to do than news writing because you keep coming back to the same subjects time and again. But unless you find some new wrinkle or news peg, there’s no point in writing about them.
- Consumerist: This is consumer reporting—has the interests of the consumer in mind. It’s a different point of view than other types of business journalism: the individual vs. the corporate perspective. Always be skeptical of claims and ask the tough questions. You’re the proxy for the reader. If something doesn’t make sense to you, it won’t make sense to your audience.
- Conversational: The writing addresses the audience directly. Stories often (but not always) uses the second person—“You should do this, you will find that.”
- Educational: Not every personal finance story needs to give advice. Sometimes you just want to explain a complex concept or economic event; ie, NPR’s The Giant Pool of Money series on the housing crisis. These are stories that give people ideas.
- About real people: This stuff can get awfully dry if you’re writing about it in theory. Personal anecdotes make the material much more interesting and accessible.