0
Title Slide15 smart questions to ask small businesses
Chris Roush | croush@email.unc.edu
University of Wisconsin - Madison...
Private companies
n  Writing about small and private businesses
can be fascinating because it forces the
reporter to dig ...
Private companies
n  Writing about private companies is a lot
like writing about publics.
n  However, the information ma...
The issues
Private companies
n  Find ways to include private
companies in broader
stories.
n  Private business owners and
executive...
Private companies
n  Many small-business reporters focus on
issues and trends instead of profiling
companies.
n  They’re...
Private companies
n  They’re writing about the struggle of a
small-business owner to hand his
operation over to the next ...
Private companies
n  With each story, the
reporter isn’t writing
about the business, but
is gaining the trust of
the smal...
Private companies
n  Like most businesses, the small and private
companies need to understand the role of
the media.
n  ...
Private companies
n  Some stories are written about small and
private businesses if they’re unique to the
market.
n  The...
Private companies
n  Writing about small and private businesses
can be done to show how they’re changing
and evolving wit...
Profiling the private company
Profiling the private company
n  Private company stories are sometimes too
positive because they don’t include numbers.
n...
Profiling the private company
n  Profiles of small and private businesses,
however, don’t always have to be this way.
n ...
Profiling the private company
n  If things aren’t going well, don’t sugarcoat it.
n  If a particular industry is sufferi...
Profiling the private company
n  The Petersburg Pilot in Alaska focused on the
struggles of local salmon fisheries in its...
Profiling the private company
n  Think of reporting about
small and private
businesses the same way as
stories about larg...
Profiling the private company
n  Think of writing profiles of small and private
businesses as potentially being companies...
Profiling the private company
n  Small and private businesses like for the media to
write stories about them when they’re...
Profiling the private company
n  Reporting about small and private
businesses often requires the journalist
to focus on t...
Profiling the private company
n  If possible, find out where the founder
used to work.
n  Maybe someone there can tell y...
Profiling the private company
n  Many of them are protective of their
business, and want a reporter to
recognize the long...
Profiling the private company
n  One way to get past the
hesitation is to let the
business owner see that
you recognize t...
Questions to ask yourself
n  Whom else should you talk to besides the
business owner to keep it from being a one-
source ...
The 15 Questions
n  15 questions for the small or private business
owner.
n  Many small business owners are wary of ques...
The 15 Questions
2. How did you fund the business? Did the money
come from savings or relatives?
3. How soon after you fir...
The 15 Questions
6. How have you grown
the business? Has it been
through advertising or
customer recommendations?
7. Who i...
The 15 Questions
9. How would you react if a similar business
opened nearby? How could you handle the increased
competitio...
The 15 Questions
12. How are your employees involved in the day-to-
day decision-making for the business?
13. What is your...
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Uncovering Stories in Small Businesses by Chris Roush

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15 Smart Questions to Ask Small Businesses:

Chris Roush, award-winning professor and founding director of the Carolina Business News Initiative at the University of North Carolina, presents 15 questions to ask small businesses throughout your business coverage during the free, full-day workshop, "Finding Your Best Investigative Business Story."

This training event was hosted by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism and the the SPJ Madison Pro Chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sept. 28, 2013.

For more information about free training for business journalists, please visit http://businessjournalism.org.

For more tips on how to develop investigative business journalism stories, please visit http://bit.ly/investigativebiz2013.

Published in: Career, Business, News & Politics
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Transcript of "Uncovering Stories in Small Businesses by Chris Roush"

  1. 1. Title Slide15 smart questions to ask small businesses Chris Roush | croush@email.unc.edu University of Wisconsin - Madison Sept. 28, 2013
  2. 2. Private companies n  Writing about small and private businesses can be fascinating because it forces the reporter to dig deeper into analyzing a company’s situation. n  You can’t rely on Securities and Exchange Commission filings to provide the facts. n  You have to interview competitors, interview customers and clients, assess the market and look for clues as to why a small business is successful – or struggling to make ends meet.
  3. 3. Private companies n  Writing about private companies is a lot like writing about publics. n  However, the information may be harder to find. n  But small and private companies will open up and talk if they are approached in the right way.
  4. 4. The issues
  5. 5. Private companies n  Find ways to include private companies in broader stories. n  Private business owners and executives can be willing to talk about the local and regional economy. n  They also might talk for stories assessing issues such as a shortage of experienced workers or how they’ll be affected by new laws. Photo by flickr user ShortcutsUSA
  6. 6. Private companies n  Many small-business reporters focus on issues and trends instead of profiling companies. n  They’re looking at how these small companies are struggling to make it in the business world. n  They’re writing about the decision to provide health insurance and other benefits to workers, and how the cost of doing so can cripple a small operation.
  7. 7. Private companies n  They’re writing about the struggle of a small-business owner to hand his operation over to the next generation after 40 years of running the company. n  They’re assessing the impact of the new Home Depot in town on the local hardware stores that have been part of the community for a half-century.
  8. 8. Private companies n  With each story, the reporter isn’t writing about the business, but is gaining the trust of the small and private business owner or executive. n  Then, when news specifically about the company merits coverage, they’ll be more likely to open up. Photo by flickr user StripeyAnne
  9. 9. Private companies n  Like most businesses, the small and private companies need to understand the role of the media. n  Many of them will expect to receive glowing or positive coverage, and when they don’t get it, they’ll be mad. n  Some of them may even believe that positive coverage is a quid pro quo in exchange for their advertising.
  10. 10. Private companies n  Some stories are written about small and private businesses if they’re unique to the market. n  The Door County Advocate in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., covered the opening of the first car wash in the county north of Sturgeon Bay. n  But that’s because of its uniqueness – it’s the only car wash for miles. Make it clear that the media outlet decides what’s news.
  11. 11. Private companies n  Writing about small and private businesses can be done to show how they’re changing and evolving with the community. n  The Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, Mo., wrote about the influx of immigrant small-business owners and international workers in its area in a front-page story. n  The story helped explain go its readers why these businesses are opening around town.
  12. 12. Profiling the private company
  13. 13. Profiling the private company n  Private company stories are sometimes too positive because they don’t include numbers. n  These stories may seen innocuous, and they’re often written as flattering, positive stories that tell the story of how a business is thriving or succeeding because of its products or its services. n  Many times, these stories can read like advertorials, copy that the business should have probably paid the newspaper to run.
  14. 14. Profiling the private company n  Profiles of small and private businesses, however, don’t always have to be this way. n  Business reporters fell all over themselves in the 1990s writing about the latest Internet company to go public and make millionaires of its workers. n  Many reporters who write stories about small and private businesses aren’t being as critical as they can be – and should be.
  15. 15. Profiling the private company n  If things aren’t going well, don’t sugarcoat it. n  If a particular industry is suffering, don’t buy the story that one small business in that industry is telling you when he remarks, “We’ve never had a better season.” n  He’s probably lying. Photobyflickruserviczak11
  16. 16. Profiling the private company n  The Petersburg Pilot in Alaska focused on the struggles of local salmon fisheries in its paper. n  The story did not mince words. It began: n  Wave after wave of bad forecasts are rocking Alaskan’s salmon fishery as fisherman and processors scramble for that miracle seasick-curing patch. The amount of fish not returning is not enough to cause this nausea; the price heaved at the independent fisherman, however, leaves them weak- kneed with sea legs.
  17. 17. Profiling the private company n  Think of reporting about small and private businesses the same way as stories about larger businesses. n  They’re just as important to the reader and viewer. n  Because it’s being written about a business that probably hasn’t had much exposure, the piece will probably have more readers wanting to learn about a company they haven’t heard about before. Photo by flickr user John Steven F.
  18. 18. Profiling the private company n  Think of writing profiles of small and private businesses as potentially being companies that might be sold, might go out of business, or go public in the future, putting them in the public’s eye. n  With stories already written about the company, your media outlet will have the background to cover future stories more thoroughly about the company.
  19. 19. Profiling the private company n  Small and private businesses like for the media to write stories about them when they’re new and trying to attract customers. n  But rarely do they want the attention when they’re going out of business. n  Still, these stories can also be important because they might reflect on the broader town or county economy. n  If a store couldn’t make it in the town, what does that say about the future of similar stores in the area?
  20. 20. Profiling the private company n  Reporting about small and private businesses often requires the journalist to focus on the founder of the business or the owner. n  They’re often the ones that control the company. n  Without that interview, though, where do you turn?
  21. 21. Profiling the private company n  If possible, find out where the founder used to work. n  Maybe someone there can tell you about his work habits or his business ideas. n  Maybe he was fired or dismissed from his previous job, or left his previous employer to start a competing business.
  22. 22. Profiling the private company n  Many of them are protective of their business, and want a reporter to recognize the long hours and the tough times that were put in to make the business successful, or at least survive. n  If a business owner is reluctant to give you an interview, understand that they’re leery.
  23. 23. Profiling the private company n  One way to get past the hesitation is to let the business owner see that you recognize the pain that went into building the operation. n  That doesn’t mean your story has to be positive. n  But a good point to make in most profiles of small and private businesses is how they were started and that they have lasted as long as they have. Photo by flickr user Travlr
  24. 24. Questions to ask yourself n  Whom else should you talk to besides the business owner to keep it from being a one- source story? n  How can you add quick context about the industry to a story on a small business? For example, new coffee shop opens in town – what are the overarching issues, concerns in that retail sector that you should ask the business owner about?
  25. 25. The 15 Questions n  15 questions for the small or private business owner. n  Many small business owners are wary of questions from reporters, particularly when they’ve never been interviewed before. These questions will show the owner that you’re genuinely interested in telling readers about his company. 1. Where did you get the idea to start your business? How does your background fit into the company idea?
  26. 26. The 15 Questions 2. How did you fund the business? Did the money come from savings or relatives? 3. How soon after you first opened your doors did your business first make a profit? How did you celebrate? 4. What was the hardest obstacle to overcome in getting the business off the ground? 5. Who do you consider to be your biggest competitor and why?
  27. 27. The 15 Questions 6. How have you grown the business? Has it been through advertising or customer recommendations? 7. Who is your biggest customer? What would you do if you lost that customer? 8. What is your best- selling item? Photo by flickr user John Prolly
  28. 28. The 15 Questions 9. How would you react if a similar business opened nearby? How could you handle the increased competition? 10. How big do you foresee your company becoming in the next five years? In the next 10 years? 11. What would make you sell your business to another company?
  29. 29. The 15 Questions 12. How are your employees involved in the day-to- day decision-making for the business? 13. What is your end game? Do you plan to sell the business, or hand it down to a new generation? 14. Has your financial performance improved or worsened in the past year? Can you give details. 15. What is the one thing that you want people to know about your business?
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