Designing Assignments to Build Financial Journalism Skills by Pam Luecke


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Pam Luecke presents "Designing Assignments to Build Financial-Journalism Skills" during Reynolds Business Journalism Week 2013.

Reynolds Business Journalism Week is an all-expenses-paid seminar for journalists looking to enhance their business coverage, and professors looking to enhance or create business journalism courses.

For more information about business journalism training, please visit

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Designing Assignments to Build Financial Journalism Skills by Pam Luecke

  1. 1. Designing AssignmentsTo Build Financial-Journalism Skills REYNOLDS BUSINESS JOURNALISM WEEK ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY JANUARY 2013
  2. 2. Goals:—  How to teach business journalism in a town of any size—  How to get 20-year-olds to care about business—  How to demystify business and economics—  How to get beyond basic speech/press conference stories—  How to have a little fun in class
  3. 3. 12 ACEJMC skills and competenciesBusiness journalism assignments can address many of these!1.  demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications;2.  demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of peoples and cultures and of the significance and impact of mass communications in a global society;3.  demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity;4.  think critically, creatively and independently;5.  write correctly and clearly in forms and styles appropriate for the communications professions, audiences and purposes they serve;6.  apply basic numerical and statistical concepts;
  4. 4. 1. History and role of professions—  Magazine Tracking ¡  Assign each student a different publication to follow for the term ¡  In addition to content, have students report on ownership, audited circulation, online strategies, internship possibilities ¡  Have students follow one of the publication’s reporters on Twitter, as well ¡  Require oral presentation, one-page fact sheet and “memo to an executive” ¡  Arrange presentations chronologically, beginning with “The Economist”
  5. 5. Variations—  Have class complete market analysis after presentations ¡  Propose a NEW business magazine to fill an unfilled niche ¡  Which magazine will be next to fold?—  Substitute business television shows and websites ¡  Have students show representative segments
  6. 6. Variations, continued—  Follow economists’ blogs ¡ list: ÷ economics_blogs.htm ¡  WSJ top 25: ÷ ¡  Keep your own class blog ÷
  7. 7. Skills learned—  Media history—  Media economics—  Business-communication skills—  Oral-presentation skills ¡  Use peer-feedback sheets
  8. 8. 2. Diversity and global society—  “Working” assignment ¡  Discuss Studs Terkel’s 1974 book: ÷  Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. ¡  Play excerpts from interviews with him ¡  Ask each student to identify a person outside of the university orbit to interview about how he or she feels about work ¡  Record interview ¡  Turn in unedited AND edited transcript ¡  Discuss in class – have each read an excerpt—  Post their edited transcripts: ¡  W&L website
  9. 9. Resources for “Working”}  NPR story about Terkel’s tapes }}  Terkel Interview }}  New York Times “American Album” }}  Marketplace }  “Day in a Worklife”}  TV shows/ Movies: }  Undercover Boss, The Office
  10. 10. Variations—  Encourage video interviews, audio clips—  Require photos of interview subjects—  Allow students to work in pairs—  Put more limitations on choices to drive home particular learning objectives: ¡  Hourly workers ¡  Racial diversity ¡  Manufacturing jobs ¡  Older workers ¡  Laid-off workers
  11. 11. Skills learned—  Interviewing techniques—  Oral history techniques—  Listening skills—  Gets students outside of comfort zones—  Grass-roots perspective on business community
  12. 12. Tips—  Assignment is more complicated than it seems.—  Be explicit about grading criteria. ¡  Selection of interview subject ¡  Ability to draw out person on the topic ¡  Skill at editing the transcript—  Ask students to come up with story ideas from the interviews.
  13. 13. 3. Professional ethics}  Plan One }  Give students names of business journalists to research, e.g.: }  R. Foster Winans }  Lou Dobbs }  Dan Dorfman }  Chris Nolan (San Jose Mercury-News) }  Chiquita stories, Cincinnati Enquirer }  Chrystal Cox (Oregon blogger) }  Give an oral and/or written report that: }  Describes fully the circumstances that led to the ethical problem and what the person did. }  Describes what happened to the journalist as an immediate result of his actions. }  Describes what the key ethical principles were in this case and whether you agree with how it was handled. }  Updates us on where the person is now. }  Discusses the implications (if any) this case has for business journalists today.
  14. 14. Professional Ethics—  Plan Two ¡  Distribute SABEW ethics code. ¡  Develop real-life ethical scenarios and pose them to individual students or teams. ¡  Examples: ÷  Flowers from a source ÷  Dating a source ÷  Acting on a stock tip ÷  Bloggers and product reviews ÷  Who pays for lunch ÷  Free airplane trip/tickets/samples ÷  Requests to change article posted online ÷  Investing in stocks of local companies, sector funds, etc.
  15. 15. Professional Ethics—  Plan Three ¡  Role of the financial press in the economic cycle ÷  “What is Financial Journalism for - Ethics and Responsibility in a Time of Crisis and Change,” Professor Damian Tambini, UK ¡  Federal Reserve article: “Consumer Sentiment and the Media?” ÷ el2004-29.html ¡  Telegraph column: ÷ 4109557/Media-is-partly-to-blame-for-the-recession.html
  16. 16. 4. Think critically—  Enron ¡  Have students watch DVD of “Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room” (or, heaven forbid, read the book!) ¡  Write essay arguing a point of view: ÷  Focus on transgressions of one “culprit” ÷  Was this a “perfect storm”? ÷  Compare/contrast with fall 2008 meltdown ÷  Role of the press ¡  Devote a class to discussion
  17. 17. Other meaty movies—  “The Insider” ¡  Role of a watchdog ¡  Can link to discussion of “whistleblowers” as sources—  “Wall Street” and “Wall Street II” ¡  First one is dated, but a classic ¡  Debate “greed is good” and business ethics ¡  Changes in technology and the role of the press—  “Social Network” ¡  Business strategy—  2008-09 Meltdown: “Margin Call,” “Too Big to Fail”
  18. 18. Other meaty books—  “The Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy,” Pietra Rivoli ¡  Good introduction to globalization and trade ¡  Aimed at college students—  “Nickeled and Dimed,” Barbara Ehrenreich ¡  Insights into issues of wages, benefits, Wal-Mart—  “The Selling of the American Dream,” Micheline Maynard—  “Boomerang,” Michael Lewis ¡  Global dimensions of recent financial crisis
  19. 19. 5. Write clearly and professionally—  Final journalistic story ¡  Major story on a public company with ties to your community ¡  Expect students to use all skills covered during the term ¡  Teach the process. ¡  Describe assignment early in term. ¡  Require story pitches and likely source list ¡  Require a story conference with you ¡  Ask for a second, more developed story proposal ¡  First draft – graded! ¡  Peer editing of drafts ¡  Final draft
  20. 20. Variations—  Spend a class or two on story organization—  Devote a class to students’ oral descriptions of story focus and reporting obstacles—  Have entire class do final story on the same company: ¡  Collaborators on key interviews ¡  Competitors on final stories ¡  Grade on originality of angle
  21. 21. Topics from 2008-2012—  Restaurants: calorie-consciousness, green movement, Obamacare—  Mohawk Carpet, Ford—  Retailers ¡  Wal-Mart, Peebles, Dollar Tree, Lowe’s, Kroger, Food Lion ¡  Distribution: Target, JCrew ¡  Blockbuster, GameStop, RedBox—  Advance Auto Parts: online strategy—  Weight Watchers—  nTelos (small regional telecom); Rosetta Stone
  22. 22. 6. Apply numerical concepts—  Deadline earnings exercise ¡  Go to Yahoo Finance calendar for earnings or conference calls ÷ ¡  Pick a company you’ve heard of that is releasing earnings at a convenient time AND having a conference call ¡  Give students the company’s press release ¡  Require a cogent story in 55 minutes that includes comment from the CEO’s conference call
  23. 23. Variations—  Play conference call in class—  Let students do exercise as a take-home—  Give them a choice of companies—  Have deadline competition for BlackBerry “alert”—  Note: A controlled earnings exercise in advance in advisable
  24. 24. 7. Other assignmentsa)  SEC scavenger huntb)  Holiday retail round-upc)  Humanizing an economic indicatord)  Profile of Fed chairmane)  Closet survey
  25. 25. a) SEC Scavenger Hunt—  Pick a company of local interest—  Go through SEC filings from last 2 years (or more!) and look for small nuggets of information—  Craft 20 or so questions to which they must find answers—  Require citations of document number and date—  Discuss in class
  26. 26. Key skills—  Comfort getting around—  Appreciation for value of primary sources—  Better understanding of the purpose of various filings—  Underscores the value of public documents to locate incidental information – e.g. a board member’s age, who a company views as its competitors, which other boards an executive serves on – and, of course, executive compensation
  27. 27. b) Holiday retail round-up—  Divide local retail community into categories, e.g. Toys, specialty clothing, discount stores, electronics ¡ —  Assign or let students pick a store from each category—  Ask them to interview the store manager and file a 150-word feed about the store’s holiday outlook (or sales)—  Put feeds in a common electronic folder—  Add recent press releases from trade groups, statistics from the Commerce Department, etc.—  Give students 55 minutes (or more or less) to write a local retail outlook story
  28. 28. Variations—  Can be done before or after Thanksgiving – or post- Christmas—  Make part of the grade the quality of the student’s feed—  Show students examples of retail roundups in advance—  Offer best stories to the local media
  29. 29. c) Economic indicators}  Select key economic indicators and assign one to each class member (or let them draw)}  Ask each to prepare a fact sheet or memo about the indicator, including: }  What it measures }  Who measures it – and how }  How often it is released }  Any controversies about the measurement }  Is it leading, lagging or coincident?}  Ones to include: }  Retail sales, durable goods, Consumer Price Index, GDP (though not technically an indicator), unemployment }  Sources: Economic Indicator Calendars } nationalecon_cal.html
  30. 30. Economic indicators, part two—  After class presentations about indicators, ask each student to write a story humanizing and localizing an indicator.—  Doesn’t need to be the one they reported on—  Good ones to use: retail, housing starts, unemployment
  31. 31. Variations—  Begin with general discussion of indicators ¡  Phone interview with someone who compiles unemployment data—  Include fun ones: ¡  Lipstick ÷ ¡  Hemlines ÷ short_or_short_.html ¡  Super Bowl ¡  Starbucks—  Have class pool for each unemployment-rate announcement
  32. 32. d) Profile of Fed chairman—  Combines writing exercise and research on Fed’s mission and history—  Can frame profile as: ¡  Advance obit ¡  “Resignation/retirement story” ¡  Changing of the guard—  Tip: Tell students to be careful where they print out their stories!
  33. 33. e) Closet survey—  A little, ungraded assignment—  Engaging way to begin discussion of trade and globalization—  Ask each to examine 12 clothing labels and write down the country of origin—  In class, go around the room and keep a tally on the blackboard of how many items were made on each country/ continent—  Discuss implications: ¡  Bangladesh fire/Shirtwaist factory—  Variation: Ask each student to wear to class that day something made in the USA
  34. 34. Final thoughts—  Mix it up—  Befriend professors in economics, accounting, business, law—  Keep topics fresh—  Teach from the headlines—  Have class pools or “consensus estimates” ¡  Where Dow will be at the end of the term ¡  What unemployment rate will be next month ¡  GDP estimate ¡  Reward winner with chocolate—  Sustain YOUR interest; their interest will follow!