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Top 10 tips: Reporting the economy
The BBC's business editor Robert Peston gives journalists his top 10 tips for
reporting news about business and the economy.
1. Ask yourself: Why does it matter?
Business and economics is about stuff that really affects the lives of millions of
people, so start by making sure you understand why a change in the inflation
rate, or a big loss made by a company, or a big movement in the stock market
(and so on) actually matters. Read about a couple, for example, who have split
up but are trapped into living with each other by a lack of movement in the
2. Avoid jargon.
If you can't turn technical language into everyday English then you don't know
what you're talking about. The BBC's jargon buster may help you.
3. Be honest about what you do and don't know.
If you are interviewing an expert, don't pretend to have knowledge you
actually lack. Your interviewee will be a lot more helpful if you have the
confidence to admit that you are a bit confused.
4. Identify the big trends that are shaping the world.
Some are long term, such as the rise of the Chinese and Indian economies.
Some are shorter term, such as the explosive growth of borrowing by the
British government. When you have a sense of the trends, you'll know where
to look for important stories and you'll be able to provide context and balance
in the presentation of your stories. The BBC's recession tracker shows the UK
trends in unemployment, house prices, interest rates, inflation, repossession
and Gross Domestic Product (services and goods produced in a year). Why not
test yourself now by thinking about how the rise of the Chinese and Indian
economies might be relevant to us here in the UK.
5. Find good interviewees.
Work hard to identify people who know stuff. Then try to win their confidence,
so that they will share some of their precious knowledge with you.
6. Do some background research.
Spend as much time as you can reading the business pages of the BBC News
website and their equivalents in national newspapers. This will give you a
useful sense of what's hot and what's not.
7. Don't be a sheep. Don't follow the herd.
Be aware of what's obsessing the media, but do your own thing. Dare to stand
out from the crowd. Have a look at some of the economy stories produced by
other School Reporters.
8. Do some maths.
When you've got a bit of experience and confidence, you'll be able to take the
data from official economic statistics or announcements by companies, and do
a few simple sums that tell you useful things. For example, the economy of an
area may be growing, and this may be presented as a great success. But if you
have spotted that the population is growing at a faster rate, a simple bit of
division would tell you that on average people there are actually getting
poorer, not richer, which would undermine the claim of success. This Bitesize
guide to handling data might help you.
9. Find out about jobs in your area.
A good place to start as a reporter is assessing the local economy of where you
live. Try to work out how most adults in your community make a living - and
thus what stories could really grab their interest. A BBC special report on the
UK in recession contains an "Around the UK" section which reflects what is
happening near you.
10. Pity anyone who says that business and economics are boring.
They are saying that they have no interest in understanding how the world