Taking Care of Business: Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

By Erin Valentine

Explanatory reporting is just that, EXPLANATORY. To deconstruct a complex issue, reporters use explanatory reporting. The Wall Street Journal regularly features some form of explanatory journalism on its first page. It allows a journalist to explore a topic that they can make relatable to their readers. No matter if it’s about cigarettes, cowboys or bad burgers.

Tips on Explanatory Journalism, Infographic by Erin Valentine

Tips on Explanatory Journalism,
Infographic by Erin Valentine

“The Life of a Cowboy: Drudgery and Danger” by William E. Blundell; The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 1981

Blundell starts off his article by bringing the reader right to the scene and making them visualize the setting. He makes the reader smell the leather, sweat, dirt and blood of the “real cowboy.” He also breaks up his story into subheadings, which help to break up the long article in more manageable sections. Blundell brings the reality of being a modern-day cowboy to life. Trucks are used. Horses don’t gallop valiantly across vast plains of grass, but slowly trod over dry dirt.

“Making It Fly: Designing the 757” by Peter Rinearson; The Seattle Times, June 19, 1983

Rinearson breaks down all of the parts and thoughts that go in to making a plan safe for flight. From chicken tests, which PETA would surely object to, to hollow bolts, he makes the incredibly complex process attainable for the everyday reader. Rinearson also includes a fair bit of mathematics and statistics, all of which are easy to digest. His article allows for the non-engineering minded person to peek behind the curtain of Boeing.

“Property Tax Exemptions: Legal but Terribly Unfair” by Michael Gartner; The Daily Tribune, August 2, 1995

Gartner, like Rinearson, brings the otherwise confusing world of taxes to the everyday person. He calculates the tax rates and amounts and puts in to perspective the story for the reader. He also makes the story personal and relatable. His use of repetition is incredibly strong, as he has the reader repeating his mantra of “It’s not fair, but it’s legal” in their head. Finally, Gartner keeps it simple and keeps the story flowing.

Other Examples of Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

“A baffling illness” by Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 19, 2010

Nicholas Volker fell ill of a mysterious disease, photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Nicholas Volker fell ill of a mysterious disease,
photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A Pulitzer Prize winner in 2011 in Explanatory Reporting, Johnson and Gallagher reign the reader into the story of a sick boy by first focusing on the lamentation of his frustrated doctor. As you learn of Nicholas’ disease, you begin to not only become as frustrated as his doctor, but as motivated as his mother. This article is a get representation of taking medicine and making it personal and pertinent.

Source: http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/9175

“In China, the Human Costs That Are Built Into an iPad” by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza; The New York Times, January 26, 2012

APulitzer Prize winner 2013 in Explanatory Reporting, Duhigg and Barboza take Apple, a worldwide company, and bring it down to one worker’s injury. This story is personal, engaging, and enraging. A huge story, they boil down the facts and expose the deadly incidents and horrible working conditions. Beyond just using statistics and mathematics, they also utilize great imagery.

Source: http://www.pulitzer.org/files/2013/explanatory-reporting/03ieconomy1-26.pdf

“The Burger That Shattered Her Life” by Michael Moss; The New York Times, October 4, 2009

A Pulitzer Prize winner 2010 in Explanatory Reporting, Moss makes the reader not only want to never eat a burger again, but also tells them why they should be wary of hamburger meat. Including an infographic, Moss’s article makes the threat of E. coli personal. He goes through the process of a burger patty being processed so that the reader can understand just why a simple burger can cause a lot of problems.

Source: http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/8816

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