College of Business Communications Feature
  One of an occasional series of feature stories on the web

  

College home
Communications
Features

August 2003

CIBER-sponsored Workshop
Investigates Global Business Reporting

Like most specialized subjects, business has a vocabulary all its own, creating a challenge for journalists and readers alike. The complex mix of laws and federal filing requirements make covering business topics a daily test for the media. Both veteran and beginning business reporters benefited from a workshop covering the "new realities and opportunities for journalists" who cover the world of commerce. The July workshop was coordinated by the College's Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER).

Journalism Workshop, sponsored by Illinois CIBER.Faculty from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Departments of Journalism and Economics and the Midwest bureau chief of Reuters news agency were presenters during the two-day event held in a journalism computer lab on the University of Illinois campus. Sessions covered a range of topics including good web resources, the use of images in business stories, and introductions to international business and economics. Several hands-on opportunities -- researching business documents online and drafting a basic earnings story -- offered participants a chance for help and feedback from seasoned business reporters.

U of I Journalism department head Ron Yates observed that the business section of newspapers "is no longer Siberia." Because many Americans today are invested in the stock market, they have a strong and direct vested interest in understanding the world of business and the factors that impact it. Those factors, which Yates addressed in the opening session, include changing demographics, global challenges, the impact of technology, the evolution of businesses, and government policies on monetary flow, regulation, and taxation. Before coming to the University of Illinois in 1997, Yates spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent, editor, and senior business writer for the Chicago Tribune.

In his presentation on how to find company and financial information quickly and cheaply, Greg McCune, Midwest bureau chief for Reuters, offered suggestions on good websites for business research. Online resources are plentiful, which makes identifying significant sites -- such as hoovers.com and www.freeedgar.com -- and which documents to read even more important. McCune suggested, for example, that a reporter read SEC Form 10-K because it gives a good company summary and information about stock ownership, customers, and new products. In addition to reading company press releases, he advocated supplementing the PR information with more detailed reviews of a company's various federal and state legal filings. Another tip was to compare a newly filed document to the preceding version to note significant differences. Although often tedious and time-consuming, such investigative work can result in interesting questions to pose to a company CEO or CFO.

McCune, who has been a business journalist for almost three decades, including stints as chief correspondent for Reuters in Washington DC and Canada, also presented a session on how to take a national or international business story and make it relevant for a local or regional audience.

Declaring that "words are not the only opportunity to explain," Eric Meyer, associate professor of journalism, noted that photos, headlines, and graphics are the first elements read in a newspaper. He suggested to workshop participants that they consider early in the writing process how to tell a story with images, to both grab the reader's attention and to provide content and a way to organize information. He illustrated his talk with a variety of good and bad examples of graphs and charts. "If a graphics doesn't tell the story, readers may decide, without ever sampling the accompanying text, that [the text] doesn't either," he said. Meyer is author of Designing Infographics (Hayden Books, 1998).

Fred Gottheil, a professor of economics at Illinois, presented a session on international business and economics for journalists. He provided a comprehensive overview of how international economic issues are interconnected and how different forms of government affect business.

The workshop notebook contained a wealth of valuable information, including a quick guide to economic terms and a business terminology FAQ ("What is profit margin?"), recent articles on business globalization from reporters at the Washington Post and other major newspapers, summaries on understanding and interpreting significant business concepts such as the consumer price index, and a long list of business reference books and websites. The American Press Institute's summary of its 2002 business journalism survey was also included.

The workshop was organized by Lynnea Johnson, associate director of Illinois CIBER, a US Department of Education-funded institute in the College of Business led by Professor of Business Administration Joe Cheng. One of CIBER's goals is to meet the training needs of business professionals engaged in exporting and other international business activities by providing international business knowledge. Throughout the year, CIBER staff coordinate workshops for target audiences. The workshop was also sponsored by the U of I Department of Journalism, the Illinois Press Foundation, Reuters, and the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. The 15 participants from Illinois and Indiana represented nine news or education units. More information is available online at www.ciber.uiuc.edu.

--ginny hudak-david
August 2003