Posted by: lcowie | September 7, 2008

America’s Best Newspaper Writing, Part 1

Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

by Lesley Cowie

Business reporting and explanatory journalism are often misunderstood phrases. Many people assume that reporting is always serious. The words “business” and “explanatory” emit negative connotations for readers who are not actively engaged in the news. However, these stories do not have to be serious or monotonous.

Skilled writers know how to report serious issues in an entertaining or engaging manner. All it takes to successfully entertain an audience is some wit and creativity. If a writer has done all of his or her work properly, there should be much room for creativity after all the research is complete. Many writers have the ability to groom their stories. These stories can be found in all types of newspapers. It is up to the reader to acknowledge the wit behind the words.

“Sex ed in schools: Little connection between what’s taught, teen behavior”

One example of skilled writing is Sharon Jayson’s article, “Sex ed in schools: Little connection between what’s taught, teen behavior.” This USA Today article utilizes a variety of engaging tactics, from politics and scandal to journalistic references and quotations. The poetic combination of content and structure draws the reader into the story.

The lead introduces a taboo – a pregnant teenager. Adult readers automatically bring the focus on sex education, morality, and the media. In this article, Jayson has focused less on media and more on politics. This lead is compelling because Americans value morality and education.

Jayson included Sarah Palin’s daughter into her nut graf in order to draw on the upcoming presidential election. Americans want to know as much about a candidate as possible before voting. This article’s appeal comes from the use of influential voting topics. Many Americans consider education and morality when they vote.

The quotations in the article provided both sides to the issue. Jayson interviewed students and parents from all over the country in order to show a comprehensive look at sex education in schools. The content in each quotation varied and allowed for extra insight into the issue.

Statistical data from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States showed that 25 states are now rejecting the $1.5 billion they used to receive annually for sex education. Jayson illustrated an interesting contrast in northern states versus southern states; her data showed that Texas received $18.2 million for its sex education training, whereas 30% of teachers in Illinois Public Schools had not even received training before teaching the subject.

Jayson’s overall argument was that there is no standard for teaching sex education. Therefore, it is difficult to enforce abstinence among teens. Jayson also concluded that sex education cannot have a strong standing with children until parents start taking it seriously. Too many parents rely on school administrators to teach the subject. The purpose of this article was to raise awareness that parents and schools must take sex education seriously or else students will not learn from what they are supposed to have been taught.

“Raising grandchildren an extra burden for many”

Another example of explanatory journalism is the AP story titled, “Raising grandchildren an extra burden for many.” This story is attractive to readers because many people often imagine grandparents as being cheerful and ready to spoil their grandchildren. This article’s title raises an interesting contradiction to the aforementioned stereotype and therefore draws readers in.

By introducing grandparents Dave and Nora Ducas, the article continues to intrigue readers and personalize the material. The reader learns that Ducas’s have been changing their grandchild’s diaper and paying the bills for his Catholic school. These are not typical duties of grandparents. The reader wants to know why the grandparents have taken on these duties, so he/she continues on through the story.

Following Nora’s quotation, the writer includes statistical data from the 2006 census. The survey showed that 2.5 million grandparents are responsible for raising one or more grandchildren who live with them. The writer cites substance abuse, teen pregnancy, divorce, child abuse, mental illness, and incarceration of a parent as reasons for this growing pattern.

The data from the 2006 census also stated that the grandparents in these situations come from all demographics. Although grandparents are healthier and in better financial shape than past generations, their income usually puts them below the poverty line. The statistics show both sides of the issue. The writer uses quotations from professional people who respect the Ducas’s situation. The reporter does not, however, show disrespect toward the mothers of the neglected children. The facts are clearly stated, and it appears that there is no solution to the problem but to respect the grandparents who step up in the situation.

“The Freshman 15”

“The Freshman 15” is a Washington Post article that initially targets college freshmen but soon takes a turn for Washington. Students will read the first few lines of the lead and believe the article is speaking to them. The article discusses homesickness, restlessness, and unpacking. However, instead of introducing students to college, this article introduces them to Washington.

Having already caught their attention with collegiate lingo, the writer continues to attract the reader with explanations, italicized phrases, and numbered items. This segmentation is more likely to keep the reader interested and informed. The conversational tone is an additional way to engage the young reader. While there is no statistical data or interviews, the article simply serves as a guide for students. It is entertaining and educational, but on a student’s level.

“Cuban-born forecaster leaves emotion outside work”

Repetition is a key element for engaging audiences. The writer chooses to repeat words for a reason. In Martin Merzer’s piece, “Cuban-born forecaster leaves emotion outside work,” the lead contains repetition. Merzer writes “this is” twice. His purpose is to illuminate the location – Cuba. This plays into the article’s title and therefore plays a large role in the subject.

Lixion Avila is a forecaster in Miami who must make critical decisions regarding the area. He often draws the lines of hurricanes that hit his homeland. What is amazing about this article is the fact that Avila’s aging mother lives in Havana. It must be very difficult for Avila to leave his emotions at the door. Readers respond media that is filled with emotion.

“Can the rich, famous save Social Security?”

Dennis Cauchon’s article “Can the rich, famous save Social Security” opens with an intriguing question. This question introduces a celebrity and a government-sanctioned entity. Once again, with the upcoming presidential election, Americans will read any article that relates to an important voting issue. In addition, Cauchon’s twist on the issue involves celebrities. Many people question what the rich and famous do, or can do, with their earnings. Cauchon’s title immediately attracts those who want answers.

Cauchon goes into a detailed explanation of how a rich celebrity could save Social Security for future generations. He uses Tiger Woods in his lengthy example and explains where money would be cut and taxed. In the end, according to Cauchon’s plans, there could a projected surplus of $540 million. Cauchon even factored in higher benefits for the rich. The long-term deficit for Social Security would then be reduced by 93 percent.

Following his calculations, Cauchon then described Social Security and its purpose. He explained how celebrity tax dodging negatively affects other taxpayers. All the statistics and calculations may seem overwhelming, but Cauchon deliberately strives to explain every point in detail. This way, more people can read the article and understand its contents.

The most important aspects of business reporting and explanatory journalism are creativity and wit, attention to detail, and explanation of facts. It is helpful to tailor writing to the audience for greater persuasion and understanding. These ideas will enhance one’s writing and make for a better article.



  1. Hey Lesley! This is fantastic. I love that you give us a breakdown of each article, but also highlight what techniques each author uses so that we can apply them later. One minor thing, you have a typo in your first link: should be “Ed” not “Ex”. Great idea for format here!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: