Business reporting and explanatory journalism

By Laura Smith

September 9, 2008

Business reporting and explanatory journalism is not just about giving information. It incorporates entertaining scenarios and engaging language in order to discuss a certain subject. First, there is an enticing lead that grabs the reader’s attention and draws them into the story. Whether that is a personal account of one’s experience or an intense, suspenseful attention grabber, the lead entices the reader to continue.

The lead is then expanded on when the body of the story begins to explain the significance of the article. The body of a business report includes components such as economic status and pop culture references to better explain an issue dealing with a business. An explanatory journalistic piece contains technological language, the use of numbers and statistics, and detailed explanations of the subject at hand, even relating the information to the reader’s life and his or her needs. Reporting of both kinds use proper references and interviews to relay honest and ample information.

The report is complete when the journalist has covered all the necessary information to benefit the reader. It has been a solid, detailed report and has hopefully brought emotion to the story. These types of reporting are ones that can hopefully everyone can get something out of.

US Stem Cell Research Lagging” by Gareth Cook is one such example of explanatory journalism and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. Published in the Boston Globe on May 23, 2004, Cook’s article is similar to Peter Rinearson’s “Making it Fly: Designing the 757,”published in The Seattle Times in 1983. Like Rinearson’s article it takes an issue and explains to the reader the situation at hand in detail and adds human elements to it. In this case, it is the competition with global expansion of embryonic stem cell research.

First, the lead to Cook’s article pulls the reader in. Describing Czech biologist Petr Dvorak’s reaction to the news that his team had discovered a new line of embryonic stem cells and how his lab “had just entered the forefront of global science” would probably make any reader interested enough to keep reading about this colossal finding. This lead creates a picture of Dvorak’s feelings in the reader’s mind and allows the reader to be emotionally intrigued.

Next, the body of the article possesses all the characteristics to not only a good explanatory journalism piece, but to any honest and detailed story. The emotional hook of the lead transitions right into an explanation of the situation and problem, how the US is losing out on stem cell research capabilities in comparison to other countries. It gets right to the point and mentions what the reader should be taking note of.

The body then continues to explain the situation by giving some background. It explains how the Bush administration prohibited the use of federal money to work with stem cell lines due to moral concerns. This background allows the reader to better understand why the US is losing out on the race for stem cell research compared to other nations. Another positive aspect of the body paragraphs is its use of statistics and numbers. Cook explains how many stem cell lines are currently available in the US (19) and how many more are available to the world’s researchers but are off limits to US government-funded researchers (51), while referencing the National Institutes of Health for this information.

Next, Cook uses impressive quotations in the body of the article to help guide the story and impact the reader. He references notable individuals such as Susan Fisher, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, who profoundly states, “Science is like a stream of water, because it finds its way…And now it has found its way outside the United States.” This quote shows the scale of the situation through imagery the reader can imagine mentally. Fisher is just one of the informed individuals, along with those such as a Harvard Medical School professor and an American scientist, who add to the story with their credible and professional input.

Being able to relate personally to the reader is another contribution of explanatory journalism. In his article, Cook does just that. At one point, he explains how stem cell research can help researchers learn more about diseases and their possible cures such as Diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease, “which affect millions of Americans.” The reader then can see how important this subject is to them and their loved ones. Another benefit of explanatory journalism and good journalism in general, is background information. Cook implements this in his article, describing how human embryonic stem cells were first isolated in the US and how soon after, President Bush confirmed he would not allow federal funding for the study of this finding. The reader now can better understand why so many countries are benefitting from being able to research stem cells and thus why the US is losing out, the whole point of the article itself.

Explanatory journalism must be objective. It must be fair to both sides and not take an opinion in an article like this. Cook does a good job of this in his article. Even though he makes it clear that due to the Bush administration, the US is losing out on the opportunity for stem cell research, he later points out that there are some positives to the situation. He says, “As much as the Bush rules have limited embryonic stem cell research, they have prompted a substantial private effort to keep the research moving forward.” Through this, Cook shows fairness to opposing views, making his story properly objective, as it should be.

Another benefit of explanatory journalism is that the writer includes the current status of the situation he or she is describing. This keeps the reader up to date on the issue they are hopefully concerned about or intrigued with after reading. In Cook’s story, he gives a glimpse of hope to the stem cell research obstacle. He says, “Yet there could be changes coming. Last weekend, the NIH issued a letter hinting the White House may be open to changing its policy at some point.” By doing this, Cook is able to update his reader on what may to come with the issue they have been reading about.

Finally, the body ends strongly and comes full circle with the lead. Cook quotes Dvorak again, who describes that working in collaboration with Harvard University to extend stem cell research to the US, would be like “being in heaven.” This brings the reader back to the emotional and impacting reaction to such a debated topic that is first seen in the lead.

Overall, Cook’s story is written very professionally and is in tune with what explanatory journalism is all about. His writing is strong and he hits on each aspect of journalistic propriety very well.  One can see that Cook is able to take an important topic, describe it to the audience, break down every aspect of it, and cover it from all angles while making it entertaining. He is able to even add human element to it through personal and professional accounts as well as relating the issue to the readers themselves.  “US Stem Cell Research Lagging” is a well-researched and memorable example of what explanatory journalism is all about.

 Other Business Reporting/Explanatory Journalism articles:

Indian Beauty

by Ellen Byron, published in Wall Street Journal Magazine

\” We Did It, We Beat the Virus\”

by Laurie Garret, published May 31, 1995 in Newsday

Sentinels Under Attack 

by Kenneth R. Weiss, Usha Lee McFarling and Rick Loomi, published July 31, 2006 in the Los Angeles Times

MISSED SIGNALS: Many Say U.S. Planned for Terror but Failed to Take Action

by Judith Miller, published December 20, 2001 in The New York Times

Wanna Buy Some Knockoff Jeans?

by Alana Semuels, published September 6, 2008 in the Los Angeles Times

US Stem Cell Research Lagging

by Gareth Cook, published May 23, 2004 in The Boston Globe

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