Q&A with Chris Roush, co-editor of The Financial Writer’s Stylebook

Chris Roush teaches business journalism at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. He and a colleague, Bill Cloud, are the co-editors of The Financial Writer’s Stylebook. The book is available in print this fall, and it will be online in January. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Roush discusses the need for a stylebook dedicated to business journalism.

Q. What is the purpose of the Financial Writer’s Stylebook?

A. There really is nothing available like this for business journalists. The AP Stylebook has some business terms, but not all of those that a business reporter deals with on a regular basis.

So what Bill and I tried to do was to come up with a stylebook that was tailored to address the specific needs of business journalists, from how to use business terms correctly to answering some of the legal questions that are unique to business reporting.

Q. What are some of the common problems you see in business stories and headlines?

A. My biggest pet peeve when reading a business story is seeing a business term or phrase used incorrectly by the reporter and not corrected by the editor. It’s apparent that someone who was interviewed for the story said the term or phrase in the interview, and the reporter thought it sounded important, so they decided to use it. But they don’t know what the term really means. I see this a lot with net income vs. operating income.

Q. The stylebook uses a “rating system” to help writers and editors know when to define business terms for their readers. How did that come about, and how does it work?

A. This was Bill’s idea to help distinguish the book and provide some easy guidance. The Wall Street Journal traditionally defines business terms in its stories even though most of its readers probably know what the term means.

We decided to take that to the next level and provide a ranking, of one dollar sign to five dollar signs, to tell journalists whether the business term needs to be defined in the story. No dollar signs means that it doesn’t need to be defined at all. Five dollar signs means that the term should be defined in all publications, and the ratings goes down to one dollar sign, which means that only general interest publications such as daily newspapers need to define the term.

Q. The introduction to the stylebook mentions the scaling back of business coverage in some newspapers as part of the overall downsizing in print media. What do you see as the future of business journalism?

A. The future of business journalism is better than a lot of other forms of journalism. A lot of business news outlets, particularly Bloomberg, Dow Jones, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, have continued to hire during the past few years. I also see strength in the weekly business newspapers in most metro markets. And a tech news site called TechCrunch just got sold to AOL for $30 million.

I don’t think daily metro newspapers, however, will ever return to prominence in business journalism. Too many of them have cut too much in terms of business news staff and coverage, and their business news readers have gone elsewhere.

Read Chris Roush’s blog, Talking Biz News, and follow it on Twitter.