Lose the Cliches in Your Business Writing

By: Charles Bowen

The economy is the ultimate cyclical story. Market swings from high to low and (let’s hope) back again are natural. And among the many challenges to covering economics is trying to avoid becoming editorially memorized by this movement so that the reporting doesn’t get lazy and predictable.

Realizing the business page is at least as prone to cliches and formula writing as any other section of the paper, smart business writers and editors are always looking for inspiration through new perspectives on current developments and trends.

A fresh new view on the Web may be just what you need. ArgMax (named after a mathematical term used in economics) is a site created by John Irons, a former assistant professor of economics at Amherst College, intended to provide current news, data, and topical analysis of economics. The site uses an automated “newsbot” to get frequent updates and its news and commentary section is divided into several themed sections, drawn from a wide number of online sources. You also can consult an online economics glossary that offers brief explanations of terms ranging from “absolute advantage” to “wire transfer.” Of particular interest to me is Irons’ Web log section in which he makes personal commentaries on current events and developments.

To check it out, visit http://www.argmax.com, where a no-nonsense homepage is topped with a “Recent Economics” section. Here you’ll find several linked headlines to the most significant of the latest commentary added, usually with quite terse summaries, such as, “Budget Situation Worsens: More bad news on the deficit front” and “Interest Rates at Record Lows: Key rates now below 1%”

Working journalists will appreciate the “Headlines” section in the left column. Click the “Headlines” link to see summaries of the latest economic stories and commentary from around the Web captured by the newsbot. The section is updated every four hours. On the resulting page, each headline is linked and the latest additions are neatly labeled with the word “new,” color-coded to indict the age of the story (less than four hours, less than 24 hours, less than 48 hours). Click on any story to see the original.

Also of daily interest is the “Data” section, with gives the latest statistics on indicators such as unemployment, Gross Domestic Product, inflation, and industrial production.

Other considerations for using MaxArg.com in your writing and editing:

1. In addition to the site’s newsbot, it also uses a databot to scan press releases from various government sites and extract relevant statistics to insert into a database. Databot runs usually once a day after 10 a.m. And you can receive e-mail alerts from the site notifying you of the latest releases. Look for the “Data” section at the bottom left side of the homepage and click the “Sign up” link for details.

2. An extensive backlog of early material is preserved on the site. Click on the “Archive” link at the top of any page and scroll the resulting page where hundreds of linked headlines are listed with their dates of publication.

3. The site also can help you locate the Web extensions of any of more than 1,500 economists around the world. Click on the “Economists” link at the top of any page and use the search facilities on the resulting screen.

You can read the last 20 “Reporter’s Digital How-to” columns on our index page. Subscribers may access previous columns from our archives.

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