Business as usual

“Tall order.” Get it? If you did, the Washington Post headline should have been rewritten. Check that. It should have been rewritten anyway.

That was an Associated Press headline. Duplicating headlines on wire stories is one of the great examples of laziness. Even if they’re wrong, they are widely used in print and online. On top of that, AP headlines are often just stupid, which compounds the problem.

Using wire stories? Write your own headlines.

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7-Eleven is buying 1,108 convenience stores, mostly on the East Coast and Texas, from Sunoco for $3.3 billion.

The deal will put 7-Eleven into the Houston market and gives it a fully developed menu of tacos. (Dallas Morning News)

This is a $3.3 billion acquisition. Do tacos belong so high in the story? Do they belong in the story at all? I would refer the tacos angle to the food writers, or at least move it deep in the story.

“But the tacos help the reader relate to the story,” I hear you cry. Not the readers of a story like this. It’s business. Readers who don’t care about business will stop at “7-Eleven is buying 1,108 convenience stores,”

(Aside: Kudos to the Morning News for daring to begin a sentence with a numeral. It spared us from “Convenience-store giant 7-Eleven” in the lede. My longtime goal is to eliminate the pointless rule prohibiting numbers at the start.)

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Business pages are full of “art” like this. Avoid. If you must use a picture of a company building or sign (and you musn’t), at least use the caption to say something related to the story. It doesn’t help that these file photos are usually old.

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In 2014, the Associated Press began automating some of its coverage of corporate earnings reports. Instead of having humans cover the basic finance stories, the AP, working with the firm Automated Insights, was able to use algorithms to speed up the process and free up human reporters to pursue more complex stories. (Nieman Lab)

First of all, earnings reports are “complex stories.” Second, running earnings reports without humans having read them is unwise. * They include all sorts of seemingly mundane information that might be important. Third, the stories must be checked against the reports anyway, and that task falls to the copy desk – or should. So, while human reporters (they do exist) might be freed up to do things other than perusing earnings reports, editing them requires at least as much time on the copy desk (you really have to look at the reports), doing nothing to “free up” the editors there.

You don’t edit earnings reports? Like everything else, they require editing. Don’t know how to read earnings reports? Learn.

* I have no more confidence in automated earnings reports than I do in automated sports stories.

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Empty Quote of the Week 

“Continuous improvement of our products is our daily work,” Kiran Rao, Airbus executive vice president of strategy and marketing, said in a statement. (Los Angeles Times)

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Phillip Blanchard is a former business editor at the Washington Post. Previously he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers in upstate New York. He is founder of Testy Copy Editors. This column is a feature of Talking Biz NewsEmail: blanp@testycopyeditors.org

 

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