Writing business retail stories without sounding like a commercial
Decide the Focus of Your Story
If you're doing a vague, unprepared story on car sales, you can bet every dealership will tell you that sales are great, inventory is low, prices are down and shoppers better act quickly to get the car they want. Sound like a commercial? That's because you didn't ask focused questions. Decide what information you want to get from the car dealership. Is there a type of vehicle that is selling better than another? Is the recent credit crunch having an impact on shoppers getting financing? Those specific questions will give you newsy information and not just the standard sales pitch. If the manager wants to talk about how sales are up across the board, that can be news also. Just ask for some data to back it up. Its okay to report good sales news as long as it is accurate and not just an empty statement.
Look at the Big Picture
You may be assigned a story on Christmas shopping, but only have enough time to go to Target to produce your taped report that you'll introduce Live on the 6:00 news. You can unknowingly make it look like your story is "Christmas at Target", rather than Christmas shopping in general. That's because your videographer shoots your Live shot with the store's large lighted sign in the background. Then your taped piece features all the hot items at Target, clips of Target shoppers, and an interview with a Target manager who says it's the best holiday shopping season in Target history. Viewers may be led to wonder how much the store paid for the story. The easy excuse is, "Well, I only had time to go to one place." But by using the telephone or the Internet, you can do a story on the big picture of Christmas shopping, rather than a narrow story on one store. By calling around, you could say in your story, "Business isn't just brisk at this Target. We found that Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Sears are equally crowded." That one line broadens your story and makes it appear more complete. Using the Internet as a research tool can accomplish the same thing, especially to get information on the national level -- "While Target expects its sales to be up 3% nationwide, executives at Wal-Mart are more optimistic, saying they forecast a 5% boost in Christmas spending."
Talk to Plenty of Shoppers
A mall manager may tell you the economy has rebounded and sales are the highest in years. If you want to find out whether that rosy outlook is simply spin, talk to the shoppers. They will validate or contradict what the manager has told you. Look around a mall on Mother's Day weekend and you'll see plenty of people carrying shopping bags. But by talking to shoppers, you may find they are buying cards and candy instead of jewelry or other expensive items. So there's more to the story than just "sales are up."Shoppers will be more candid with you because they have nothing to gain or lose. Use them as the backbone of your story, then take the information they give you to interview the manager. That will give you some meaty information like, "While crowds are hitting the mall for Mother's Day weekend, they are choosing less expensive gifts this year." Then, the mall managers will tell you if they are content just to get foot traffic, even if they don't achieve the sales dollars they had hoped. Retail business stories often turn into commercials because of a lack of preparation. That lazy approach is what gives store managers the opportunity to use you for their own gain. Taking effort before and during the newsgathering process will give yourself specific information you need to write a compelling news story.