From the editor: Read the fine print

January 24, 2011

One of my first jobs in journalism was working as an intern at the old Washington Star. I went there to write high school sports stories but before anyone would let me cover an actual game, I had to prove myself by taking scores over the telephone.

Easy, I thought.

The first call came in and I dutifully filled out my scoring sheet, checking every fact twice with the caller.

I then carried the form over to my editor to show off my handiwork, feeling pretty smug about completing my first assignment at a big city newspaper.

The editor studied my work, and a scowl formed on his face.

"Who scored the winning basket?" he asked, slapping the paper on the table.

I scanned the document quickly and mumbled something about there not being a spot for such data.

"[Expletive]," he roared. "You mean to tell me we have a big game between two archrivals, decided in overtime, and you can't tell me who scored the winning basket?"

I grew up as a journalist right then and there. I also grew to become fond of agate, and what it could and could not tell you.

I thought about that story the other day after we decided to add another bit of data to Capital Business -- a weekly listing in our law and lobby report of who hired whom to lobby on what cause. It's been one of my goals to add such agate to the paper, on the assumption that such lists can often produce business leads.

When possible, it is our aim to not just deliver what I call "dumb" data but to find ways to annotate the information and unearth interesting insights. One reason we have partnered with the real estate data firm CoStar Group and stock analysts at the Motley Fool is that as experts in their fields they can often spot the hidden gems.

Of course, I don't pretend to assume that their gems might be yours.

After the Star, I went to work for a group of trade publications focused on the defense industry. Each week our publications would produce lists of promotions and appointments. Naively, I thought the only people interested in such career moves would be the people named and their friends.

Then my father-in-law told me he read those papers precisely for those lists. When people got promotions, they suddenly had some extra money in their pockets, which was useful intelligence for financial planners like himself who sold insurance and investments. Career military people tended to be good customers.

I've never looked at lists the same since.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read