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One: Learning How To Write About The New Economy
Before I can show you how to write about the new economy, I'd like
to clear up a few misconceptions by giving you examples of what writing
about the new economy isn't:
about the new economy, as I've come understand it, is simply writing
about the significant events - I'll define those later - taking place
daily in the various segments that make up the burgeoning new economy.
Within these three segments there are a myriad of sub-categories and an unlimited supply of story ideas for interesting articles for hundreds of online and offline publications. However, let me point out to you that while a good portion of this book is designed to show you how to make money writing articles and selling them to various high-paying publications, this is only one of the ways to make money writing about the new economy.
In a later chapter, I will reveal to you how I found even more lucrative
markets paying even a higher premium for my work than the best-paying
Do I Start?
written this e-book so even a beginner can embrace the basic tools
necessary to start making money writing about the new economy. At
the same time, the e-book is geared toward intermediate, as well as
experienced writers who are sick of earning peanuts for all of their
Still, the tools I am about to give you will only work if you apply them. Let me assure you that there is a lot of work ahead of you, but the rewards are worth the effort. Because just like everything else in life, there is no gain without some pain - even if it's only cerebral.
To reiterate what I will continue to say throughout this book, the key to your success is specialization. So, the first step you must take in order to become a prosperous new-economy writer is to choose the area in which you want to become an expert.
Fortunately for you, the Internet makes this process both painless and inexpensive.
But, for now, let's go back to the three segments making up the new economy. By giving you practical examples of what each would encompass by connecting them with recent business headlines, you can better see which one might interest you.
1. Telecommunications: America's big phone companies wrangled
for position this week as AT&T said it was struggling to keep
its hold on two local markets and Verizon looked to expand globally.
Internet Infrastructure: Cisco's Woes Show Net Pain May
Last. Cisco Systems joined other tech giants in posting disappointing
earnings, showing Wall Street that the U.S. economic slowdown isn't
going away anytime soon.
A federal appeals court said it will release a decision Monday
that may decide if Napster users can continue downloading copyrighted
music on the popular Web site.
Not only does the Internet leverage your ability to market your writing skills throughout the world - as I will show you later - it also allows you to leverage your limited knowledge about technology and the new economy into expertise that can draw top freelancing rates.
Although, I've included in this chapter a Web link to a glossary of common terms and acronyms that you'll need to learn in order to intelligently write about the new economy, it's also important that you see the many different terms in their original context.
Begin Following A Segment
In addition to the Web sites I suggested to you in this book's introduction, I'm now going to share with you three sites that I consider as precious as platinum, because they will make it possible for you learn about and follow a technology segment.
first one is CNET, www.cnet.com.
This site is a treasure trove of free information that can help any novice technology writer become an expert in a short period of time.
If you read the daily in-depth articles on the site about the segment you've chosen to specialize in, you will learn quickly, because at the end of each article are links to related articles, as well as a link to what CNET calls the "Big Picture." By studying these carefully, a novice or even an experienced new economy writer can immediately discover the ramifications of the latest technology happenings on an entire industry segment.
CNET offers more than 50 free e-mailed newsletters that will keep
you up to speed as a significant story breaks.
The second site I recommend is the Wall Street Journal's www.wsj.com; although there is a $59-annual subscription fee to access that site, it's more than worth the price for a couple of reasons:
Aside from the Wall Street Journal's excellent coverage of technology issues in plain and easy to understand language, it also offers its subscribers the necessary resources on its site to thoroughly research any company. For example, after reading a breaking news story about a dot-com or a telecom, you can then research the company further and dig up such pertinent information as its latest financials or SEC filings. It's all there at no extra charge. The site is an excellent second resource to counterbalance Hoovers' site, which was mentioned in the introduction.
thousands of other sites cover technology on a more industry-oriented
level, 90 percent of the information you will ever need to craft a
readable, informative technology article can be found on these sites.
The reason I don't recommend scanning the more heavy-duty sites is that a beginner or intermediate technology writer may find them jargon ridden and too narrowly focused.
Another site you need to bookmark as a new economy freelancer is Auburn University's Glossary of Technology, www.auburn.edu/helpdesk/glossary/, which gives you easy to understand definitions for many of the new economy's technical jargon.
Build Your Knowledge Base
Once you begin to read these sites daily, it's then time to fine-tune your efforts. If, for example, you find yourself interested in e-commerce, then you should start immediately following the daily news about such e-tailers as Amazon.com, Yahoo!, AOL Times Warner, and even eBay.
If you decide that telecommunications is your thing, then begin to closely watch such heavy hitters as Verizon, AT&T, Quest Communications, and WorldCom.
Also zero in on the doings of regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), www.fcc.gov and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), www.ftc.gov. Their rulings can dramatically affect all the technology sectors.
Soon you will have a group of companies in a technology sector you'll feel comfortable writing about. You should also regularly visit their Web sites, which often post the most recent acquisitions, deals, or upcoming financial events such as quarterly reports. In fact, today, many companies archive their quarterly and annual reports so they can be accessed online. Many also broadcast a live real-time audio feed of such meetings as they occur. These meetings are open to the public and often present valuable insight on a company or sector, as industry analysts pepper top management with tough questions. Attend as many of these as humanly possible. They will give you a real-world feel of what's going on in a specific company and industry.
companies also post on their sites the latest reports of analysts
that follow them and their industries. While you can expect much of
the coverage to be positive, it doesn't negate the fact that you can
find some useful information in the reports.
Speaking of analysts, as a freelance technology writer, many research firms such as Forrester Research, www.forrester.com, IDC, www.idc.com, and Giga Information Group, www.gigaweb.com, are more than glad to send you their latest reports and studies regarding a particular technology segment. These reports would cost you thousands of dollars, if you had to pay for them. As long as their findings are attributed, they also encourage writers to use their material in their articles.
Simply go onto their sites and sign up to be added to their press lists. On each site you will also find contact numbers and instructions on how to arrange an interview with one of their analysts.
I find that some companies such as Giga Information Group are happy to let you pick their analysts' brains, if you're trying to understand a particular issue for an article. They also encourage you to use their analysts' quotes in any article you are putting together.
The beauty of the research firms for any new economy freelancer is that their analysts are objective, third-party sources that can help you see through all the spin and puffery surrounding the new economy.
reading their bleeding edge studies and reports can also spark a plethora
of new story ideas.
will they help me if I'm a freelancer and not a staff writer for some
Absolutely. I have developed great relationships with the above mentioned research firms and use them frequently to add balance and insight to the technology articles and columns I write on a regular basis.
Don't Kill Golden Goose
Having said that, let me caution you to use a bit of common sense when dealing with these firms. First, only ask for one report at a time and have a good reason for requesting it. Secondly, if you have an interview with an analyst, be prepared. There's nothing that will make you appear more amateurish than not having done your homework when talking to an expert. Remember, this person has taken some time out of his/her busy schedule to help you. Third, don't engage in small talk or ramble on about unrelated tangents; instead, get to the point and stay focused on your questions. I always have at least a dozen well-thought-out questions on hand before such an interview.
Also, 99 percent of the time, the analyst will call you, therefore saving you the cost of a long distance telephone call. I have also found that some analysts prefer to answer questions from writers via e-mail. While you might think that this method is apt to produce dry copy, I have found the opposite: many analysts are more candid via e-mail than during a live interview.
Facts & Conflict = Story
Once you've honed in on a chosen technology segment and begin to feel comfortable with it, that's the time to begin writing queries in order to acquire a few technology clips.
Let me point out that it's my belief that once you do this, you should be able to get assignments handily without spending hours crafting clever queries, if you faithfully follow the marketing strategy I outline in detail in a later chapter.
before we get into queries, I think it's important to carefully review
what are the basics of any good technology story and their types.
I'll never forget my first day working for a major business newspaper. The managing editor took me aside and told me he wanted me to take the first couple of weeks to learn the technology beat before he expected any major stories. Fifteen minutes later, as I was trying to figure out how to turn on my computer, the same editor dropped a press release on my desk; he told me he needed a story on a biotech company that was trying to protect itself against a potential hostile takeover and he needed it filed by 1p.m.
When I told him I didn't know much about the inner workings of "poison pill" provisions as they related to discouraging such buyouts, he just looked at me kind of funny and said, "Don't worry about that, just concentrate on the conflict. Ask the CEO, which company or companies he fears might want to take over the company. That's your story." "But what if he won't tell me which ones they are?" I asked. "Then call his competitors, or analysts covering the bio-tech sector and ask them," he advised.
Although this editor continued to pile work on my plate to the breaking point and never gave me much chance to leave the newsroom so to learn my beat, that day he taught me a valuable lesson: Facts + Conflict = Story.
But isn't that really sensationalism? Some would argue that what my editor told me was unethical and that spiking a story with conflict is no more than yellow journalism.
vehemently disagree. If one looks closely into any transaction between
individuals or companies there is always conflict, or at least the
potential for conflict - especially when writing about the new economy.
For example, when AOL's Chief Executive Steve Case first announced the merger of his online giant with Time Warner he and Time Warner's CEO Gerald Levin were all smiles. No conflict here right?
Wrong. A little research shows that several years before the merger, Steve Case had approached Time Warner for a partnership and was laughed at. Add this to a straight take on the merger and you have the spice that makes a merger - albeit a mega merger - more than a mundane business transaction. I call this humanizing a technology story, or putting a face on the story.
But suppose that the Case anecdote hadn't happened. How else could you interject conflict into such a story without making something out of nothing?
It's easy and ethical. As I mentioned before in this chapter, every merger, acquisition, venture, or deal has in its very nature the seeds of conflict - especially when millions or billions of dollars are at stake.
In the AOL Time Warner example, you could have written about the merger and also explored the possible conflict in corporate cultures of the two merging companies. Or, you could have focused on the possibility of layoffs as the result of redundancies the merger was bound to create in the companies. Or you could have focused on what this mega-merger meant to AOL's chief rival Microsoft and it's founder Bill Gates. Any of these scenarios would have put an interesting face on this event.
The point is that writing the PR spin that CEOs regurgitate is not the kind of copy most readers care to devour and for good reasons: it's simply not a realistic and balanced view of the business world or any world where human emotions exist.
One possible exception to this rule is when you're commissioned by a PR agency to write an article highlighting one of its client's products or services.
even in this case, in order to get it published, agencies I've worked
for have instructed me to write a somewhat balanced piece even bringing
up their client's
and spin don't work because they ultimately read like an advertorial,
which is nothing more than propaganda, and who wants to read that?
Typical Story Models
At this point, please don't be overly concerned about how or who you will sell your expertise to. I promise to lay out a foolproof marketing plan in later chapters that will show you how to effectively tackle several markets at once.
But for now, let's concentrate on what I call typical story models or formulae that are used when writing about the new economy. They can also be used to craft your queries or story ideas.
We've already touched on the acquisition or buy out model. Let's talk about the joint venture or partnership model, which is somewhat similar.
For instance, when giant e-tailer Amazon.com recently announced that it was teaming up with brick-and-mortar toy store Toys "R" Us to sell toys for the holiday season, it was reported as a win for both companies.
But was it really? If a savvy writer applied the conflict principle to this deal, he or she could easily find many different interesting angles to write about:
A new economy writer could also focus on the bigger picture by writing a trend piece about the growing tendency of pure-play e-tailers to hook up with their brick-and-mortar counterparts in an attempt to survive the dot-com shakeout, using Amazon.com's deal as an example.
Another common new economy story model is writing about a company's claim that it has developed the next new thing, such as a new computer chip, application, or Internet service.
The obvious conflict in this kind of story is to examine the validity of the company's claim by interviewing its critics, competitors and objective industry analysts. For example, I recently wrote a story about a company that claimed its new microprocessor would make all others obsolete. If I had taken its claims at face value and wrote a puff piece supporting its claims, it would have been a public relations coup for the company, and it probably would have been my last assignment with the publication that commissioned the piece.
As it turned out, after speaking to industry analysts and the company's competitors, I discovered it was too soon to fairly evaluate the company's claims, since no computers currently running on its new chip had actually hit the street. Still, after pointing this fact out in my article, I added more conflict by asking the question of how this chip would affect the old-line companies, if in fact it did function as touted.
& Quarterly Reports
Still another story model that on the face of it seems doomed to create reader boredom is writing about a technology company's quarterly or annual financial report.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Every company's financials have within them the ingredients of a good article or query, when a new economy writer intelligently applies the rule of conflict to them.
report of a company that's losing money, for instance, raises a score
of obvious questions that can readily be spun into juicy stories:
Conversely, if a company's latest financials are positive there are
still stories to be written about potential conflict:
this point, you may be scratching your head and wondering if writing
about the new economy means becoming negative and looking at the world
through black-tinted glasses?
The answer is no. But let me illustrate what I'm talking about: Life in general presents daily challenges to businesses just as it does to individuals.
Recently, I was commissioned by a top-paying magazine to write a feature focusing on how b-to-b e-procurement was being implemented in the banking industry.
After interviewing about 10 top banking executives in charge of these programs, what they told me could be boiled down to this: "Everything is wonderful and is going smoothly."
However, after reading a report from an objective industry analyst, I soon discovered that many bank CEOs were in fact dragging their feet in implementing such b-to-b e- procurement programs because their suppliers mainframe computers couldn't connect with the banks' Web-based sites.
Moreover, I found that even those suppliers that were unwilling to shell out the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to become Internet-enabled still had no guarantee that the flavor of Extensible Markup Language (XML) they used would ultimately be the one accepted as the universal standard since there isn't one established yet.
This - not how wonderful the implementation is going became the story for which I was eventually paid more than $2,500 to write.
Again, I'm not saying that a story has to be negative to be good, but I am saying that it has to be realistic. It is unrealistic to think that any company or individual lives life without complications or challenges.
This brings me to another story model: the profile of a technology executive.
many of these profiles end up reading like political propaganda or
not saying that any profile of a CEO should be an interrogation, but
in order for it to be marketable, the CEO should at least be asked
some tough questions. If he or she refuses to answer, then the same
questions should be asked of those who know him - both friends or
At the same time, balance demands that the good points and successes of the subject also be researched and written about, including interviews with his/her sycophants.
Most importantly, whenever you dig up some negative comment or piece of info on your subjects, always, always allow them to respond, giving their side. Sometimes this becomes the story, more often than not.
So in summary, if you want to earn top dollar writing about the events, companies and players of the new economy, you must be willing to inject realism into your articles and queries while rejecting spin and fluff.
Bankruptcy And Lawsuits
One of the most interesting and sought after stories in any segment of technology is the untimely death of a business. When a company files for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, it often sends shockwaves throughout an industry. Unfortunately, in the ongoing dot-com and technology shakeout, such stories are abundant.
Employees trying to collect their paychecks, as well as creditors trying to get paid are often ready to disclose information that hitherto was a closely held secret.
It's also at such times that lawyers representing both parties become more than willing to share their legal filings and off-the-record comments with you.
Once you become an expert at following a particular technology segment, you will get a feel for the companies that are heading toward bankruptcy. It always makes sense to monitor them and be prepared to write an article about the ramifications of their demise.
Lawsuits filed against a company by either shareholders or the government are also the grist for new economy stories.
The ongoing legal battle raging between Microsoft and the U.S. government is a classic example of a business soap opera that could play out for years; such sagas are almost guaranteed whenever a powerful company falls into the sights of the government.
The recent court battle to shut down online music swapping site Napster
is another example of how litigation can take a seemly insignificant
company and thrust it into the worldwide spotlight. Napster's case
is particularly interesting since it has generated so much conflict
among so many different groups:
The IPO Story
Finally, there's the Initial Public Offering (IPO) story that chronicles
a private company going public. Although at the time of this writing,
technology IPOs have really slowed down due to adverse market conditions,
it won't always be so.
I've written several of these stories; they have the same element of conflict that all the other models have.
As with all the other story models, there are many more possibilities for the IPO story, all you have to do is use your imagination.
But what I've tried to do for you is outline the basic forms from which you can build interesting and sellable stories about the new economy and its legion of players.
While the examples I've given you in this chapter were about technology companies that are covered nationally, let me also point out to you that the same type of stories can be written about regional and local technology companies big or small, public or private.
My goal is to give you a methodical approach that lets you focus your energies on writing and selling your articles rather than wasting precious time spinning your wheels.
By having a track to run on, you are well on your way to making big $$$$ writing about the new economy.
Time To Practice
Now, is the time to put the principles you just learned into practice.
Go to Cnet.com and pick out a straight tech story, read it ,then print the story out. Read it again, then sit at your word processor and find at least five possible conflicts that weren't covered in the original article.
should do this every day with at least three stories. Once you get
the hang of it, these ideas will grow into queries, which will eventually
generate good assignments. Important Points To Remember:
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