Ask A Pro
S. Mitra Kalita
Examples of Work
Faces of Bankruptcy: Former Enron employees ache for a lost way of life
Meltdown Mode: Layoffs, pressure push young dot-commers to edge of burnout
The New India: A Taste of the West: India's economic explosion has an American flavor
The New India: Left Behind By Technology: Indian rickshawallahs say they're the last of a generation
The New India: Beyond the Slump: India's tech sector taps new markets
The New India: College Training: Tough Road to IIT
The New India: India Calling: Their telecom industry is booming — and they’re talking to us
The New India: Dropping The ‘Sir’ Culture
S. Mitra Kalita's personal Web page
S. Mitra Kalita
S. Mitra Kalita
Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
What are your main duties?
I am a business reporter at Newsday, but I always feel the need to warn people that I don't write about boring stuff!
I mainly write about the intersection of immigration and the New York City economy. So I write a lot about industries that are heavily immigrant-dominated from taxi drivers to hot-dog vendors to computer programmers to bodegas (small mom and pop stores) and other small businesses. In between, I cover breaking business news, from Enron to the stock market.
How did you get interested in business coverage?
As a senior in high school, I had an internship at The Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition. Part of my job was to go through The Wall Street Journal every day and pick out stories my peers might find interesting for our monthly publication. Back then, I thought business news meant boring news so I thought it would be a very hard task. Imagine my surprise when I found myself intrigued by plenty of stories in the Journal every day, stories about the business of entertainment, the quirky and human sides of CEOs, even one gem about a gorilla who knew sign language!
What types of things do you have to know to specialize in business writing?
Business reporters need to have the same skills as all other reporters in the newsroom: a curiosity about the world around them, the ability to ask sources over and over again what something means, a style of writing that is clear and concise and explains concepts in language my mother would understand.
Before I did my first internship as a business reporter, I attended a boot camp sponsored by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. There, I learned the difference between a stock and a bond, revenue and profit.
Sometimes, I use pictures to help bring numbers to life. Let's say I have to write about a quarterly or annual earnings report from a candy company. (That's the report where the company tells you how much money it made after paying off all its expenses.) I might imagine myself handing money to a cashier for a candy bar, then that candy bar company getting a portion of my money, then that company buying more cocoa beans and the other yummy ingredients that go into the candy, then paying its workers to make more of the candy, etc etc.
Oh, and one final thing I advise every aspiring reporter learn: percentages!
Why has business news become such an important part of the newspaper?
Think about all the things you like to do. Shopping. Traveling. Going to the movies. Reading books. None of those things would be possible without money. People of all ages care about their money and want to read about ways they can save it or make more of it. Also think about the questions adults seem to always ask each other. "What's your name?" is usually followed by "What to you do?" We tend to define people by their careers and professions -- also topics covered by business reporters.
Over the last few years, more and more Americans have been investing in the stock market; it's also become a lot more accessible of an activity through the Internet. An increased number of investors have meant more readers for business sections nationwide, more viewers for programs, even entire channels, specifically devoted to business. As the economy booms, people care about their investments. As the economy tanks, people care about their investments.
Finally, I think the collapse of energy giant Enron forced people to play closer attention to business news.
If you were a high school student, what kinds of stories would you consider to be business-type stories about the school?
Well, I think you can find a business angle to almost every story. When I think about business stories, I like to think about trends. An editor at The Wall Street Journal once told me that if you have three occurrences or examples of anything, you have a trend, you have a story. So a story about boy bands might point out the popularity of N*Sync, Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. But let's talk about current stories, not old news!
As a high school-age business reporter, you always want to pay attention to what people are spending their money on, from music to clothing to food. I find it fascinating how many more teenagers today are working than in the days I attended high school. Do your peers still get allowances? If so, how much and is it enough? Another interesting story might be to follow one teen's spending habits through the course of a week. Are credit-card companies targeting youth? Do any students you know invest in the stock market? How are they planning on paying for college? Do more people buy school lunch or bring their own? Are boys still expected to pay for the prom? Speaking of prom, how much does the total (from dresses, tuxedo rentals, corsages, limo rentals, dinner tickets, after-parties, weekends at the beach) come to? Maybe you want to break it down to dollars spent per minute. Do poorer students feel like they can't take part in a lot of school activities? The answers to these questions should lead you to a range of business stories.
How can I prepare myself for a career as a business writer? Are there certain kinds of classes I should take when I get to college? Magazines or business journals I should be reading?
You should try to take a range of courses from many different disciplines in college, no matter what career path you plan to take. I regret not taking an economics class in college, so if you already know you want to be a business reporter, I'd certainly advise that. I took a statistics class that I found moderately useful. I was a history major and found that immensely useful as a way to identify trends and learn that economic condition is inseparable from politics, culture, religion, art, etc. You should read, read, read. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are must-reads for every reporter, not just business reporters. I also speak Spanish, and have found it invaluable for interviewing workers of all backgrounds in the city. I highly recommend reporters learn at least one foreign language.
Some people assume that business writing is dry. Can you use a variety of writing styles in writing business stories?
Yes! I write profiles, features, in-depth pieces in a variety of styles. Business reporting shouldn't be dry. If you want people to read your work, it better be engaging, thought provoking and interesting.