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10 tips on writing about GDP reports


Global Business Journalism reporter

Reporting on GDP numbers is a basic responsibility of business journalists, and one that often separates sophisticated reporters and talented writers from the merely mundane. Here are some tips that could deepen your understanding of GDP reporting and improve your coverage.

1. Understand macroeconomics

Before you write about GDP reports, understand how to report on macroeconomic issues. Understand what GDP – Gross Domestic Product – comprises and why it is so important in business journalism. Know where to get timely economic data and information. Most economic indicators have a specified schedule for releases at certain times of the month and year. Journalists can plan news stories around those schedules.

2. Always think of your readers

Analyze and interpret the data in a way that average citizens can understand and use. Avoid economic jargon. Make sure to include data, but always put data into context and avoid using too many numbers. Economic information and news stories help people understand what is happening in their country, state, town or city.

3. Measure and interpret GDP data

Write clearly and make sure to explain the significance of GDP changes, from quarter to quarter, year to year, or long-term economic trends. Always remember that numbers alone do not tell the story. GDP numbers are always big. Without context and without understanding of historical trends, your story will be confusing and maybe even misleading.

4. Organize the data

You might want to explain the key sectors or regions that are covered in the GDP by using bullet points or other organizational tools. A bullet-point style can help you organize the data you are describing and analyzing. It helps make information more logical, and it’s easier to read and understand.

5. Check, re-check the facts and numbers

Your credibility is on the line every time you write, Get it right. And remember that you are not reporting just for investors but the citizens too.

6. Look for trends

Compare and contrast GDP levels over a period years to see if there was a trend, a reversal of a trend or significant changes. If this is the first GDP drop in years, it's a big story. If it's the largest (or smallest) GDP increase in years, it's a big story. If it reverses a trend – or accelerates a trend – it's a big story. Always look for these kinds of changes in your GDP data, whether it is global, national, regional, sectoral or local.

7. Know how the components of GDP are calculated

To explain GDP changes to your readers, you must understand how GDP can be calculated. It can be calculated three ways, using expenditures, production or incomes. It can be adjusted for inflation, for constant U.S. dollars and population to provide deeper insights. It also can be calculated for "purchasing power parity," which adjusts GDP based on the standard of living of a country.

8. Do additional reporting

Interview the right people: savvy analysts, policymakers, staff of companies key stakeholders and sometimes players in certain industries or sectors where there are significant changes. It is important to include analytical quotations from economist, other policy experts or political figures.

9. Understand consumption and consumer spending

Consumers play a key role in GDP changes. You want to ask these questions: How did consumer behavior influence GDP performance? What will these GDP numbers mean for consumer confidence – and consumer spending – going forward?

10. Go beyond a single number

Put the GDP data into local, national and global context. What are the political implications – or policy implications – of the latest numbers? What might happen next in response to these GDP numbers, both in the public and private sectors?

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