How to mess up a trend story
The NYT botches a story today on entrepreneurs who don’t speak English. Interesting topic that’s worthy of much better execution. Here’s how they accomplished it:
1. Use really bad data that tells us nothing useful.
2. Come off as condescending about your “trend.” (I.e. imply the act of making money somehow depends on using the English language. Or suggest it’s inconceivable that there are large populations of Americans who choose not to speak English. Let alone non-English speaking populations who pay for goods and services.)
3. Express surprise at unsurprising things, like:
“And while generations of immigrants have thrived despite language barriers, technology, these days, has made it easier for such entrepreneurs to attain considerable affluence.”
4. Have sources strongly imply your angle is obvious. As in: “The entire market is Hispanic,” Mr. Sanchez said of his business. “You don’t need English.”
5. Have an expert explain to you what technology does:
“It wasn’t impossible — but much, much harder — for immigrants to operate businesses around the globe a hundred years ago, when there were no jet planes, to say nothing of cellphones and computers,” Ms. Foner said.
6. Reemphasize your point: “But stories like Mr. Sanchez’s, though certainly unusual, seem to suggest that an entrepreneur can do just fine without English — especially with the aid of modern technology, not to mention determination and ingenuity.”
7. Build your story from a vaguely insulting premise, like the idea you need to speak English to be rich, for example. Use phrases to express how interesting your trend is - and don’t worry if your conclusion is obvious! Just drive it home repeatedly. As in: “Yet Mr. Sanchez has lived the great American success story” and “despite speaking little or no English, became remarkably prosperous.”
Source: The New York Times