Sunday, September 7, 2008

Anatomy of an Article

I wrote an article in the Periscope section of this week's Newsweek International (Sept. 15, 2008 issue) about rising global inflation related to bad bookkeeping by governments around the world.

I learned a lot while writing this story, mostly because the final product is much different than what I had originally envisioned and pitched to my editors in New York.

I had heard that the employees of the national statistics agency, INDEC, had launched an online petition last week asking for more transparency in their organization, following 21 months of supposed meddling from Guillermo Moreno, the Kirchner-appointed crony who has been accused of cooking the books to mask a rapidly rising inflation rate here. I thought the fact that the INDEC employees had taken up their fight online (and received more than 11,000 signatures in a week) was a great way to begin an brief exploration of Argentina's ongoing (and seemingly constant) economic woes. My editors agreed. However, as is often the case with stories I write for Newsweek, they wanted to take a more global approach, and asked that I look for examples of other countries where leaders have been accused of fudging the numbers. They suggested I start with China and the U.K.
Admittedly, I knew nothing about how these nations (or any nations, really) tallied their inflation statistics, but a deadline loomed, so I began a frenzied search for information on the topic. I read scores of analytical pieces and articles, interviewed economist Howard Archer of Global Insight in London (whose obervations got cut from the final piece, unfortunately) and basically became an expert (sort of) on inflation statistics.

I went back and forth with my editors through at least five drafts of the article. On each draft they asked me for additional insight and analysis to help convey the 'big picture' of this issue.

Much of the copy was edited from the final piece, both for brevity and space reasons. (The articles in the front-of-the-book Periscope section are typically shorter than other articles). This is always a frustrating part of the editing process, especially when you work so hard to understand, and then explain, a topic to readers. But that's the way it works.
I imagine none of this is apparent to the reader when reading the final 230-word article, but I think it's interesting to note the long process and hard work that goes into producing (what I feel to be) quality and insightful journalism.

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