Business Journalism Problem: Good Advice is Boring

I posted here yesterday about a Jay Goltz’ “Cash is Not King” post on NYTimes. I said:

So what’s up with this? Is it just man bites dog, good journalism because it’s surprising, reversing standard wisdom?

Yes, it is: good journalism, not-so-good business writing, because it’s playing to a catchy headline. It surprises people. He contradicts the “cash is king” thing for that post, but here’s the same Jay Goltz earlier this year:

Cash flow is not the same thing as profitability. Cash gets stuck in places — inventory, receivables, fixed assets, debt repayment. Hence the lack of flow. You need to get a handle on your cash flow as well as your profitability. Companies go broke because they run out of cash. Cash is king. Cash flow is a dictator. It will dictate your success.

So true. So why did he post “cash is not king” last week? Because it works. He does make a valid point, despite the upside-down title.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Business plan bashing, for example, goes on all the time, still, because not planning is contrarian, and trendy. I posted here just a couple of months ago about how I suspect a smart person like Penelope Trunk gives bad advice on purpose, to be controversial, for the sake of blog traffic.

I don’t know that it’s even all that bad. Maybe it makes us think. I probably do it when I can, as long as I turn it around, like Jay Goltz did, by the end of the post.

I’m just saying it’s there and it happens all the time.

(Image: courtesy of


  • Chris Parsons says:


    Blogs can be a great place for information and advice, but 90% of the content on blogs is too general to be directly helpful to a particular person in a particular situation. That’s just the truth when you are writing for thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.

    Plus, with how frequently blogs are updated, it’s impossible to give good advice consistently that hasn’t already been covered 100 times in 100 different ways.

  • Penelope Trunk says:

    Hi, Tim.
    I’m always surprised that people think I write controversial things just to get traffic. First of all, I don’t make money from traffic on my blog.I make six-figures from my blog, yes, but it’s not dependent on traffic, it’s dependent on having smart ideas that publishers want to resell.

    Also, for what it’s worth, traffic online is based on people resending a post to their friend. So you need more than a good headline to make that happen. The New York Times did a great study about what makes someone forward content to their friends. The content that gets fowarded the most is content that inspires people — and that certainly isn’t content that is controversial just for controversy’s sake.

    Finally, I have a startup funded by venture capitalists. They fund me because they like my ideas. If I wrote stupid things on my blog, people would not fund my companies.

    So, maybe people need to rethink what good journalism is. I think good business writing is writing that people want to read. Writing that makes people think in new and different ways. We all want to be inspired to think in new ways. As writers, we owe it to our readers to attempt that every single time we write.


    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Penelope, I really appreciate the point of view of another real pro.

      Yes, I’ve used your work as an example once or twice because it is very well written and often inspiring but also occasionally includes advice (the terrible career advice women give women, for example) that has had several smart women who I respect aggressively disagreeing with you. I don’t claim to know what’s good advice or bad advice in any case, but that’s why it comes up here.

      When you say “the content that gets forwarded the most is content that inspires people,” I just hope you’re right with that.

      And re good journalism, of course it’s rooted in the ideal of writing that people want to read, but it’s not that simple either, right? I go with your making people think idea, and we can make people read by jarring them awake. Beyond that, It’s hard to decide what’s good advice and what isn’t. So much of the business and career advice we give applies only in some cases. It’s very hard to generalize. I was intrigued by what Alex Rinehart said on twitter, that the same is true in health journalism. That made me think about writing against good diet and regular exercise, for example; is it easier to classify advice as good or bad in this area, compared to business? And what if somebody gives well written bad advice that gets a lot of readership?

      Maybe the best defense of any piece of advice is it’s an opinion honestly held, and advice honestly given.

  • Rieva Lesonsky says:

    When you’re writing for business owners, I don’t think it’s ok to write for traffic or because you’re bored with the topic and how it’s covered. Business owners, both aspiring and existing, need advice and information. We’re not writing for their entertainment, but for their edification.
    If you want to offer a contrarian POV, that’s fine as long as your argument is not offering bad info because you’re creating your own agenda.

  • Chris Parsons says:

    I actually had a “business plan bashing” post as well – and an “anti-new years resolution” post in the same vein.

    I can’t speak for Penelope, but for me certain topics just get too standardized – to the point where they are being done just for the sake of it, because that’s what you are supposed to do. Of course being controversial is fun and may drive some traffic, but ultimately it is about making people question their assumptions, which is a good thing.

    By the way, the posts I mentioned can be found here:

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