Business May Be on the Rebound, But Coverage of Business May Never Rebound 6

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In his typical fashion, David Carr of the New York Times eloquently sums up in today’s Media Equation column why coverage of business isn’t following the business rebound. Or as he mixes words much better than I, “Business is a Beat Deflated.”

Despite, positive news on the economic front, those that cover business continue to be hit with painful developments, which Carr references:

  • Last week the Wall Street Journal closed down its Boston office, which had been a long-time staple of deep-dive reporting and investigative journalism. Although they noted that some investigative function will remain, the closing ended Bill Bulkeley’s multi-decade run at the Journal. Bulkeley had been with the Journal for 37 years, covering technology since 1979. He was, up until his exit, the main beat reporter of IBM and EMC, two Fortune 500 staples. (Update: Bill noted to me earlier this week that he was “blindsided” by the closing and was still trying to figure out what was next after 3 decades there).
  • BusinessWeek, was sold after 80 year’s of ownership by McGraw-Hill for as little as $2 million a few weeks ago.
  • Fortune announced last week that it will cut back from 25 issues to 18 issues a year. In addition, insiders believe that additional cuts will occur across TIME Inc. magazine properties by the end of the year.
  • Forbes already announced last week that it will cut a quarter of its staff.
  • Carr doesn’t mention that his own paper will shed 100 news room jobs by the end of the year.

Carr uses the data to outline his theory that: “While the business of business may be back, the business of covering it with heroic narratives and upbeat glossy spreads most certainly is not. And probably never will be.”

Its hard to argue against and even tougher to explain to clients (especially CEO’s) that have grown accustomed to associating PR success with their appearances on glossy covers. Peter Himler touched on this last week, when looking at Michael Bush’s piece for Ad Age:

“There remains a vast swath of corporate communicators and their bosses in the C-suite for which a Twitterfeed, company blog, YouTube or Facebook page takes a distant backseat to a prominent piece in Business Week or The Journal or an appearance on ‘Today’ or ‘Squawk Box.’ Believe it or not, even a client’s by-line in the world’s most popular (and conversation catalyzing) blog Huffington Post isn’t viewed by many as having the same value as a piece in The New York Times or the New Yorker.”

It’s not going to get any better. As we know, the business of business journalism is broken in the digital age. With business updates by the second, readership for past-tense features are rapidly dwindling. Therefore, ad dollars that still exist, are moving away from the magazines and into new digital channels. However, Carr hits on something much deeper than just the business being broken. He attributes part of the collapse to consumer resentment and being out of date / touch:

“It’s not that the public has lost its appetite for stories about handsome men in three-piece suits who clink whiskey glasses at the end of a long, not-so-hard day while talking smack about their female co-workers. But “Mad Men” pretty much sates that need. The businessman as Colossus is by now a nostalgic impulse.”

It’s a valid argument. Heck, TIME is trying to leverage the resentment as a way to make money on its business coverage (cover above). Unfortunately, that isn’t a good story for TIME’s colleagues at Fortune, the Bill Bulkeley’s of the world or CEO’s looking to get their name in print – or even Google searches. Those that consume business media consume, as Carr notes “hope and aspiration.”

The issue of Fortune on newsstands now, adorned with a digital image of Obama and Google glasses will probably be one of the best-selling issues of the year. Just like this Economist cover probably was. Therefore, when I look back a few weeks ago to Bulkeley telling me in advance of a briefing that he and the WSJ Boston office were kept away from Obama’s cleantech discussion at MIT “because DC owns all Obama coverage,” it was probably a bad sign on a variety of fronts.

There just isn’t much hope in business journalism these days, unless you’re working on cable TV.

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6 thoughts on “Business May Be on the Rebound, But Coverage of Business May Never Rebound

  • Brian Robinson

    I think you are being way too pessimistic here. I think business journalism is changing, not dying. It may be the end of general business pubs such as Fortune and Business Week — at least in the format they’ve existed in to now — but the evidence of business focused stories is all over the place. It’s just that, with the economic high jinks of the past few years, you find them more on the general news pages, and online in general news coverage.

    Business issues are becoming central to many of the big stories of the day, and I don’t begrudge that. It’s what should have been happening decades ago. But tradition dictated they be kept to the business pages, or to the business mags.

    Hopefully, journalists getting into the business will be taught business oriented skills along with the more general skills they need to do the job. That’s what they’ll need for the future,

  • Kyle Austin Post author

    Brian – Thanks for the comment. You’re probably right in that I take it too far. My point was that print business journalism may not ever rebound to the glossy stories and front page exposés that we have associated with the craft in the past. However, as you note that may not be a bad thing. I agree that if these stories take center stage on the general news pages, we’ll be better off.