Wick Communications

Business (coverage) is slow

In journalism on February 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm

If your paper’s like mine, you don’t do a very good job with local business coverage. Just ask Charles Nelson.

Nelson is a great friend of the Half Moon Bay Review. He’s an advertiser, a subscriber and a friendly face. But he’s not entirely happy with his local newspaper, as he told me in an e-mail last week:

As much as I enjoy and respect the Review, I’ve always thought it was weak in business coverage.  It covers Main Street’s every move and highlights new small businesses, but misses the larger picture.

Nelson (that’s the handsome fella at left in the accompanying Review photo) went on to suggest about two-dozen business story ideas that are local and important. For instance, he thinks we should report on the local unemployment rate, how a Business Improvement District taxing city hotels is doing, and how many new business licenses were issued in the last year. He’s not asking for grand economic studies or Timothy Geithner’s work to end the Great Recession. If he were, his complaints would be easy to shrug off as not our problem.

But he’s exactly right and there is no one to blame but the guy typing these words…

There are a few reasons why community newspapers generally don’t do a very good job covering such business stories:

  • No dedicated reporter: Most of us don’t have a “business” reporter, per se. Instead we pick someone to write about the new business or cover some chamber function. Consequently, the kind of drill-down beat reporting Nelson wants from his local newspaper goes uncovered.
  • It may involve math: Many of us have an aversion to tax and redevelopment district kinds of stories because we know we may have to get out the calculator at some point. We may not voice it, but we know the best way to avoid a correction next week is to avoid delving into something we don’t understand very well this week.
  • People don’t like to talk about money: While business owners love to talk about their new endeavor during the grand opening, they are less thrilled to see a reporter who is there to ask why sales are flat – or even how much more the business made last year.

Business reporting need not be impenetrable. But it requires reporters and editors to think beyond ribbon cuttings and press releases to the underlying trends. I assured Nelson I would turn over a new leaf this year and give more thought to our business coverage. Maybe you should do the same.

Clay

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