Business news much more than grand openings
Publishers Auxiliary/September 2007
A discussion of business news inevitably prompts editors to focus on routine Main Street occurrences. A clothing store celebrates its grand opening. A restaurant opens, offering a distinctive cuisine. A flower shop celebrates its 25th anniversary.
These stories, though worthy of recognition, underscore an underlying point. Business news is much broader than those items which typically qualify for chamber of commerce newsletters. Coverage should be incorporated in the everyday news menu.
Editors often raise red flags ñ or at least hesitate – at requests for business news, and usually for good reason. A store’s grand opening occurs three months after the doors open. A restaurant review would be a “first” for the newspaper. The request for the anniversary story is accompanied by a reminder that the florist is one of the newspaper’s largest advertisers.
Advertising departments are quick to promote business coverage for the promised dividends in increased lineage. Haphazard coverage, however, can be worse than no coverage. Newspapers instead should take a tip from the sports playbook: A deliberate and steady offense will minimize the times that publishers and editors will have to defend coverage. Newsrooms should craft guidelines in consultation with the advertising department and management.
Following are some principles for strengthening business coverage:
Think beyond the chamber of commerce. Chambers of commerce can be a valuable source in tracking obvious stories such as new businesses, ownership changes, expansions and relocations. But the opportunities to incorporate business news into everyday news are much broader. For example: Tailor state unemployment figures to your community or region. Report what companies are doing to combat rising health care costs. What is the impact of an airline strike? Take the pulse of local agribusinesses during the fall harvest.
Proclamations alone are not news. Events such as Manufacturers Week or Small Business Week present opportunities, but stories must be substantive. Find a local angle. For example, are companies challenged to find quality workers? What’s the local economic impact of in-home businesses? If a community does not have a recognition event, why not organize it yourself?
Know your subject. Many writers get the cold shoulder because a business can vividly recall when it’s been “burned” by uninformed reporters. Prep yourself on a company history and the significance of the story in the same manner you’d approach a story arising from a city council meeting. At the same time, businesses must know it is the newspaper’s responsibility to present a balanced story by seeking other “voices.”
Explain the difference between news and advertising. Businesses must understand the separation between news and advertising, and the biggest issues often arise with retailers. The day a store opens is news; the grand opening weeks later is an ad. And, sorry, chamber of commerce visits might be excellent items for newsletters, but not for the news pages.
Report good and bad news. Businesses routinely announce a major expansion. In contrast, how many CEOs make it a point to call about a strike, a plant closing or the dismissal of key management? Credible business coverage demands keeping readers abreast of bad news as well as good news. The most compelling reason is that bad news always travels faster; businesses can quell the rumors by being the first with the facts.
Develop relationships. When’s the last time you’ve had a cup of coffee with the local bank president just to talk with no agenda? Broadening business coverage is all about developing relationships. Newspapers devote a great deal of resources to coverage of the city council, school board and county board. It’s arguable that news about employers – large and small is of even greater interest. Remember, improving business coverage is a shared responsibility. Businesses must be comfortable that reporters can get the story right, and reporters deserve to have all the facts including those that may not be so flattering. It boils down to trust.
Reaching a common understanding of business coverage is at the foundation of drawing the fine line between editorial and advertising departments. The first step is to start a conversation within your newspaper and with your business community. Building business news into your everyday coverage will spell dividends for news and advertising departments.