Editor’s note: Chris Roush is Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Professor in business journalism and Director, Carolina Business News Initiative at the UNC-CH School of Media and Journalism. WRAL TechWire is a frequent user of content provided by North Carolina Business NewsWire, which includes stories from Roush, a veteran business journalist. Through NCBNW, Roush works with UNC journalism students to provide a wide range of coverage about businesses in North Carolina.
CHAPEL HILL – The (Raleigh) News & Observer executive editor John Drescher wrote last week about how it’s overhauling its newsroom, focusing more on stories that its readers want and less on other stories.
That means fewer stories about the process of how government works and other types of stories.
One of the content areas that has already been drastically reduced by The N&O and other daily newspapers across the state during the past decade has been coverage about businesses and the economy.
When I started the business journalism program at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002, for example, the Raleigh paper had a business news desk of 10 staffers and a standalone business section in its print paper. My business news appetite was satiated every day.
Now, business news is covered by one staffer and an editor who is shared with other news areas. They can only cover so many stories in one day. Now, I often find myself googling the names of local companies to find out what the latest news about them, and I’m often reading the press releases that the company put out instead of a news story with analysis and context.
That situation is not good.
I’d argue that the decline of business news coverage in the main media outlets in the state is harming the economy. A lack of objective news and information about what’s going on at businesses, particularly small, entrepreneurial companies that dominate the state, means that investors, consumers and executives often don’t know what’s going on.
Lack of such coverage, I believe, has made it harder for some companies to find new investors and recruit employees and executives.
The Research Triangle Park area is not alone in the decline of business news coverage. The situation at the N&O exists at The Charlotte Observer, The Greensboro News & Record and other papers. Daily newspapers are now focusing more on the business news that average readers want, not the business news that business people want.
Yes, times have changed for the newspaper industry, and they’re having to change their business model to survive. But business and the economy has been THE story of the past decade, and it’s something that readers care about. They want to know what companies are growing and what regions are adding jobs, or which ones are struggling.
Every day, I scan the business news pages of the major media organizations to read what they’re covering, and I’m shocked at the lack of basic business stories.
For example, The Charlotte Observer ignored the earnings last week of snack company Snyder’s-Lance Inc. and that its stock price rose by more than 10 percent in one day. With the company — and hundreds of employees — located in Charlotte, you’d think that would be a story that its readers would want. There wasn’t any coverage last week when Charlotte-based Babcock & Wilcox saw its stock price fall 66 percent in one day.
I’m also shocked at what qualifies as “business news.” One “business news” story on the Observer business news page online on Wednesday was about what restaurant golfer Jordan Spieth visited when he was in town for the PGA Championship.
Other media organizations are trying to fill the void. The business journals in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte do their best, but there’s only so much that they can cover as well with their limited reporting staffs. Business North Carolina magazine also does a good job with its print publication and website. Specialty sites such as WRALTechWire, Exit Event and others also fill the void, to a certain degree.
But the overall, quantitative amount of business news coverage in North Carolina is down compared to a decade ago. And this coverage is more important to the future of the state than other topic areas.
What’s the solution? I’ve argued to the newspapers and websites about the importance of business news coverage. They argue back that they can’t sell advertising around such news and therefore can’t devote as much space to those stories. I’d suggest they need to find the businesses that need such content to help their own operations thrive.
The media exists, at least partly, to provide information and act as a watchdog on vast parts of society. Business is a growing part of society.
And if the media isn’t watching business, then it’s not only missing a big story in North Carolina today, it’s actually hurting residents too.