We can add still another franchise – business news – to those being abandoned by the daily press. I’ve seen slimming of business pages, some announced grandly, some never acknowledged but painfully obvious to newspaper readers. Once-robust sections of eight pages have trickled to six or four, clear candidates for newspaper hospice.
So the Orange County Register’s recent moves – in addition
to a segmentation (old people: print; young people: online) approach caught my
eye. The Register seems to be giving up on the local print business business:
- Its Business Monday section was eliminated.
- It stopped publishing its stock tables.
- It folded daily business news into its main news
That’s indicative of what we’re seeing, usually in a more piecemeal decline, across the country, with papers as diverse as the Denver Post, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Reno Gazette-Journal, Winston-Salem Journal, Monterey Herald and Akron Beacon-Journal announcing major cutbacks.
It’s not surprising. The Web is so much better suited for
business news in so many ways. Business is immediacy, moving faster than
government – seconds, minutes, hours, days – as often compared to months and
years. Business is about numbers, and instant access to interactive,
automatically databases are a wonder. Take Marketwatch’s new Portfolio product,
for instance, which combines current stock price, historical pricing and
current news into one dynamically updated screen.
Such innovation reminds me of the days of newspaper
business innovation. I believe (Knight Ridder alums, please
remind me) it was the Miami Herald that innovated the Business Monday section
in the early ‘80s. The idea was a simple
one: both for the readers and for the newsroom journalists – business literacy.
Where daily newspaper had long concentrated on governmental coverage, it started dawning on people that this little phenomenon called American capitalism might be worth a look. The emergence of local and regional private sector coverage was a good thing, and over time, we even saw some journalists hired for some degree of business acumen. The comfort with numbers has never approached, though, the comfort with words in any daily newsroom I’ve ever seen, save the Wall Street Journal.
It is worth pointing to SABEW, the organization for business news editors and reporters, which has managed to keep nurturing the beleaguered trade.
(Last year I did a presentation of news business change to a
group of editors at a midsize daily. One came up to me at the conclusion and
offered, “That was really interesting, though I’m not sure I got it all, “I’ve
never been good with statistics.'”)
That discomfort has never been a good thing. Increasingly
sophisticated readers have become increasingly frustrated with innumerate
journalists and gone elsewhere, as dailies largely failed to climb the business
news hill fast enough.
So here we are in 2008 and face these realities:
- As print papers slim, they’ll cut business news and business news reporters. It’s fine to eliminate expensive-to-print listings tables, something they should have done earlier before today’s big crunch.
- Papers will have less call on local/regional print business advertising, further reducing those revenues. Failure to deeply cover regional business only exacerbates such ad loss, as business advertisers find the B2B and B2C ad targeting and lead generation of the web far superior to expensive, mass market print.
- On the web, the business news game is largely global and national – not local. While dailies used to be the portal of business news – local and national – for their readers, they’re not online. We’ve learned that national media – WSJ, New York Times, AP, Reuters, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, Business 2.0 and lots of specialized blogs or blog aggregators like TechCrunch, AllThingsD and SeekingAlpha are the places to go.
- The Web
business news business is lucrative. Business news – an area through which
lots of money is moved – pulls in the highest CPMs out there. Take the niche of
business news video – exploding on the above sites – and you see CPMs of $100
So where does that leave local business news coverage? Most
companies I think will just cutback in print and limp along online.
We may see innovation and new business models in a couple
of areas. Expect to see more partnerships between the national/global business
news suppliers and local media sites. Look at what Reuters did with the
International Herald Tribune a couple of months ago. IHT, owned by the New York
Times, contracted with Reuters to provide both its print and online business
sections. Co-branded. Revenue share.
That’s also the approach of Dow Jones, which over the years has signed up
about three dozen papers for its Sunday personal finance print product. The Register
is one of those papers carrying the product, along with the Denver Post, Star
Tribune and Sacramento Bee. Steve Townsley, an alum of both Newspaper Direct
and New Century Network, is directing sales for the product.
Townsley says the product, featuring per fi content from
WSJ, Marketwatch and Barrons, runs two to four pages for the Sunday business
section (as long as one remains!), with local publishers getting two-thirds of
net ad revenue sold on the pages. Fidelity, Vanguard and T Rowe Price are among
the advertisers. Again, co-branded. Revenue share. At this point, Dow Jones’
initiative is a print one, with only a pdf version web-available.
What makes sense now is a full-throttle national/local partnership -- mainly online -- with some print products as ads merit, with Reuters, Dow Jones and Bloomberg leading contenders to move on such an opportunity. AP also has a position to play, but
I haven’t seen it get enough serious traction with business products over the years.
There is some local innovation. Just last month, Philly.com launched a 3-4 minute daily early afternoon video
report, anchored by its business news blogger. Eric Grilly, who runs
Philly.com, says the sponsorship (currently ING) of the five-day-a-week program
should bring in about $250,000 a year.
But for the most part, I think we’ll see the level of actual
local business news reporting diminish. Sure national reporters will parachute
in to follow bigger stories and businesses themselves are rapidly becoming
“publishers” filling the void with “news” they generate about themselves and
then merrily distribute on the web. Yes, Pfizer, Ford and Chevron are all
But knowledgeable local business news coverage – barely out of adolescence – seems unlikely to develop into a robust middle age.