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Some papers keeping business coverage alive

Some papers keeping business coverage alive

Some papers keeping business coverage alive

Two years ago, the Florida Times-Union’s full-time business columnist left the paper. Until now, that position was never filled.

This month, blogger and banking executive Abel Harding joins the ranks of the paper’s business desk as its new full-time business columnist. “The publisher and the editor, as well as others here value business coverage and see it as an opportunity to retain and grow readership,” said Times-Union business editor Wayne Ezell in an e-mail interview.

Along with staff, distribution and content, many major papers cut their standalone business section as well as business coverage in the beginning of 2009. Metros that cast aside their daily standalone business sections included the Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Los Angeles Times, Kansas City Star and the Denver Post. “Traditional business news tends to be read by a more narrow slice of readers than local news or many features in the paper. So reducing or eliminating the section was met with less resistance than eliminating other parts of the paper,” said Ezell.

And yet, as the year gets closer to its end, several papers like the Times-Union are going against what has become the norm by ramping up business coverage.

Recently, the Richmond Times-Dispatch touted their continually expanding business division, in coverage and staff. They restyled the Sunday Business section under the new moniker Moneywise and added staff including David Ress, who joined the team as a primary economic reporter, and Tammie Smith, who is covering the business of the health industry, making for a total of 10 people on their business desk.

On the same day, The Dallas Morning News posted an article announcing that they had formed a partnership with the Financial Planning Association of Dallas-Fort Worth. Via the paper’s Expert Financial Advice blog, readers can submit questions that go to a financial expert. “For years, we have answered readers’ financial questions in the Business section. Now we’ve taken the service much further, thanks to a network of local financial planners,” said business editor Dennis Fulton in a Morning News article. “The service is free of charge for qualifying readers.”

According to a Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, once the economy started to improve, general financial media coverage dwindled even more. Yet the economy was at its worst when metro dailies first started slicing into their business coverage.

In a Talking Biz News article, William Holstein, former editor in chief of Chief Executive Magazine and a former editor of BusinessWeek, wrote that less business coverage can result in fewer chances for a CEO to get their story into the media and display their company’s strategy. In addition, he claimed that the worst effects were that “corporate leaders now have few opportunities to learn from one another’s experience or even to know what’s going on in their regions and industries.”

Expressing the same sentiment, Ezell noted that local communities know less about what is happening in the business world. “The diminished space, staffing and expertise in this area will dilute the watchdog role that newspapers are able to play, paving the way for more mischief making in business and the preying on consumers,” he said.

As for other publications restoring what they have cut once the economy turns around, Ezell said it probably won’t happen since the business staff and news is shifting more online. “Our readers are online, for the most part, so we will continue to gravitate there to meet their needs as well as to take advantage of the expanded opportunities that digital media offers us,” he said.

Despite the relative health of the paper’s business section, Ezell said they have not been immune to cuts and eliminated a couple of positions in the last two years. They now have 3.5 reporters and one columnist as well as a health writer who contributes business stories related to the health care community. Regardless, Ezell said that he believes that if newspapers are tuned into their reader’s needs and wants, then business coverage will have a bright future. “That future will continue to shift away from print to online, of course, but I think as long as the printed product is delivered to doorsteps and newsstands, readers of newsprint will welcome and pay for an appropriate mix of business and financial news,” he said.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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