By Jim Pumarlo
The coronavirus pandemic is dominating headlines, generating stories on issues touching nearly every aspect of lives.
Reports addressing the health and safety of citizens are obviously center stage. At the same time, the pandemic has spawned a range of stories focusing on our worksites – the places we earn a paycheck as employees and purchase products and services as consumers. Business lockdowns and restrictions have redefined commerce and reshaped daily routines.
Business news from all aspects deserves extra attention during these extraordinary times. This is also an opportunity to think about expanded business coverage during ordinary times. Stories about employers and employees have a big impact on communities. What happens at the workplace might even overshadow a decision of a local governing body. Yet, many newspapers struggle for consistent coverage of employers and employees.
It’s impractical in many newsrooms to devote one person to report on business. Editors and reporters still can incorporate business coverage into their everyday regimen of assignments. The first step is to brainstorm stories on a regular basis similar to examining coverage of local government or sports.
Here is one list:
When is the last time you compared and contrasted local employment with statewide statistics? Take it a step further, and identify a feature story representing specific trends. Present the trends and data in graphically pleasing, easy-to-understand formats. If online, make the data interactive, searchable and alive.
How are businesses grappling with health care costs, and what is the impact on employees?
Is your community facing a workforce shortage? What steps are companies taking to attract and retain qualified workers?
Do companies provide on-site child care? Share the best practices.
What is the local landscape of in-home businesses?
How important are exports to the bottom line of businesses? Provide a local perspective into the global economy.
Who are the winners and losers in the international trade wars?
What sustainability measures are companies implementing to respond to consumer demand for a green economy?
Has the role of long-term care facilities changed as people live longer and programs are in place to help them stay in their own homes?
How important is e-commerce to local merchants? Are companies hindered by lack of broadband access? How are businesses best getting their messages to customers? Facebook? Web? Phone? Videoconferencing?
The stories are limited only by staff resources. As with any beat, newspapers will soon discover that the more attention devoted to the broad definition of business news, the more ideas that readers will forward.
Credible and ongoing coverage of employers and employees can lead to increased advertising revenue as well. Be clear, this does not mean saying “yes” to every advertiser’s request for news coverage. Newspapers are in the strongest position by maintaining a clear separation between news and advertising. That’s in the best interests of both your advertising and news departments.
At the same time, news and advertising departments should explore shared opportunities. Newsrooms are regularly approached to publicize such events as Manufacturers Week or Small Business Week or Nursing Home Week. As you discuss news coverage, think about ways to generate revenue, too. Identify possibilities for a special section. Maybe even sponsor an event in conjunction with, say, the local chamber of commerce or manufacturers association. Investigate all platforms for news and advertising from print to digital.
Here’s a worthwhile exercise for all newspapers.
Take a quiz in your newsrooms. You all can likely name the members of the city council or school board, local lawmakers, the county administrator. But how many can name the city’s five largest employers, or the names of their CEOs, or the top corporate contributors to the local United Way? Have you ever toured these facilities or met the owners or management team? It’s fairly common for the downtown retailers to convene at a local restaurant for morning coffee. Have you ever attended?
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. Editorial and advertising staffs must have a common understanding of what is worthy of a story and what warrants an ad.
As a first step, begin a conversation within your newspaper and with your business community. Identify the opportunities and challenges, and then make a plan. Building business news into your everyday coverage will spell dividends for news and advertising departments.
Jim Pumarlo writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage,” “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers.” He can be reached at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes