Top 10 business journalism events of 2008

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As we wind down a tumultuous year in journalism, here are the top 10 events and trends in business journalism for 2008:

1. The cutting of standalone business sections at metro papers. From the Orange County Register to The (Raleigh) News & Observer, the decision to cut standalone business sections will have far-reaching ramifications for business journalism, especially during a time of economic and Wall Street turmoil. Consumers need such information now more than ever, yet it’s been relegated to the back of the sports section or inside the metro section, making it harder to find. I expect a reader backlash.

2. The continued strength of The Wall Street Journal. Many predicted the paper’s demise after its purchase by Rupert Murdoch, but The Journal has gotten stronger. Its front page now has a sense of urgency to it, and its writing is shorter and to the point. The Journal has aggressively redesigned its Web site and continued to keep its best content behind a pay wall. And its survived the resignation of managing editor Marcus Brauchli in April by shuffling its top managers.

3. Major business journalists crossing over. From Marketwatch columnist Herb Greenberg to St. Petersburg Times senior business writer Helen Huntley, more and more business reporters are joining the other side and becoming investment advisors, or simply leaving business journalism for greener pastures. What do they know that the rest of us don’t?

4. CNBC’s Jim Cramer’s flubs. Yes, it’s just a TV show, but what Cramer fails to realize is that people watch him and act on his advice. Earlier this year, he told investors that Wachovia was safe. It’s now been taken over by Wells Fargo in a mercy sale. And Cramer has seemingly flip-flopped about whether investors should remain in the market. His association with CNBC gives all of business journalism a black eye.

5. The AP overhauls its business desk. Under the direction of new business editor Hal Ritter, the Associated Press is now focusing its business coverage on 12 core beats, which it promises will allow it to deepen its coverage of breaking news and allow it to produce more enterprise stories. If successful, this template could provide a roadmap for other business news desks struggling to determine what they should cover.

6. Steve Pearlstein wins a Pulitzer. The Washington Post business columnist becomes the first from a business section to win a Pulitzer in the commentary category. Pearlstein has been warning about the economic troubles for the past two years. It’s well-deserved recognition and puts business news commentary in the spotlight.

7. The increasing importance of personal finance journalism. With the market in an upheaval, and the Bernie Madoff scandal just now unraveling, new personal finance ventures such as CNBC’s “On the Money” show and Clark Howard‘s show on CNN, not to mention the New York Times hiring new personal finance columnist Ron Lieber back in May, seem prescient. What readers and viewers need more than ever is advice from experts.

8. The Wichita Eagle goes against the grain. At a time when most metro papers are cutting their business news hole, the Eagle has been expanding its business coverage, creating a standalone section on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and focusing more on hard business stories. I think they’re on to something.

9. Bloomberg News changes. From acquiring the 20 percent stake owned by Merrill Lynch to new leadership in the newsroom and on the broadcast side, Bloomberg News continues to evolve and grow. It’s poised to gain market share from others in 2009.

10. The launch of WSJ. The lifestyle magazine for the rich shows that business journalism can expand its niche, even at a time when advertising is falling.