Tag Archives: Commentary
Stephen Bainbridge is a law professor at UCLA who has his own blog. Doing a Web search looking for criticism of how the media has covered the oil and gas industry, I ran across this entry from his blog, which is more than a year old, but still very apropos to what is going on today. Read it here.
It only took until page six of The Empty Tank, the book I mentioned on Sunday, for the author to take a shot at business journalists for downplaying the problems with the supply of oil and gas on the planet.
“Most business journalists” are lumped together with “almost all oil companies, governments and their agencies, most financial analysts” as groups who believe that oil reserves will not top out until around 2030. In other words, the implication is that business journalists are accepting the party line from the companies and analysts.
If you’re wondering who is in the more pessimistic group, which believes that oil reserves are about half of what the other group is estimating, it includes “mostly people who have worked in the heart of the oil industry, the majority of them geologists.” The author added, “They are joined by a small but growing number of analysts and journalists.”
I’ve never seen any sort of critical analysis of how business journalism covers the oil and gas industry. But the field has definitely spent a lot more time this year covering the companies in the field due to the rising costs of a barrel of oil. In addition, the industry has been criticized, particularly after the recent Congressional testimony and ExxonMobil’s record profits.
I received in the mail today a monograph from a professor in Spain with whom I have been corresponding with in the past several months. The title of the monograph is “Economic and Financial Press: From the Beginnings to the First Oil Crisis,” and it is written by Angel Arrese, a professor at the University of Navarra. It is a short history from the 16th century up to the 1970s. He writes in the introduction: “This monograph aims to be a starting point for gleaning greater knowledge of the economic press from a journalistic point of view as well as from the perspective of the spread of economic ideas in western societies.”
Angel and I have been thinking along the same lines recently, and that is that one of the best ways for the field that we call business journalism to understand itself better so that it can continue to grow and develop is to comprehend the past in the field. In other words, we need to know business journalism history. Angel has written short histories in recent years about The Economist, Forbes, BusinessWeek and Fortune for Spanish-language magazines. I have copies of them, but my Spanish is not so good. If you’d like copies of them, drop me a line.
Angel and I got together after he ran across my History of Business Journalism web site. I am now working on finishing a history of business journalism, primarily from an American perspective, that I hope will begin to offer some of the same insights into who we are and where we came from as a field that Angel has provided to his European audience.
I’ve had three interesting conversations and/or contacts related to business journalism in the past 24 hours that I thought I would pass along for their interest:
1. I was contacted by the CFO of a private company in Connecticut, who had gotten my name from a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University. Seems this CFO is tiring of the corporate world, but wants to use his accounting background to good use and thinks that business journalism may be the field for him. He wanted some advice on how to break into business journalism and what skills might be the most appropriate to emphasize.
2. Got a call this morning from an acquaintance who is the editor of one of the American City Business Journal newspapers. He has an opening for a reporter and wanted some advice on people to go after. In the course of the conversation, we got into a discussion about what weekly business newspapers are doing things right and which ones need some help. It was interesting that our perceptions about good and so-so papers within ACBJ meshed quite similarly. As for his job opening, what about the CFO from Connecticut?
3. The subject line on the last contact read in part, “A journalist who needs help.” It was from a veteran journalist of 30 years who had spent most of his career working for religious publications or writing about religion and suddenly found himself working for an industry publication related to the auto industry. He has been on the job now for 11 months and has done a good job of covering the people and the issues, but the financial accounting stuff is still overwhelming and he needs training. I’ve recommended a book and the Reynolds Center workshops to him, but it sounds like he’ll need more than that. Maybe a crash course from the CFO in Connecticut?
Funny how there’s someone trying to get into business journalism who has tons of financial experience but no writing experience, someone already in business journalism with lots of writing experience but no financial experience and then someone looking to hire a business journalist, preferably with a mixture of both.
One of the things that I have been wondering about in relation to the Society of American Business Editors and Writers is how to keep this fine organization growing. And it seems as if SABEW has yet to tap the vast potential of membership within business-related magazines and with the weekly business newspapers that are in most metropolitan markets.
It seems as if the last people on the SABEW board that were part of either of these sectors were Mark Calvey and Sougata Mukherjee, both of whom represented weekly business newspapers. I’ve had discussions with Sougata about this issue because I’m worried that the organization is becoming dominated by the daily newspapers, particularly the daily newspapers in the big metropolitan cities.
And as far as the magazines go, we have virtually no membership from Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, Money, Smart Money and the others in the field. Are we — current SABEW members — beneath them? Or are they beneath us? When I worked at BusinessWeek, I don’t remember any discussion of SABEW involvement. Maybe that’s because a lot of the New York-based business writers belong to the New York Financial Writers Association.
I’ve only been a SABEW member off and on for the past 15 years, and I’ve only started attending the conventions and meetings in the past five years, so I don’t know if there is some sort of historical reason for the lack of interest in SABEW from these areas of business journalism.
I wonder if we could draw more interest from these areas if the Best in Business contest was expanded to include categories specifically tailored to business journalism published in weekly newspapers and in the magazines. Having judged it for two of the last three years, the contest is already stretching the capabilities of the organization, but I think taking such a step would help make SABEW more of an all-inclusive business journalism organization.
Just thinking out loud here.
How much do the online business news Web sites differ in what stories they lead with every morning? That’s something that I have been thinking about a lot in the past few days, so I decided this morning to conduct a test. Here is what the top four sites are leading with on the first day of November:
Bloomberg’s lead story is Qwest Communications agreeing to settle a $400 million lawsuit over accounting fraud. Its second story is a wrap-up of earnings from this morning, including Proctor & Gamble and Colgate. Its third story is Viacom’s third-quarter profits due to an advertising increase at VH1 and BET.
Marketwatch’s top story this morning focuses on the Dell earnings from last night. Dell issued a warning, so the implication this morning is that the stock market is going to take a dive as a result. The second story on its site is another forward-looking story about the Fed raising interest rates once again when the FOMC meets later today.
CNNMoney is leading with the Dell and the Fed stories as well this morning. It’s third story is a tale of how Overstock.com is waging a battle with short sellers.
TheStreet.com also is leading with the Fed story this morning, and it follows that with about a dozen individual company earnings stories.
I’m not sure what this tells me, if anything, other than at least on this morning the sites seem to be focused on looking ahead to the Fed news and how the market will open. Bloomberg is very focused on breaking news this morning, while the others seem to be trying to give more analysis to what lies ahead.
I wrote last week about Michael Hiltzik, who writes a twice-weekly column for the business section of the Los Angeles Times, starting a blog.
In this morning’s column, he explains why he’s starting his blog and what he hopes to accomplish. I also like his breakdown in differentiating between different types of blogs.
Silicon Beat, the business news blog at the San Jose Mercury News, celebrated its one-year anniversary on Friday. As near as I can tell, it’s the oldest business news blog out there. The two writers, Matt Marshall and Mike Bazeley, had a nice commentary on the anniversary, asking for advice on how they can make the blog better. They also get a lot of responses from readers, judging by the responses they got from Friday’s post. I also like their advice by asking people to subscribe to the RSS feed.
In addition, their blog has gotten the attention of other media, most notably this Wall Street Journal article.
Becky Bisbee, the business editor at the Seattle Times, also mentioned business news blogs at the Boston and Portland papers in her post on Friday. Here is my assessment:
1. The Boston Globe blog is called the Business Filter, and it’s a compilation of stories from other online media that its digesting for people on the go who don’t have time to surf the Internet looking for cool stuff to read. This is more of your traditional Weblog that attempts to gives its readers a feel for what else is out there in the vast World Wide Web. It’s compiled by Maura Welch, a former Globe writer who is now a contributing author.
2. The Oregonian business blog is called At Work, and it focuses on workplace news. It is written by Brent Hunsberger, who covers the workplace and manufacturing for the paper. I like his blog better. It does cull items from the Internet, but he spices his entries with his opinions and some juicy tidbits about what he’s writing about. I feel like I know more about Brent from reading his blog than I do about the Boston blogger.
I’ve added links to all of these business news blogs in the blogroll located to the right on the home page of Talking Biz News.
I spent some time today at the Charlotte Observer, which was hosting the Knight-Ridder Writers’ Workshop. As part of a panel on writing for the Internet, I was a little surprised at where blogging is heading in the newsroom. It seems to be most common in the entertainment or features section, and less prevalent in other sections of the paper.
In addition, there seems to be an attempt to blog with responsibility within the newsroom. In other words, blog entries are being edited by editors before they are posted online. I like that.
Check out Becky Bisbee’s comment below on the LA Times’ item about other business sections that are blogging these days. They’re mostly on the West Coast. I’ll try to take a look at them this weekend and post something about them.
One more note on Becky: She will be the Business Writer in Residence at the University of Wisconsin the week of Nov. 6. Read all about her trip back to college life here. Don’t get too close to the keg, OK Becky?
The rumors that business data information and news wire service company Bloomberg LP is for sale are circulating again. There was a story in the British newspaper The Independent today. In addition, the Wall Street Journal has also written a speculative story about the potential for the company to be sold. Both stories give a ballpark figure of $12 billion or more.
These rumors are nothing new. I worked at Bloomberg from 1997 to 1999, and there were persistent rumors as far back as then that Mike Bloomberg, who is now the New York mayor, wanted to sell his stake in the company and do something else. In recent years, I have often heard from my former colleagues still at the company of persistent rumors. One which has continued to gain traction is that the company would be sold to Microsoft, but at the SABEW convention earlier this year, Bill Gates seemed to downplay any interest in content.
What would happen to the thousand-plus journalists who work at Bloomberg would be interesting if a sale did go through. If Bloomberg was sold to Dow Jones or Reuters, then a lot of those reporters and editors would be duplicative to the reporters and editors already working at those competing wires.
In addition, it’s widely perceived within Bloomberg that the data service that comes in the Bloomberg machine has been funding the journalism operations for years, and that the company gets only a small amount of revenue from its editorial content. The Bloomberg stories, frankly, are used to get the company’s high-paying customers interested in what else the box on their desk can tell them.
I’m a big fan of the concept of Bloomberg and the detailed and well-reported stories that it puts out. I also like the fact that Bloomberg in recent years has been involved in training for business journalists through the Society of Professional Journalists and through putting its terminals into select journalism schools across the country, including Cal-Berkeley, Northwestern, Columbia, Ohio and UNC-Chapel Hill. By exposing journalism students to the Bloomberg terminal at these formative years, they’re creating some interest in business journalism, which is a good thing.
However, it’s an intense place to work, and there has been a lot of burnout among the staff. It’s an editor-driven culture, and that rubs some of the reporters the wrong way at times. There has been a movement by the New York Newspaper Guild to unionize the newsroom there, and you can read some of the comments from current and former workers here.
Still, Bloomberg does pay well, and there are lots of nice perks, like the free food and drinks and the office amenities. And I think it’s a good training ground for young reporters to learn a lot about business reporting in a short amount of time.