Tag Archives: Commentary

LA Times series on labor causing a lot of talk

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The Los Angeles Times this week has been running a series called “UFW: A Broken Promise” on the migrant farm worker population that is so important to California agriculture and the state’s economy. You can read the series here.

The day one story has this as its multi-paragraphed nut: “Today, a Times investigation has found, Chavez’s heirs run a web of tax-exempt organizations that exploit his legacy and invoke the harsh lives of farmworkers to raise millions of dollars in public and private money.

“The money does little to improve the lives of California farmworkers, who still struggle with the most basic health and housing needs and try to get by on seasonal, minimum-wage jobs.

“Most of the funds go to burnish the Chavez image and expand the family business, a multimillion-dollar enterprise with an annual payroll of $12 million that includes a dozen Chavez relatives.”

The anti-labor stance that has been running prevalent through the series is causing some backlash from the United Farm Workers and from others.

The media blog L.A. Observed notes that the union has issued a statement, which can be found here. It reads in part:

“The Los Angeles Times is running a series of inaccurate, dishonest and untrue stories by reporter Miriam Pawel viciously attacking the Farm Worker Movement and Cesar Chavez.

“We know the conditions farm workers endure on a daily basis and recognize much work remains. Despite supplying extensive, detailed information and unparalleled access over many months refuting specific inaccuracies and misleading charges, L.A. Times reporter Pawel refused to include the Farm Worker Movement’s side in her stories. ” The bolding is the union’s.

In addition, some California-based political science professors are criticizing the series as well, notes L.A. Observed. The most angry is Berkeley professor Michael O’Hare, who writes on his blog that “Remember the last scene of Animal Farm? This story about the Farm Workers’ union, a ‘print it once and print it all” piece in the best tradition of the LA Times, will break your heart.”

To read all of the criticism, go here.

I couldn't agree more with this blogger's statement

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Soo Doh Nim writes for an international news service and is based in New Jersey. He also writes a blog called “The Hack Squad: Journalism, deadlines and writer’s block.”

This is a snippet of a posting from Monday, with bolded emphasis added by me:

“Good local, national and international news reporting should be about the people. So should good business reporting. But not everyone believes that. Well, like big Bob Dylan said, ‘you do what you must do, and you do it well.’”

“I’m trying and it’s working. But I want to rediscover the people who make journalism worth writing in the first place.”

I couldn’t agree more. Often, business journalists forget that it’s the people involved in the story that they’re writing that makes it so interesting. We often focus too much on the numbers.

Business Press Maven criticizes Kann/House/Zannino coverage

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The Business Press Maven runs on TheStreet.com. And he takes journalists to task for failing to tell readers the significance of what has happened at The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones in the past week:

“The Business Press Maven, however, declares the current crop of reporters guilty of thinness and, worse, in the one area where they themselves are experts: the people who tell them to ‘jump!’ and make them answer: ‘How high?’

“Reporters did not use the appointment of this first non-journalist in 73 years as a springboard to examine who holds the scepter in journalism. Look how The Wall Street Journal itself handled the situation and you’ll know why The Business Press Maven had his grand mal.

“The paper noted soberly in its lead on the subject that there was a break ‘with a tradition of journalists presiding over the company…’ Way, way down in the story the issue was examined with a grand total of two skin-deep paragraphs. The Business Press Maven can only give you the first, because he’ll fall asleep if he has to type both. Parenthetical inserts are my own, to ward off narcolepsy.

“While acknowledging his lack of journalism experience, Mr. Zannino said he was sensitive to the integrity of The Wall Street Journal (YAWN), which he has read since high school (HUH? NERD ALERT.) ‘I know what will happen if we screw up the Journal,’ he said (WILL HE ACCEPT FEWER STOCK OPTIONS?). ‘Having a healthy respect for journalism is important.’ (WHAT A DRONE.)

For more, go here.

More on Dow Jones shakeup

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You know it’s a big deal in business journalism when Newsweek decides to cover the boardroom shakeup at Dow Jones, the parent of The Wall Street Journal.

In the Jan. 16 issue, which is available online, writer Jonathan Darman has a couple of interesting points to make about the departure of CEO Peter Kann and his wife Karen Elliott House, the Journal’s publisher, as well as the new CEO, Richard Zannino.

They include:

1. “Longtime Journal observers saw this history in the boardroom shift. ‘The way this was all handled seems to be a not-so-polite way of asking Peter and Karen to quickly head for the door,’ says a former Dow Jones executive who asked not to be identified so as not to offend Kann and House.”

2. “When reminded that a senior Dow Jones executive was once quoted in a New Yorker article saying that Zannino ‘doesn’t understand, in his genetic material, what journalism is about,’ he is dismissive: “Their evidence for that was that I took the blame for not reopening the cafeteria in this building when we moved back after September 11.” His first reaction when the Journal gets scooped by The New York Times? ‘I’m p—-ed.’”

3. Zannino wants to ‘rethink the content, the layout, the design, the presentation of our news.’ That doesn’t mean rushing into online businesses. His goal is a company whose subscribers ‘read the newspaper on the way into work’ and ‘stay updated all day through the Online Journal.’

Read the entire article here.

Kudos to New York Times' business section

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Joseph Epstein, writing in Commentary magazine, assesses the New York Times and how he reads what some people consider to be the best paper in the country.

Epstein is not high on many sections of the paper, but he does have this to say about the business section: “And I always check the business section, where some of the better writing in the Times appears and where the reporting, because so much is at stake, tends to be more trustworthy.”

The entire article, which is called “Are Newspapers Doomed?”, can be read here.

Providence Journal cutting stock listings

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John Kostrzewa, the business editor of the Providence Journal, announced in his Sunday column that the paper would be cutting stock and mutual fund listings during the week and the weekend to open up more space for local and national business news.

The column is available here, but the ProJo website can only be read by registering first, so here are the highlights:

1. “We also plan to use more local stories from our suburban staff that have statewide business interest. And we will have more listings, such as the new business incorporations.”

2. “Starting today, the stock and mutual fund tables in the Sunday Money & Business section will be condensed to four pages.”

3. “Daily, the stock listings will be cut back to 900 of the most heavily traded stocks from the previous day and the 1,200 mutual funds with the biggest net asset value.”

4. “We are not immune to changing economies and readership trends that require us to make business decisions in order to run our company while providing the best Business section we can. We’ve tried to do that.”

In the Jan. 4 newspaper, Kostrzewa announced other changes to the section, which can be read here. They included:

“We’re making changes to the Business section. Starting today, the stock and mutual fund tables on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be reduced to one page.” Otherwise, the Wednesday column reads verbatim to what was in today’s paper.

I don’t look at the Providence Journal often enough to make a determination about whether these changes are positive or negative for the paper. But the last comment is telling, I thought. It implies that the business section is being forced to cut the amount of newsprint it uses, which means less space — whether it’s for stock and mutual fund listings or for stories.

Reaching business readers

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In last Monday’s edition of the Columbis Ledger-Enquirer, a Knight-Ridder paper, the reporters on the features and business desks were given an opportunity to let the readers know more about themselves. Here is an example:

“I’m Christopher Boyce, a Chicago transplant working on the Ledger-Enquirer business desk.

“One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings goes, ‘Money isn’t everything, but it’s right up there with oxygen.’ Grandpa Boyce is a little eccentric, but the point he makes isn’t far from the truth. It’s also partly why I think business reporting is so important — we all spend money and look to control its flow in our lives and work. That’s my beat at its most basic level.

“I cover operations at Aflac, Carmike Cinemas and in Columbus’ entrepreneurial community through The Small Business Challenge. Together with expert consultant and columnist Susan Miller, I show the trials of owning a small business and how successful practices in small businesses are often similar to those in big businesses.

“After moving here two years ago, I quickly realized that business casual is a little more casual in Columbus. But the speed of business has been plenty fast for this Yankee and I look forward to another hectic year in a town that’s bigger than it lets on.
If you have a business tip or just want to talk business, call me at 571-8523, or e-mail me at cboyce@ledger-enquirer.com.”

I like to see media outlets do things like this. It helps the readers understand who is covering stories that they are interested in. And it also gives the reporter a chance to reach out to sources who may provide information.

If you want to see how the Columbus paper did it, go here.

Labor beat dropped at LA Times

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According to this post on Take Back the Times:

“Also, we hear that Nancy Cleeland, who shared in a Pulitzer Prize for the series about Wal-Mart, no longer has her labor beat, and the Times will not have a replacement soon, according to Russ Stanton, the section editor. In short, the Times, going back to the anti-labor positions of years ago, will not have a labor beat.”

I have long argued against this trend. Labor is an important beat that too many business sections are ignoring, and that’s a shame. They’re basically telling a sizeable percentage of their audience that they don’t care about them. I thought newspapers were worried about losing readership. Well, it’s decisions like this that cause them to lose readership.

For those of you looking to improve your labor coverage, here’s a great resource from Cornell University.

Professor Christopher Martin at Northern Iowa argues that the media today frame labor issues in a way in which the actual concerns of organized workers are ignored. Labor stories are written from a consumer’s perspective, Martin states, trivializing the concerns of the workers while emphasizing the effect of strikes on consumers who want to purchase the goods and services produced by the workers.

As labor reporting stands today, it is a minor part of business journalism despite the fact that 12.9 percent of all working people in the United States belong to a union, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. That number is down from a high in the 1950s, when approximately one-third of all workers belonged to some union. The decline in overall union membership has led to the closure of hundreds of labor publications, including the 2002 demise of the Racine Labor, a newspaper in Wisconsin that existed for 60 years and provided an alternative to the local newspaper.

And while the mainstream media have been criticized for ignoring good labor stories, there hasn’t been any movement to add coverage. Labor writer Michael Hoyt argues that “a lot of good labor stories are simply ignored. A rich harvest goes to waste.� Daily newspapers, weekly news magazines and nightly news broadcasts regularly cover strikes, but without strikes, coverage of labor issues is scant.

One notable exception has been the movement to unionize Wal-Mart stores. William Serrin, a former labor reporter at The New York Times, argues that most editors don’t know or care about labor reporting. “It was just something you had to have in the paper, like obits.� Even when labor is covered, unions defending worker rights is called “troublemaking,� while the media like to tell workers to learn to live with layoffs and that treaties such as NAFTA will help them.

There is perhaps no part of business journalism that needs to be re-examined more than labor reporting. In the early 21st century, BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal are the only media outlets that cover labor extensively. Open any other printed media or watch the nightly news, and you’ll rarely see a story about labor. With more than 15 million potential readers belonging to unions, the media needs to revisit their past – primarily the past of labor newspapers – and look at how labor was once covered and consider adding more stories.

There are plenty of interesting and informative labor stories to cover that would give society a better picture of why unions are declining in membership and what many union leaders are doing to combat newly aggressive corporations and industries, but there are few media that want them, believes Serrin.

Zannino's task: I couldn't have said it better

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This blogger neatly sums up the job facing incoming Dow Jones’ CEO Richard Zannino better than anything else I’ve read in the past couple of days:

“I hope that in his new job as Dow Jones’s chief executive officer, Richard Zannino takes a hard look at The Wall Street Journal’s editorial future. In my mind, the paper is stumbling forward.

“In September, when it launched the weekend edition, I snapped up a copy but then felt let down by it. The problem was that it read like a lifestyle magazine, albeit grayer and more prim than the New York Times. Indeed, the Times reported mixed reactions to the launch, quoting an unimpressed reader saying he found the content commonplace. Granted the Times’ rivalry with the Journal makes its criticisms suspect, nonetheless I have to agree because many others also have felt this way about the weekend edition.

“Zannino might want to ask why have it at all? After all, the Journal is peerless in its ability to break down the numbers and make sense of the free market. No other national paper has as much access to the Street and as much resources covering it. I’ve been told, for instance, that the Journal’s telecoms reporters outnumber those at the Times by 11 to 1.

“Wall Street is the Journal’s brand equity. The paper should be investing vast resources in covering the Stre”et better, faster and deeper, if it doesn’t already do so. And talking about “faster,” speed will be that much more critical if the Journal is serious about marrying its print and web divisions.

“Specifically, the paper should have beefed up its Money & Investing section, arguably its bread and butter. Instead, in the past months, it has gone on a hiring spree for lifestyle writers, whose addition to the paper has turned it into something more like the Times and less like itself.

“As an avid reader, I would vote to keep the weekend edition but instead of fashion, food and faux fur, I would prefer that it stayed on message with finance and business. After five heady days of breaking news, what it could do is step back from that informational deluge and tell readers what the week meant: who were the important players; why; what’s next and when. Also give them the hows, specifically the how-to on personal finance.

“While the weekend edition already does all that, it isn’t doing it from cover to back. But it should. In my view, that means beefing up the finance and business quotient of its staff writers, not dumbing it down with Fendi.”

For the hard-core business news reader, I think this comment is exactly on target with what the Wall Street Journal should be doing. Amen.

Jon Friedman's Hot and Not for 2006

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Jon Friedman writes the media column for Marketwatch.com. He’s a former Bloomberg and BusinessWeek reporter. His recent column on what’s In and Out for 2006 includes this:

Who’s in: Fox Business Channel

Who’s out: CNBC

It’s not exactly front-page news any more to say that Fox is moving forward with a plan to create a rival to CNBC. Rather than wilt in the heat, CNBC has (finally!) tinkered with its lineup and presentation in an effort to look brand new. It’s admirable but it may be too little too late if it eventually has to fend off Fox. If history is any guide, Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who ran CNBC in its heyday, will steamroll his foe. I doubt that Fox’s new business channel will achieve a first-round knockout, but CNBC had better beware. Ailes will scratch and claw to gain an advantage and he isn’t above (or below) fighting dirty. The man just wants to win. And he almost always does.

Read the entire posting here.