Tag Archives: Coverage

Workforce

The nasty bias in business journalism

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Liz Ryan writes for The Huffington Post about what she calls the nasty bias in business journalism — the lack of coverage about the people who work at companies.

Ryan writes, “People move the numbers. People build the products and have the ahas and design the supply chains. Without human mojo and pixie dust, we’ve got nothing, but the public business conversation denies that inescapable reality. People are meaty, earthy, milky, warm and wise. They power everything that happens in business, but we leave them out of the story and the equation. We don’t send journalists looking for data to support the idea that paying executives tons of money is good for productivity. We take it as an article of faith.

“I once had an editor of a big-city daily tell me that he couldn’t run my story (gently chastising a large employer for lying to its employees about a company HQ move — and looking back, I’m not sure why I was gentle about it) because the employer could turn out to be a big advertiser in the paper. I think that was an aberration — I don’t think it’s a fear of employer retribution (in the form of pulled ads) that makes business-page editors so weenified. I think it’s one of those unexamined American frames, just the way things are, never discussed, never considered through another lens, not even around the business-page editorial table.

“If we can’t say how a theme or a notion helps corporations make more money (pumping milk at work, for example, or reversing the steady mechanization of people at work that started with time-and-motion studies and continues through tighter and tighter turns of the screws in American workplaces every day) then there’s simply nothing to say about it.

“That’s wrong. It’s not responsible journalism, but more than that, it’s not responsible citizenship.”

Read more here.

Scott Nelson

Business news in the Pacific Northwest focuses on consumer and enterprise

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Scott Nelson is the business editor at The (Portland) Oregonian, being named to that slot in July 2011. He oversees a staff of 11.

He had served as deputy business editor, breaking news editor, online enterprise editor and Portland editor since joining The Oregonian in 2003. He has taken a newsier approach to coverage, building on what he sees as the newspaper’s strong consumer and enterprise reporting.

Nelson graduated cum laude from Linfield College with a B.A. in mass communications and political science. He has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland and a certificate in financial planning from the University of South Florida.

He was personal finance editor at The Tampa Tribune and also worked for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and The Boston Globe.

In October 2011, The Oregonian unveiled a revamped business section, focusing on the fast pace of economic activity across the Portland area and provides a deeper focus on local businesses.

The paper also added two new reporters to the staff – Elliot Njus, covering real estate news, and Molly Young, writing about small business.

Nelson spoke with Talking Biz News on Saturday during the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism Boot Camp workshop at The Oregonian on covering companies. What follows is an edited transcript.

What is the Oregonian’s philosophy in covering business and economics news?

W’e're in a period and a place where you have competing ideologies and really competing demands on your time. And I think the reporters feel that acutely. So in one regard, when I came in as business editor 15 months ago, I said we need to be more aggressive than we had in the past on transactional stuff. Things are happening in the business community that are not being reflecting in our coverage.

What I really wanted to do was differentiate the business section from any other section that we had. I wanted it to be unique and have its own look and feel. I wanted it to have a higher story count. We would have three or four story counts and big pictures, but I wanted seven or eight stories on the front.

We have done that, and we’re much better. The reaction from business readers as been almost uniformally positive. They think they are getting  lot more. They had felt like the paper was taking things away from them, and this was giving them more.

How can you do all of that?

That’s also happening at a time that everybody is having to do a lot more on the digital front. That is much more important. Almost every business reporter has a beat blog, and those take a fair amount of time.

So how do you do that and do the higher number of dailies to have the higher story count and some A1 stories and Sunday stories? I think the bar is higher than it has in the past. The number of things you have to juggle and be good at is at so much more of a premium than it has been in the past.

What have been the bigget changes have you made since you took over as business editor?

What you try to do as a manager is not burn people out. If you looked at the business section in the year before they appointed me, it’s a very different looking and feeling section. The whole team does that. We shifted our focus. It’s a much higher story county, much more news, and a faster pace.

Is there a price to be paid for that in terms of enterprise? Probably so. It would be denying the obvious. We try to find a balance and walk that line all the time.

The business section recently underwent a redesign. What has been the reaction?

We went from a four- or five-story count standard front with large centerpieces, which was like our other sections, to one that is unique to business. It went to more of an old-school newspaper like, more like The Wall Street Journal or a 19th-century newspaper.

We now have at least a seven-story front, sometimes eight or nine. Photos are smaller. We went with  much more vertical format.

We put doglegs in, which the Oregonian hadn’t done in a long time, so the design staff had to be retrained that that is OK. So visually we we thought was a cleaner, sleeker, more vertical, more information intensive look.

We only have standalone sections most weeks Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. On Wednesday and Saturday, we’re inside Metro. On Monday, we don’t have a section at all.

What is the competition like for business news in Oregon?

There is a real competition with time. Unlike the business journal, we have an obligation and a need to do bigger take out stories. We have to do trend stories. We have to do investigative pieces of important companies and watchdog companies that frankly business journals don’t have to do.

In terms of traditional media, the business journal is the biggest traditional competition. They are competitors in terms of daily, transactional breaking news. And they are very good at that. A lot of things, they put things up first and we chase it down. It’s funny because we’re owned by the same company. (Editor’s note: The Oregoninan’s parent is Advance Publication, while the Portland Business Journal is part of American City Business Journals. Both are part of the Newhouse media empire.)

What are the biggest companies that the paper focuses on and why?

Portland is not a big headquarters city. We do have a handful of big companies. Nike is the biggest one. Precision Castparts is big. Intel is not based here, but it has 16,000 ewmployees in here. Adidas North America operations is there.

In general, it’s not like a Boston or San Francisco or a Charlotte. So one of the changes I made when I came on was to better reflect the smaller businesses. We now have two small business reporters.  One spends half of his day managing our website, and the other day doing entrepreneurs and startups and small companies.

Since this is not a huge headqurters town, we cover more small businesses. Our blind spot has always been covering the 1,000 small companies in the market.

You don’t see too many daily business sections focusing on consumer issues. Why does The Oregonian?

Laura Gunderson is fabulous. It probably is based on the fact that we’re not a major headquarters town. We have the fleibility to look around and decide the best use of our reporters, and consumer and retail coverage is one of those areas that is really popular. Readers can’t get enough of it, so we go with where the readers are.

Another reason that plays so well in this mariket is because we have a beat reporter who is really good. I would put Laura up against anyone else in the country on that beat, and she really gets digital and engages readers.

Is there anything you’d like to do to improve the paper’s coverage?

I think that any time you make a big adjustment, you have to play it out and see how it goes and then you correct the course. There is always adjusting. We have added a lot more stories and information and lists and a lot more transactional in the daily. And that is good.

But we need to find a way to tip the balance an get more enerprise and investigative. I want to get more of that, the big stories. If the Oregonian doesn’t do that in this market, nobody will. We have to find ways to find the most important stories for business readers. Finding a way to make sure that balance is kept or tipped slightly will be a focus for us.

It’s tough for reporters these days because we’re giving them so many mandates these days. That will continue to be true. But I want to make sure that the enterprise doesn’t get lost in the mix.

Private equity

Lost in the shuffle, or Don’t forget the broader audience

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Lost in the shuffle of Thursday’s news was a little nugget about private-equity firms agreeing to not compete for deals. From the Bloomberg story:

Top executives at buyout firms including Blackstone Group LP (BX)KKR & Co. (KKR), Bain Capital Partners LLC and Carlyle Group (CG) LP assured each other in e-mails that they wouldn’t compete on deals to avoid driving up prices and angering competitors, according to a now public court complaint.

The correspondence was cited as evidence that the firms rigged bids in 19 leveraged buyouts and eight other transactions, including the biggest deals of the leveraged buyout boom, according to the amended complaint unsealed yesterday by a federal judge in Boston.

“We would much rather work with you guys than against you,” Blackstone President Tony James wrote in an e-mail to KKR co-founder George Roberts in reference to the Freescale Semiconductor Ltd. (FSL) buyout, according to the complaint. “Together we can be unstoppable but in opposition we can cost each other a lot of money.” According to the complaint, Roberts replied, “Agreed.”

The extensive Bloomberg story goes on to chronicle many high-profile, expensive deals and their funding in detail. It devolves into a deal list. The story does mention the suit is being filed while private-equity is fighting for its reputation as Mitt Romey, co-founder of Bain Capital, runs for president.

Ok. But really, who cares? There’s absolutely nothing relatable about the story for the average person. That’s not Bloomberg’s core audience, but you’d think that somewhere in there would be a mention of WHY this is bad.

The reason, I think, is that pension funds have billions of dollars invested in private-equity firms like KKR, Blackstone, and Carlyle. That’s money that ultimately belongs to firefighters, police officers and teachers. It’s hard to think about not getting the best deals for pensioners.

According to the Associated Press (via WSJ):

A complaint released Wednesday by a federal district court in Boston details email exchanges between executives at Bain Capital, Blackstone Group LP, and other private equity giants. It’s part of a long-running lawsuit charging the firms with rigging bids for 19 buyouts during the wave of blockbuster deals before the financial crisis.

The plaintiffs in the class-action case are former shareholders in the companies bought by the private equity firms. Their lawsuit names nine of the largest private equity firms along with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. as defendants.

The plaintiffs say the firms colluded in some of the largest private-equity deals made between 2003 and 2007, such as buyouts for Neiman Marcus, Toys “R” Us and the hospital chain HCA, among others. They argue that the firms joined together to suppress competition and lower prices.

Blackstone spokesman Peter Rose described the complaint as far-fetched and a “fabrication.” Rose said the plaintiffs have imagined a conspiracy “involving hundreds of investment professionals, 11 firms and 27 transactions” lasting years. The emails, Rose said, are “wrenched out of context.”

Private equity deserves the benefit of the doubt. And it’s an important point to make that none of the pension funds are part of the suit. That means they’re likely happy with the returns they’re receiving for their investments, which is the whole point.

It’s hard to complain when you get what you want. But I am surprised that journalists aren’t immediately pointing out the link between regular citizens and private equity. It would make the story much more relatable to the average person and would help them understand something about their investments.

Fierce competition in business journalism for the attention of sophisticated readers is causing some outlets to forget that there’s a broader audience out there. Most people need to feel connected to fully engage in a story. This is something that some business news outlets should remember.

Mortgage

The “so what?’ missing from Wells Fargo lawsuit story

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In yet another chapter in the seemingly never-ending mortgage saga, the U.S. government sued Wells Fargo on Tuesday, claiming the bank approved less-than-stellar loans backed by the government then sought insurance to cover their losses once they defaulted.

From the Wall Street Journal story:

The complaint alleges nearly a decade of misconduct dating back to May 2001. The suit contends that San Francisco-based Wells engaged in “regular practice of reckless origination and underwriting” of government-backed loans. The company said that more than 100,000 FHA loans met federal guidelines when more than half of them didn’t, according to the complaint.

In a statement Tuesday, Wells Fargo denied the allegations. The company acted in “good faith and in compliance” with federal rules, it said. Many of the issues in the lawsuit had been previously addressed with federal agencies, the company also said. “The bank will present facts to vigorously defend itself against this action,” it said.

Add another bank to the long list that have been singled out by the government for their actions before the 2008 financial crisis. From the New York Times:

The action against Wells Fargo came after many civil lawsuits were filed by the government against large banks related to their lending practices. A number of the banks have settled the cases, including Deutsche Bank, which paid more than $200 million to resolve civil fraud charges; Citigroup’s Citimortgage unit, which settled claims for $158 million; and Bank of America, in a settlement connected to its Countrywide Financial business, for $1 billion.

To bring these cases, the government has used an obscure law called the Financial Institutions Reform, Recover, and Enforcement Act. The law, passed after the saving-and-loans scandals in the late 1980s, gives the government broad authority to bring civil claims and seek big financial penalties against federally insured banks. That law also has a lower standard of proof than criminal business fraud statutes.

Despite these civil actions against the large banks, the Justice Department has been criticized for bringing too few criminal cases against banks and their executives tied to their conduct during the housing boom and financial crisis. Prosecutors have said these cases are difficult to bring because they require proving an intent to defraud beyond a reasonable doubt.

It’s this last paragraph here that I find intriguing. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the cornerstone of our legal system and I would doubt anyone actually wants to see that standard pushed aside. As bitter as it is for taxpayers, it seems that civil actions are going to be the only way to recover some money after the debacle.

But there are other ways for the government to attempt to penalize banks for bad behavior. From the WSJ:

Another set of cases centers around the role of large banks in packaging mortgages into bonds and selling them to investors. Last week, New York’s top prosecutor filed a civil lawsuit against J.P. Morgan Chase, alleging widespread fraud by the company’s Bear Stearns unit in the sale of mortgage-backed securities. It was the first case to be brought under the aegis of a group of federal and state prosecutors and regulators formed by President Barack Obama in January.

J.P. Morgan Chase spokesman Joseph Evangelisti said the bank intends to contest the allegations, and that it is “disappointed” the New York attorney general “decided to pursue its civil action without ever offering us an opportunity to rebut the claims.”

Last month, Bank of America agreed to pay $2.43 billion without admitting wrongdoing to settle claims it misled investors about the acquisition of troubled brokerage firm Merrill Lynch & Co.

So, just add Wells to the growing list of firms potentially being fined for actions before or during the crisis. Sigh.

The stories out there from the major business papers did a good job pulling together all the suits and reasons banks might have to pay-up from the mortgage crisis, but I’m missing the “so what?” from all of these.

Who gets the money? Will it actually help consumers? If banks are getting sued for mortgages is this going to cause some to exit the business? I guess I’m just missing the big, grand state-of-the-mortgage industry now story. I want it spelled out for me. Implications for me, my potential to buy a home, you know, how are all these suits affecting real people.

What happened to all those lenders and servicers after the crisis? How are modified loans performing? Are banks even still working through that backlog or have they moved onto the next crisis?

As sad as it is, I think it’s time for the “Five Years After the Crisis State of the Mortgage Industry” story. So, who’s going to write it?

Variety

Entertainment biz pub Variety sold to Deadline owner

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The Hollywood trade paper Variety has been acquired by Penske Media Corp. and its financial backer, hedge fund Third Point, for about $25 million, in a power shift for the world of show business and a transformation of the industry’s most famous news brand, writes Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times.

Fritz writes, “Santa Monica-based Penske already owns Deadline.com, the website that has in just six years become a dominant news source for show business professionals and, together with online competitor Wrap and a resurgent Hollywood Reporter, stolen much of the thunder that belonged to Variety for its 107-year history.

“The fact that Penske, a digital media company headed by Chief Executive Jay Penske, won a nearly seven-month long auction held by Variety’s British owner Reed Elsevier signifies how dominant a force the Internet has become in Hollywood. While Variety competes online, its five-day-a-week daily edition and weekly magazine are no longer the must-reads in Hollywood that they once were.

“In an interview, Penske said he believed Variety had faltered due to complacency, and that he intended to make it ‘absolutely fundamental and indispensable’ to its readers in Hollywood.

“He has not yet determined, however, what key changes he will make, including whether he will stop publishing either or both print editions.”

Read more here.

Energy industry

What we need from energy journalists

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David Roberts writes on ThinkProgress.org about the type of journalism that needs to be practiced in terms of covering energy companies.

Roberts writes, “There are finance and business journalists who cover energy as a commodity business, tracking global supply and demand flows, prices, futures trading, all that sort of stuff. There are business and tech journalists who focus on cleantech. There are environmental journalists, who tend to cover energy (when they do it) through the lens of enviros vs. polluters. And there are political journalists who cover energy as a campaign and/or policy issue, sometimes as a specialty, more often as part of a portfolio.

“There are journalists who straddle more than one of these tribes, but they are fairly rare — mostly what you have is a blind men and elephant situation. Each tribe has its own ambit, tropes, and habits of thinking, which persist through sheer vocational inertia.

“What I’d like to see in all these varieties of energy journalism is a little bit more systems thinking, a greater sense of context. Humanity’s relationship with energy is changing in fundamental ways and lots of the familiar frames for energy coverage no longer make much sense, or at least are woefully inadequate.”

Read more here.

Daytona-Beach-News-Journal

Florida paper to print chamber content

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The Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida will publish content from the local chamber of commerce, according to a story on the paper’s website.

The story states, “The joint effort was announced in September by Chamber chairman Garry Lubi and Daytona Beach News-Journal publisher Ron Wallace.

“‘The Voice’ will be available as a four-page pullout section and the Chamber will provide all editorial content, including business-related articles, a calendar of events, member profiles, lists of new and renewing members and photographs from recent events. Advertising will be handled by News-Journal account executives.

“‘We see this partnership as a tremendous opportunity in which two of the most dedicated business advocates in Flagler County work hand-in-hand to help improve the quality of life for all, through support of economic development, education improvements and job creation and by sharing the many great stories that result from these important efforts,’ Wallace said in a news release announcing the partnership.

“Lubi said the partnership will complement the organization’s efforts to increase awareness of the Chamber and its programs.”

Read more here.

luckystrike ad

Advertising Week! Cats and dogs living together!

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It’s Advertising Week 2012! Ok, so no one’s actually jumping out of a chair to run to New York, but Tanzina Vega and Stuart Elliot do have an interesting story in the New York Times about the five-day event.

As the world relies more on digital, companies are trying to figure out the best way to reach more segmented audiences, sometimes with shrinking budgets. This year’s conferences are increasingly focused on social, mobile and digital media – a far cry from the “Mad Men” days of beautiful print ads.

It was also a chance for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to help advertisers better understand the value of advertising on social networking sites. From the story:

Facebook took the opportunity of a session at the Mixx conference to answer questions about the efficacy of buying advertising on its site — questions that were widespread even before the company’s disappointing initial public offering.

Brad Smallwood, director of pricing and measurement at Facebook, discussed the findings of a study the company hoped would change advertisers’ minds about depending on measurements like clicks to determine the success of campaigns on facebook.com. The goal is to have them perceive the social network more as a medium akin to television for branded advertising.

“If you ran a campaign in the last five years, you focused on clicks,” Mr. Smallwood said, but “demand fulfillment is only one piece of the marketing puzzle.”

“We have to provide a solution for the brand marketers of the world,” he added.

The study was conducted with a new Facebook partner, Datalogix, a company that measures in-store purchases. Fifty campaigns on Facebook were measured, for brands from giant marketers like Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Unilever. When purchase data from stores was combined with data about ad impressions on Facebook, the study found that 70 percent of the campaigns enjoyed three times greater return on their budgets, and 99 percent of the sales came from consumers who did not interact with the Facebook ads.

I’m not sure that last part proves the point (unless it’s an error), but needless to say, advertisers are definitely looking for more engagement and better ways to measure their success.

I’m bringing this up since the topic of advertisers was discussed by one of the more interesting panels at last week’s Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference last week. The person with some of the most radical ideas: Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel.

Web advertisers are struggling and seem to be constantly chasing two-year-old trends, Tyrangiel said. For example, right now the hot buy is video and video pre-roll, but adding a 30-second advertisement to the beginning of every video is bad for advertisers and creates a terrible user experience, he said.

Tyrangiel said he’d like to see advertisers spend more money and not just slap the same banner ad up on every site. Companies who spend more to create a custom ad experience on different sites will “nail it on engagement.” With the rise in specialized content and people willing to pay for the information they want to receive, advertisers will have to consider a different approach to their online and mobile campaigns, Tyrangiel said.

And if customization is the key for online advertisers, then companies need to figure out how to better use social media tools to engage customers. From the Times story:

At another Mixx presentation, Joel Lunenfeld, vice president for global brand strategy at Twitter, shared data about the relationships people have with brands on twitter.com.

Nine out of 10 people on Twitter follow at least one brand, Mr. Lunenfeld said. Although most said they did so for promotions, coupons and free products, he said that 87 percent said they followed brands for fun and entertainment and 80 percent said they did so for access to exclusive content.

Among the examples presented by Mr. Lunenfeld were how brands like Panasonic and Procter & Gamble use Twitter. Perhaps most interesting was Mr. Lunenfeld’s connection between Twitter posts and television commercials.

“Twitter is the EKG of action for television,” he said, adding that 50 percent of people who use Twitter do so while watching TV.”

I find this factoid about TV and Twitter staggering. Smart companies don’t just slap a Twitter icon on the bottom of advertisements; they’re finding a way to engage the audience. And another key question for companies is how to integrate all these platforms to create a cohesive experience.

Forbes.com contributor Rhonda Hurwitz wrote in a recent post that companies typically fail with social media in one of three ways. They either outsource too much, put the department responsible for social media off to the side or don’t engage employees in the process.

As companies spend more on social advertising – it’s expected to more than double during the next five years to 18.8 percent of total marketing spend, Hurwitz said citing CMOsurvey.org.

That’s a lot of people throwing money as something not fully a part of the business. And for those who write about advertising and marketing, it’s important to pay attention.

 

 

 

American Banker

American Banker, Bond Buyer are for sale

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Luisa Beltran of PEHub reports that Source Media, the parent company of American Banker and The Bond Buyer, is for sale.

Beltran writes, “The Jordan Edmiston Group is advising, the persons say. New York-based SourceMedia, which publishes American Banker and The Bond Buyer, produces EBITDA in the mid-teens, two bankers say. However, another source says the company’s EBITDA has been falling and is actually around $10 million.

“SourceMedia will likely sell for around 5x to 6x EBITDA, one banker says.

“‘We cannot confirm nor deny,’ says Firas El Amine, an Investcorp MD, when asked about the SourceMedia auction.

“SourceMedia represents a rather long hold, nearly eight years, for Investcorp, a Bahrain private equity firm. Investcorp acquired SourceMedia, when it was known as Thomson Media, for $350 million in 2004. (The seller was Thomson Corp. which went on to buy Reuters in 2007 and formed Thomson Reuters, the publisher of peHUB).

“Investcorp split SourceMedia in two businesses and sold one half, Accuity Holdings, last year to Reed Elsevier for about $530.1 million. For Investcorp, the Accuity sale generated a return of nearly two times the cash it put into SourceMedia, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“The auction of SourceMedia is early, sources say, and first-round bids have yet to be received. Strategics will likely not be interested in SourceMedia, two bankers say. Instead, private equity is expected to dominate the auction. ‘Likely buyers will be private equity funds who already own a platform in B2B publishing,’ one banker says.”

Read more here.

Orange County Register

Orange County Register confirms it’s bringing back biz section

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The Orange County Register in California confirmed that it’s bringing back its standalone business section.

Talking Biz News reported the details earlier this month.

The Register writes, “The Orange County Register is introducing a new standalone, 4-8 page Business section beginning Oct. 1 that will include daily themes and in-depth reporting on the success stories, lessons learned, tips, trends, growth industries, influential business leaders and rising-star entrepreneurs who define Orange County’s business community.

“The themed sections, which publish Mondays through Saturdays, will contain a mix of must-read local business news and features that influence our professional and personal lives, investments and decision-making. The standalone section replaces the current Business section, which is included within the Register’s News section.

“‘The revamped Business section will connect Orange County industries and trends with the greater business world, and explain with greater depth and context how the news applies or can be applied to our working lives,’ said Ken Brusic, editor of the Register. ‘The quality of the section will be significantly enhanced with richer storytelling, graphics, data, columns and contributions from authoritative voices in the community.’”

Read more here.