The future of business journalism: an interview with Christopher Roush
Christopher Roush is a veteran business journalist and Dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. He published a book this month called The Future of Business Journalism: Why It Matters for Wall Street and Main Street. Recently, Observer editor James Ledbetter interviewed Roush; this transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Observer: Start by telling me how you came to write this book? What was the inspiration?
Roush: I wrote a book about 15 years ago called Profits and losses, which was a kind of history of business journalism and how it affected society both positively and negatively. And so about two years ago, an editor from Georgetown University Press contacted me and said, “I read your Profits and losses book. It’s been 15 years. I wonder if you have an update. And I happened to be thinking, ‘well, a lot has happened in business journalism in the last 15 years. And much of it hasn’t been good for society. So I gave her an elevator pitch, and she took it to her bosses and they bought it.
In your title, you give a lot of the purpose of the book: you think business journalism can do maybe a little better on Wall Street, but a lot better on Main Street. Can you develop this thesis a bit?
The whole thesis of the book is that business journalism today has resulted in what I call a broadcast divide. For people who can afford to pay thousands of dollars to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, or even pay for a Bloomberg terminal, can get the business and economic information they need. But it’s the 99% of us, the 30 million small business owners and millions of consumers, who no longer receive the business and economic information they need to make important decisions about their business or personal lives. .
One of the things you relate in the book about this divide is the decline in coverage of local affairs in regional newspapers, non-national newspapers. So, for example, you mentioned the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionand it’s funny to see these numbers now, I can’t believe they’ve ever had such a big commercial section.
Let’s be clear, I was one of those people in the business office of the Journal-Constitution when there were 45 people. So, I saw it happening or starting to happen. The internet obviously played a part, when news companies decided they were going to stop publishing print action lists in the daily, which eliminated many pages from the daily stand-alone business section and led many companies press to decide, maybe we don’t need a standalone commercial section anymore. The whole movement of news and information moving away from the daily newspaper and onto the Internet caused many newspaper companies to start looking for ways to reduce what they printed each day, so they could maintain their profit margins. And unfortunately one of the first things they looked at was economic news coverage, which to me was an incredibly myopic and not very smart decision, because they were making that decision around 2007 and 2008 when we We were starting the Great Recession when people really needed business and economic news.
The decision to no longer publish stock or mutual fund prices in daily newspapers is an interesting one. I suspect some of our young readers won’t even understand that such things ever existed in print. Not that any of our young readers have ever read a newspaper. It seems to me that what is perhaps more important, and you talk about it in the book, is the decline in people’s willingness to pay for a newspaper, which is also linked to the rise of the Internet.
One of the biggest mistakes made by newspapers is that when they started putting their news and information on the Internet, they distributed it for free. This has led consumers to expect to get it for free online. Why subscribe to the print newspaper when I can get the same content just by connecting to the Internet? And then when they realized they had to start charging for this, people said, “But you’ve been giving me this content for free for 10, 15 years. Why should I start paying now? »
One thing in the book that surprised me a bit was that you talked about the rise of regional business weeklies and also a company called Adapting small businesses. Can you discuss what you see in those that might point to a solution for larger outlets?
As for the business weeklies, they have now somewhat entered the void left by the daily newspapers and radio broadcasts in terms of local and regional economic information. And, it’s really the only publication in most major cities that covers business news with any regularity or depth or nuance. They are what I consider to be the last great hope of economic news in most cities and towns. And when it comes to Fit Small Business, efforts have been made to produce or provide business news and information to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country. Now what it doesn’t do is really deliver that local business news. If I’m a local business and I’m looking to add a new location, what I want to know is where is the growth happening in my town or city, and where are my competitors adding locations.
I was the editor of Inc. magazine for almost six years. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but we had, for a long time, a weekly web feature called Main Street. We tended in this column to cover companies that had been around for a long time, like 20 or 30 years. Some of them were very good. I would say though, overall, if you ask me are people more likely to read about the mom and pop store on their high street or Elon Musk, it will be Elon Musk. And there were no lines of advertisers queuing around the corner to place their ads next to Main Street content. And so, if people don’t read it and advertise against it, how is it going to be monetized?
These are all fair points. I would say that at least when I was at Journal-Constitution, we’ve always been told that advertisers advertise in the business section because readers in the business section have the highest income per capita, have the highest disposable income. And were the ones who made the big financial decisions in the companies where they worked. So I don’t understand why most media companies have somehow ignored these advertisers by removing their commercial sections.
As the reader goes through the book, you learn a bit more about the possible solutions and the changes taking place in the industry. And I was very struck when you wrote that Reuters was now producing 8,000 automated articles a day. My question is a) how is this even possible? It’s just mind-blowing and, but b) is it really the solution for Main Street? The sources used by Reuters are probably earnings announcements and annual reports. I don’t know if it’s going to exist at the local level unless the local companies you’re talking about are public companies.
I think you can take the software that places like Reuters and the AP use to produce stories and rewrite the software to produce local stories, like real estate, that are important to these small businesses and important to consumers and Free up time for reporters that you still have left to write the biggest, most important stories. Let’s find a way to use this software to automatically write stories about real estate transactions or automatically write stories about restaurant inspection reports that get high traffic for a media organization’s website.
Can you tell us a bit about the importance of education in all of this?
I devote an entire chapter to the fact that colleges and universities are not doing a good job of educating journalists about the importance of business and economic coverage. There are maybe a dozen universities in this country that teach business journalism with any kind of rigor. We make sure everyone learns how to cover education, cops and government. But business and the economy are equally important to society. Yet we don’t teach how to cover these subjects in journalism schools. And that’s a problem.