The business reporter's conundrum
I received the following e-mail from a business reporter at a daily newspaper in a metropolitan market in the Eastern U.S. today. He/she is frustrated with his job. I am deleting references to towns and cities to protect him.
He/she wrote: “While I love my job, the problem I’ve come up against is that there are so many — I cannot stress how many — areas on this beat to cover.
“One day its Verizon’s deployment of fiber optics in [city deleted], the next its a biotech story from the local research park, then a story comes in about an iPod, then a consumer has a complaint about Cingular, then its something on Comcast, then back to a local tech company here in town.
“And now they want me covering consumer electronics – sounds fun, but it’s just more research and learning about a new area. Which is fine. But quite frankly, it’s not the kind of business reporting I care to do — inserting my opinion on whether I like the latest digital camera. On top of that, it’s news people can get anywhere on the Web from seasonsed experts. The thinking is primarily to ‘attract young readers.’
“I want readers getting tech news they can only get in [city deleted.]
“It would be nice to concentrate on one area, say, telecommunications. Or just the local technology companies and their news. But it feels as though I get ahead in one area and then fall behind and have to catch up in another. I’m delaying doing stories about local companies because I am tied up elsewhere.
“Sometimes I literally freeze at my desk and can’t even figure out where to go next. Do I interview the publicly-traded biotechnology company for a big enterprise story? Or do research as to when Verizon plans to offer TV to [local residents]? Or what about a story on the rise of online video? It’s like a constant weight on my shoulders as to where to go next. Lists I’ve tried, don’t help greatly.
“I’ve talked to editors, who understand but the issue, but this is kind of just the way it is.
“Is this a common problem in business news departments/reporters – having to cover all these different areas? Is it just being a year into the beat and it’ll get easier to juggle? Is it being relatively new to the whole industry? Got any advice you can send? No rush.
“Perhaps that is what is so enticing about business reporting – the sheer complexity of everything.”
Sound familiar? Here was my reply:
“You express the frustration that virtually every business journalist faces. Donâ€™t think youâ€™re alone in this battle.
“The best jobs I had was when I was able to tell my boss what stories I was going to focus on and what stories I was going to ignore. You canâ€™t possible cover everything, and I have a front page of the biz section from my time at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on my office wall to remind me of this. There are five stories on the front, and I wrote four of them. The only problem is that one of them has an error in it. Why? Because I tried to do too much.
“I highly recommend you sit down with your editor and let him/her know that you can only cover so much and that you feel uncomfortable doing product reviews. You are not Walter Mossberg of the WSJ. If you develop a well-thought out plan of what you should cover and why itâ€™s important to [city deleted] readers, I bet they would listen to you and appreciate your work.
“Of course then comes the hard part. Youâ€™ll need to executive and provide that coverage that [city deleted] readers arenâ€™t getting anywhere else.
“I hope that helps. Let me know if you have specifics you want to discuss.”
Anybody else want to step in and post some advice?