Pearlstein: Too much local news is bad for business news
Cutting back on the number of newspapers and other media outlets in the country will stave off the downturn in business journalism where media organizations are cutting business sections and busines coverage, said Steve Pearlstein, the Pulitzer Prize winning business columnist for the Washington Post.
“There’s too many newspapers,” said Pearlstein, the dinner speaker at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers annual conference on Monday. “And there’s too many news organizations. It’s just too fragmented. There are not the economies of scale for printing and distribution and gathering news to pay for th esoftware necessary to maintain a good web site, to do sales and marketing.”
Pearlstein is the first business columnist to win a Pulitzer in the commentary category. He won the award earlier this month.
“The current situation is obviously not sustainable,” added Pearlstein. “Things will probably get worse before they get better, but they will get better. And they will get better because people will pay for news. Not everyone. We won’t have as many customers as before, I suppose. But we will have customers, and they will pay more.”
Pearlstein told the group of business editors and writers that they were wrong in some respects in what they were covering in terms of business and economics. He questioned why more of them didn’t run the syndicated column of a 20-year Pulitzer winner who can explain what’s going on in the economy and instead ran copy that is written by a young journalist writing a local news story.
“You may feel good as an editor because you’re localizing a story or that you have more local stories, and you have done the best with the resources you have, but it is a mistake to confuse what you can do with the resources you have with what your readers want and need,” said Pearlstein. “And what they want and need is a single source every day, basic comprehensive file of news and analysis from a credible source in convenient form.”
Pearlstein also predicted that many newspapers will start charging for online content, and to direct readers to Web sites of other media organizations isn’t the answer.
He said that readers deserve well-paid business editors and writers who can package news that is exciting and informative. “And they will come back,” said Pearlstein.
“I am not saying that local is not important.” said Pearlstein. “It is important. But too much local news is not sophisticated.”
“Every newspaper should have a business section. If your business page is not as good as USA Today’s business page, there ought to be a good reason for that.” He questioned why many Gannett newspapers didn’t use the business news from USA Today.
Pearlstein said he wasn’t advocating for returning business news to the way it was. But he said that business journalists need to think harder about what their readers need.
“We need to change a lot,” said Pearlstein. “At the end of the day, with that, and consolidation, there is a good business to be had.”