“Sectors? Careful, you’re dating yourself,” said an editor acquaintance during a recent meeting. She gestured out at the vast newsroom beyond her office. “Most of the kids out there wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.”
As a reporter starting out at a small trade magazine covering the transportation industry, I wouldn’t have either. But with time and experience, I learned that paying attention to what was going on in retail, energy and other sectors made me better at explaining what was happening with trains, trucks, planes and ships.
Practically speaking, any reporter that has knowledge of the ins and outs of business sectors beyond their regular beat helps their bosses. They can use you to pinch hit on news in all sorts of areas. Career-wise, that kind of versatility is a plus.
But it also makes for better journalism when you connect the dots between sectors. It gets to the “why” of the matter, rather than just detailing the “what,” “where,” “when,” and “how.” And in these times when there is more and more discussion about having computers handle the re-gurging of basic facts about companies and beats, making the connections between disparate parts of the business world becomes all the more important.
Of course, some sectors are boring to the point of “why bother?” Utilities, for example. Until, of course, the lights go out. Then some knowledge of power grids and deferred maintenance can come in handy.
And some sectors are overloaded. These days there’s a lot of tech sector coverage, for example. Makes sense: It’s a growing industry with distinctive personalities and a lot of “gee whiz” products. Advertising opportunities are ripe as well, meaning finance departments at journalistic enterprises are more willing to fund extra coverage.
Amid all that tech coverage, though, standing out from the crowd is a challenge. Taking tech developments and making them relate to readers outside the sector itself will likely determine success. (Luckily there is already an issue that takes tech coverage into all sorts of sectors: cybersecurity).
Frankly, covering the business world through a sector lens makes for great stories: How a new EPA coal rule means a town will lose its rail station or why bad bank sector earnings mean egg prices will go up.
So get dated. Know your sectors.
Allen Wastler is the former managing editor of CNNMoney.com and the former managing editor of CNBC.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.