I just got back today from talking at one of the business reporting seminars put on around the country by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Reporting at the American Press Institute. This seminar was held at the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.
What was disappointing was the turnout. There were 17 journalists registed to attend the session, but by the last session, there were only 10 left in the room. I don’t think it was the quality of the presenters — myself and Kansas’ Jimmy Gentry — because the evaluations all gave fours and fives on a five-point scale.
Why is it so hard to attract people to come to an educational seminar where theyr’e going to improve their work skills? Maybe some editors don’t want to lose their staff for a full day, but the Commercial-Appeal’s business desk was there in full force. Yet there was no one from any of the Arkansas papers, and only one reporter from nearby Mississippi, and she was from Jackson. Distance wasn’t an issue because there was at least one reporter from the Knoxville area — a six-hour drive — and two journalists from the Tuscaloosa, Ala., paper, whose managing editor is a former business editor in Sarasota.
The API seminars are a great learning tool. But business journalists won’t get better at their craft until they start taking advantage of these kind of opportunities.
I’ll be doing these workshops in Dallas on Wednesday and Orlando on Friday, where the registration is higher, so maybe those will make me feel better about the future of business journalism.