OLD Media Moves

How the voice of business journalism changed

November 16, 2009

Nancy Koehn, a professor at the Harvard Business School, has published an anthology of New York Times business articles dating back to the 19th century that show how business and coverage of business has evolved.

She was interviewed by Martha Lagace of Harvard about the book, called The Story of American Business: From the Pages of The New York Times.

Here is an excerpt:

Q: Having examined roughly 1,000 articles covering more than 150 years of business, what changes did you notice in the practice of business journalism?

A: My overall sense is that, story by story, the reporting is very thoughtful and careful. At this moment in history when we wring our hands about the future of newspapers, readers who care about the importance and contribution of newspapers should look at the book, because it adds an enormous testament to the power of the printed word as produced by journalists.

One thing that strikes me about coverage by New York Times reporters is how their writing styles have changed. Historically the reporters’ “voices” were more elegant and at the same time more deferential to readers than they are in our time. When we read some of the early stories, such as the one about female stockbrokers in the 19th century [February 3, 1880: “Ladies as Stock Speculators”], it is fascinating how the reporter seems to invite you, the reader, into his parlor where he has arrayed aspects of the subject. In those early years the reporters’ perspective was “come with me and get to know this subject.” They included wonderful details that today would not be included for fear the reporter would not appear objective. In the past there was a familiarity and a sense of being right there with the subject that accompanies such grace and intimacy.

We see a similar intimacy in stories up until the 1960s, when we then begin to see a higher, thicker wall develop between the subject and the reporter and by extension the reader.

Read more here.

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