Someone sent this to me recently. It’s a short opinion piece written by Randall Rothenberg of Ad Age to the person starting the new business magazine for Conde Nast. And it ran a couple of months ago in Crain’s New York Business.
I am posting it here because I think that it nicely synthesizes the challenges ahead for starting a new business news publication in this market.
Crain’s New York Business
September 26, 2005
SECTION: VIEWPOINT; Pg. 10
LENGTH: 446 words
HEADLINE: Business journalism’s nitty-gritty
BYLINE: Randall Rothenberg
Joanne Lipman, Editor
Unnamed Business Media Empire
Conde Nast Building
New York, NY
Congratulations on your latest creative challenge. I cannot imagine anyone better to lead the development of an integrated business-media unit at Conde Nast. As The Wall Street Journal’s advertising columnist, you were a formidable competitor; as an editor, you birthed one of the best out-of-the-box new newspaper sections in decades, “Weekend Journal.”
But you’re entering a dangerous arena. Even as business has grown in both economic and cultural significance, business media seem to have lost their way.
After six years as a suit, I believe that it’s because business journalists know journalism better than they know business. They don’t really understand the quotidian concerns of the executives they cover. So here’s my list of five things journalists need to know about business:
1. Most senior executives are consumed by the day-to-day. Journalists love narrative, because it makes for good reading; hence their obsession with grand strategies, thrilling victories and agonizing defeats. Executives’ time is focused on the small stuff–from compensating for a staff member’s family crisis to coping with shortfalls in weekly same-store sales.
2. Executives don’t want to know what sucks; they want to know what works. Let’s face it: The media thrive on outrage. Even before the current era of business scandals, broken companies were a staple of the genre. But what business leaders really crave is practical advice.
3. People matter more than anything else. Journalists are ornery, independent cusses who hew to the “great man” theory of business because they believe that if their editors would only leave them alone, they’d produce great literature. Executives know that nothing gets accomplished without the support of a team.
4. The hardest thing to create is not a blockbuster product, but alignment. The question that CEOs ask more than any other is, “Why does everyone agree, yet nothing changes?” Delivering real returns requires hard attention to structure, decision rights, information flows and incentives–issues that almost never make it into business stories.
5. Executives are journalists’ mirror image. Successful business leaders and journalists share unquenchable curiosity and a hunger for facts. They also are romantics who crave perfection. But journalists, tempered by their profession’s culture, channel that into dark cynicism. Executives can’t lose optimism. If they don’t believe that tomorrow will be better than today, they can’t honestly serve their shareholders.
Randall Rothenberg is a columnist for Advertising Age, a Crain publication.