The importance of the business trade press
The latest episode of the Journalism History podcast features University of Arkansas assistant professor Rob Wells discussing the necessity of trade press publications for the healthy functioning of a democracy.
In the 1980s, real estate developer and banker Charles H. Keating executed one of the largest savings and loans frauds in United States history. Keating had long used the courts to muzzle critical reporting of his business dealings, but aggressive reporting by a small trade paper called the National Thrift News helped bring down Keating and offered an inspiring example of business journalism that speaks truth to power.
The National Thrift News, a publication usually read by mortgage executives, did the in-depth investigative reporting one would expect at major newspapers and exposed Keating’s political dealings in September 1987. However, mainstream media ignored it for two and half years until 1989 when the Lincoln Savings and Loan failed and Charles Keating had to file for bankruptcy.
“I’m arguing the trade press plays an essential enforcement mechanism in a free market economy by providing the unflattering information about industry characters who violate norms, who violate the standard ethical behavior,” said Wells, author of “The Enforcers: How Little-Known Trade Reporters Exposed the Keating Five and Advanced Business Journalism.”
Wells also discusses the courage needed by reporters in trade press publications to publish hard-hitting news. When trade press publications publish stories, like the Keating Five Scandal, they may face libel law suits or risk losing their niche audience, which could lead to the loss of revenue entirely.
“Business journalism is one of those parts of the media that tend to go overlooked by both historians and the public alike. It’s a shame, because, as Wells makes clear, business reporters break stories of enormous consequence,” said Ken Ward, the host of the episode. “The fact that Wells makes that point while sharing a historical case study with such relevance to our modern world highlights the importance of his research and makes it so interesting to learn about.”
Journalism History is a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to re-examine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told.