Rance Crain’s views on the world of biz journalism
Rance Crain is president and editorial director of Crain Communications Inc., which publishes nearly 30 local weekly business newspapers and trade papers.
Crain’s career began as a reporter for Advertising Age in its Washington bureau and later moved to the publication’s New York and Chicago offices. He continues to lead Advertising Age as editor-in-chief and writes a bi-weekly column for the publication.
Crain was named senior editor of Advertising Age in 1965 and he was appointed first editor of Business Insurance in 1967 and editorial director of Crain Communications in 1971. He added the title of company president in 1973.
Crain founded four of the company’s titles — Pensions & Investments, Crain’s Chicago Business, Crain’s New York Business and Electronic Media (now published as tvweek.com).
A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and former sports editor of The Daily Northwestern (1960), Crain is a charter member of Medill’s Hall of Achievement and a proud recipient of the 1992 Northwestern University Merit Award. He is a member of the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and was the recipient of Kodak’s Print Ambassador Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2009 Missouri School of Journalism Medal of Honor.
Crain Communications publishes weekly business newspapers in Chicago, New York, Detroit and Cleveland. The company’s trade papers include Electronic Media, Plastics News and Pensions & Investments, and it has acquired Modern Healthcare, AutoWeek and RCR, serving the wireless communications industry.
Crain spoke by email this past week with Talking Biz News about the current state and future of business journalism. What follows is an edited transcript.
How has business journalism changed since your father started in the business?
When my father started Advertising Age in 1930, nobody was covering the advertising business, so almost all the stories we published were fresh news. Today, everybody covers advertising and so we need to explain the significance of important developments, such as the Publicis-Omnicom mega-merger and at the same time provide new details around the clock.
What about since you started in the business?
When I started as a reporter for Ad Age in Washington, covering such events as the Kefauver drug hearings, advertising was beginning to come under fire from consumer groups. So our job was to tell our readers what the industry reaction was to consumer group demands making headlines in the dailies–and urging advertisers to clean up their act.
What do you see as the role of business journalism publications in society today?
Business journalism today is more important than ever. Business is increasingly complex, and readers need to know the implications of such phenomenon as social media on their particular industry. Big data and privacy issues touches all businesses.
What’s the biggest issue facing business journalism today in terms of attracting readers?
Attracting readers is not the problem. The Ad Age website attracts close to 1 million readers, far surpassing our print edition. Our challenge is to continue to make our print products relevant, and that correlates to how readers in our various industries we report on depend on the Internet. In the advertising world it’s very advanced, whereas auto dealers are not as dependent.
Metro dailies cut back business news coverage in the past decade. What did you think of that move?
It’s a great opportunity for our city business publications.
Do you see the Crian’s papers in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and New York competing for business news against the dailies?
We always have competed against the dailies for business news of local companies, and as the dailies cut back in other areas it allows us to broaden our coverage into some non-business areas.
What role does the Internet and other new media delivery systems play in business journalism?
The Internet is huge for us and allows us to compete against anybody, anytime. And with video, it gives us the equivalent of a TV station for free.
Do you think there will always be a print publication in business news? Why or why not?
I believe that print will endure because strong print publications provide the “halo” for all our other activities, such as conferences and custom publishing, and of course our websites.
In what area could business journalism most improve going forward?
We need to figure out how to make our print editions compelling and entertaining in a 24-7 news world. Great long-form stories and arresting graphics are part of the solution, as well as the ability to tie seemingly disparate events together.
Would Crain ever try to expand internationally again despite the closing of the Manchester paper?
We have a great opportunity to license our strongest publications to publishers around the world and to export our successful events, such as “Women to Watch,” to run in conjunction with our licensees.
What advice would you give today for someone interested in a career in business journalism?
It’s never been more exciting or challenging, and business journalists need to display a wide range of talents, from reporting the news, using tweets and blogs to advance the story, writing the print version on where things are going, and shooting a video on what it all means. If you want to have fun and do important things, business journalism is right in the middle of the action because it touches every part of our lives.