In the offices of the weekly Denver Business Journal there is a bulletin board known as “The Daily Beating.” On the board, staff members post stories clipped from the city’s leading newspaper, The Denver Post—each of which plays catch-up on a story first reported by the weekly. “It’s like they’re using us as their tickler file for article ideas,” says Wayne Hicks, managing editor at the Business Journal. The latest: the weekly broke the news about a proposed power line project on October 23. The Post followed a week later.
Welcome to the new reality of business journalism. As metro dailies have slashed the staff and space they devote to business news, business weeklies—long considered an afterthought for hardcore readers—are holding their ground and, in the process, gaining a competitive edge.
Signs of this change abound. While some weeklies have also cut staff, many have picked off the best of the daily reporters. In Seattle, the Puget Sound Business Journal last year hired two well-known tech writers from the Post-Intelligencer before its print edition folded; they immediately launched a tech news site for the weekly. In Atlanta, after longtime Journal-Constitution columnist Maria Saporta took the paper’s buyout offer, she was writing her popular column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle within weeks. There has also been a striking shift in the quantity of coverage. While newsholes shrink at dailies, weeklies are holding steady, and now offer more print pages in many markets.
And readers seem to be noticing. While dailies nationwide struggle with a declining subscriber base, as of late last year privately-held American City Business Journals Inc., which owns more than forty business weeklies, was projecting annual circulation growth of 3 percent. The shift could have broad implications, because weeklies and dailies have traditionally defined their missions in different ways. Dailies have generally paid more attention to the big, public companies in most metro markets. Fewer reporters and a smaller newshole may make them weaker watchdogs—which could mean they’ll miss the next Enron scandal when it occurs.
Weeklies, on the other hand, have historically focused more on breaking news about smaller companies. Their new prominence could help correct the press’s relative lack of attention to small and privately held companies, which account for 99.7 percent of all businesses and more than 50 percent of the non-farm private sector workforce. Weeklies have also traditionally been more aggressive in coverage of local real estate—in fact, many of them warned earlier this decade about problems in their local housing markets, though their warnings didn’t reach a broad audience.
But those old mission statements may now be up for review. Whitney Shaw, the CEO of American City Business Journals, says that as dailies cede ground in coverage of transportation, education, technology, and health care, each becomes a “ripe area” for the weeklies to “enhance and expand their coverage.” If that’s the case, there may be more bulletin board fodder on the way.Chris Roush is the Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Scholar in business journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the administrator of TalkingBizNews.com.