Best of 2009: Ryan Chittum

Chittum picks his top stories from 2009

1. Audit Interview: Mark Pittman “This is not business journalism’s finest hour. But it is our biggest opportunity ever.”

2. Moral Force Pittman died on Thanksgiving at the top of his game and here’s a remembrance of him: “What is a reporter for, anyway? To record what-he-said and what-she-said (or more likely, what that other he said)? Pittman didn’t have any patience for that. He wanted to find out what they did.”

3. CNBC Editor: The People Are Revolting! Rick Santelli plays Mel Brooks playing Louis XVI.

4. Santelli’s “Tea Party” Illustrates Press Failure That this burst of outrage erupted after homeowners got a (relatively meager) bailout rather than after Wall Street and the banks got their trillions with repeated trips to the trough illustrates as clearly as I’ve seen it the failure of the press to fully portray the real cause of this catastrophe.

5. Circulation Revenue Takes on Increased Importance at Newspapers Circulation revenue actually grew this year as advertising revenue collapsed, proving that some people—many—will pay good money for newspapers. We accurately predicted The New York Times would take in more from subscription revenue in the third quarter than it would in ads. And we noted that print-circulation declines are only made worse by giving content away free online.

6. Print Papers Still Dominate Readers’ Attention and the Chasm Between the Value of Print and Online Readers Newspapers are read online far, far less than they are in print—fifteen years into the Web era. That’s one of the reasons why revenue per reader is so disparate online and in print.

7. Audit Interview: James L. Bothwell The man who wrote two prescient GAO reports in the mid-nineties warning about derivatives talks about why he was ignored: “I think over the years the press, with a couple of key exceptions, the finance press is heavily influenced by industry. They take their side. To write their stories, financial reporters need to develop and maintain knowledgeable sources willing to speak on the record. These sources almost all come from the industry and naturally present the industry’s point of view. It is much more difficult for reporters to find informed, unbiased analysts willing to speak on the record. There is usually nothing in it for them to do so.”

8. So That’s Why the Press Won’t Cover Elizabeth Warren If you want a peek inside business-press mentality, and why certain stories get reported and others don’t, you can do worse than start here. It sees Warren as an outlier whose views, based on decades of research, are suspicious. It would never, ever have badgered a former bank exec, say, like this if one had been chairman of the panel.

9. Newspaper Ad Revenue at 1965 Levels Inflation-adjusted numbers show papers are even worse off than you think

10. Lessons from Sesame Street You can do economy stories until the Dow comes home, but if you don’t put a human face on them, you’re not giving your readers the insight they need to really understand the trends. The story, in the highest sense of the word, matters. And it isn’t exactly hard to find anecdotes these days.

11. Relax, Bloggers: The AP Isn’t Out to Get You An Internet frenzy about AP copyright policies was much ado about nothing, a little reporting revealed.

12. Murdoch, Google, and Loyal Readers vs. Junk Traffic Google traffic isn’t worth that much to The Wall Street Journal and the press should focus on its best readers and spend less energy going after search-engine sugar highs.

13. A Community Reinvestment Act Reader We were still debunking the CRA-caused-the-housing-bubble myth in June and we’ll probably have to debunk it again.

14. Audit Interview: Mark Maremont One of The Wall Street Journal’s top investigative editor/reporters talks about the state of journalism. “Journalism, unfortunately—and even more these days—seems to be backward-looking.”

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.