Business news is booming these days. Business-news sections not so much. They are disappearing and have been doing so regularly for months. The trend seems set to continue.
Newspapers across the country are quietly eliminating stand-alone business sections to lower costs. The business cuts don’t come in isolation, but local business sections have been hit particularly hard. Many stand-alone sections were born within the past few decades, but their brief life is already coming to an end.
The death of the local business-news section won’t come as a great surprise to anyone reading, well, the business section these days. But a trickle is turning into a torrent, leaving a void in local communities and forcing local business editors to put the best face on it.
The death march has been noted by a few business-news watchers, most notably Chris Roush, who writes a blog called Talking Biz News. But the phenomenon has otherwise not gotten the coverage it merits.
That’s too bad, because who else but local business reporters and editors are going to report on the ups and downs of the local economies and the goings-on of the small-to-medium-sized businesses that have huge impacts on individual communities but never grace the pages of The Wall Street Journal? In some cases, local business weeklies have sprung up to fill a void, but those too often have the interests of business in mind, not those of the community at large. That’s a role general-interest publications have typically had to fill.
We compiled a list (above) of a dozen or so stand-alone business sections that have gotten the axe—along with a few that have absorbed lesser hits—and set about finding how local business editors were dealing with the situation.
The answer? Not very well.
The causes are the usual suspects: declining readership, declining ad revenue, and so on. Some business sections fell because editors figured readers could get stock information from the Internet. The stripping of these fig leaves revealed business coverage so thin that in many cases it couldn’t justify an entire section.
The Denver Post has folded its business section into its metro section Tuesday through Friday. Mondays, business is part of an expanded front section. Business editor Steve McMillan said the business-section downsize was part of a package of changes—all cuts, essentially. (The Sunday business section is still stand-alone. The Post, through a joint operating agreement with the Rocky Mountain News, doesn’t publish on Saturday.)
With the same size staff and the same amount of space in the paper, McMillan sees the changes having little effect on content, with a notable exception: business stories can no longer jump from the first business page. Editors try to scrape by with reefers, sidebars, and art packages to supplement coverage, and in some cases will devote the whole front business page to a single topic.
While McMillan is making the best of his new format, he has to admit: “It’s nice to have a section front.”
When editors decide to get rid of the stand-alone business section, what do they do with the business news? These days, you can find business behind sports at California’s Monterey County Herald.
The Herald has made a variety of cuts, which include reducing its stock pages. Herald executive editor Carolina Garcia called her paper’s cuts, which came along with a handful of layoffs, “a hard, hard thing to do.”
The sports-business nexus is a marketing thing. In the world-according-to-reader-research, the typical reader of the business and sports sections is male. With sports and business together, peace can reign at the breakfast table: women can read metro without their husbands lunging across the scrambled eggs for the section, or so the theory goes.
At The Columbus Dispatch, business could have gone behind metro, says business editor Ron Carter, but weather is on the back of metro along with valuable ad space.
The Dispatch cut its stand-alone section after the elimination of stock tables thinned it out. Carter says he initially got “hundreds and hundreds of calls and complaints.” As time passed, feedback dwindled, but he still hears from unhappy readers. “I tell them I don’t like it either,” he says.