Are your news, ad departments on same page?
Published March 28, 2023
Editors often raise red flags – or at least hesitate – at requests for business news, and often for good reason.
A store seeks a story for its grand opening – three months after the doors have opened.
A request for a restaurant review, though maybe a good idea, would be a “first” for the newspaper and might set an uncomfortable precedent.
A request for an anniversary story is accompanied by a reminder that the florist is one of the newspaper’s largest advertisers.
Advertising departments are quick to promote business content for the promised dividends in increased revenue. And that may well be the case. Be aware, however, that haphazard coverage can be worse than no coverage at all.
Newspapers instead should take a tip from the sports playbook: A deliberate offense will minimize the times that publishers and editors will have to defend a story. That strategy is best accomplished if newsrooms craft guidelines in consultation with the advertising department and management.
The exercise is especially important as newspapers are regularly challenged to generate advertising revenue in today’s fractured media landscape. Departments must be on the same page. Develop ground rules as much as possible. Exceptions are certain to surface, but they ought to be rare.
Mention business coverage, and many editors think of the chamber of commerce and “red coat” ambassadors who welcome businesses into the business community. The chamber can be a far greater resource.
For example, chambers of commerce and economic development organizations can become partners in presenting the local economic pulse. Monthly employment figures are an excellent example of how your newspaper can provide valuable and substantive information on a regular basis and the chamber receives attention. Go beyond the numbers by identifying businesses that represent the statistics.
The broad spectrum of business stories provides rich content, and it can help generate revenue. If you devote resources to beef up coverage, be sure the efforts are noticed. Newspapers regularly promote their editorial page, sports section, lifestyle or travel stories. Package business news in similar fashion. Send a message that you are interested in telling stories of employers and employees.
Improving business coverage is a shared responsibility. Businesses must be comfortable that reporters can get the story right, and reporters deserve to have all the facts including those that may not be so flattering. It boils down to trust. Reaching a common understanding is at the foundation of drawing the fine line between editorial and advertising departments. It’s also a slow process.
The first step is to start a conversation within your newspaper and with your business community. Building business news into your everyday coverage can spell dividends for news and advertising departments.
Jim Pumarlo is former editor of the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle. He writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage,” “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage” and “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in Small-Town Newspapers.” He can be reached at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.