How to effectively cover business issues in your local community
By LYNN LIU
Global Business Journalism reporter
How can a local newspaper stand out from national media outlets in its coverage of business and economic issues? Colin Pope, editor of the Austin Business Journal in Texas, has an answer: by serving the local community.
That means doing far more than sharing official announcements from companies and governments, Pope said. Timely reflection on what’s happening — not just what’s been announced – matters the most to local business players.
To Pope, covering the real estate market aggressively has resulted in numerous business scoops for his team of local journalists, because most business moves start at the real estate level..
“When Tesla decided to build a car-making factory in Austin, Texas, they had to buy the land here and that’s when we initially found out about it,” said Pope.
Pope says it is imperative to know your audience and understand how they use the information you publish to make business decisions or seek policy changes. For his publication, spotlighting what’s happening in the business world for readers who can affect changes in public policy or economic activities serves as a lever that moves the local market. It is important to be an expert analyst and not a “cheerleader” for local business leaders.
“Our job is to show the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Pope.
That could mean keeping readers informed about news that boosts the economy. Or when companies go through a hard time, laying off people. Or when real estate developers lose control over some of their land, through bankruptcy or distress sales.
Local business journalists can do more than just keep the public informed of what has already happened. Local news can benefit the local economy by facilitating connections among business players, Pope said. The Austin Business Journal is filled with profiles of business figures telling readers about them as human beings — their favorite places for lunch or their life-changing moments -- not just how they moved up the career ladder, which is easily found on their LinkedIn page. These types of stories might help entrepreneurs start conversations with other people who matter.
There are also stories that connect people to business leads that benefit their companies, he said.
“If a new tower is being built in town, it’s best to let readers know before the developer even has a chance to find the construction company that’s going to build that tower,” said Pope.
Local business reporters can write more authoritatively about the companies and executives they cover than national or international journalists who “parachute” into town for a quick story. And they can spot local business trends before that national business journalists have not yet identified. As an important player in the local community, business journalists can offer valuable insights that can help people succeed in business or identify problems that need to be fixed.
“As business reporters of a local newspaper, we decide what’s important to our community. And it’s really a noble profession when done correctly,” said Pope. “People read our words, based on which they shape their own opinions and make decisions which affect the change.”