Some of the best business journalism is being committed on the Web, and much of it is being done on sites not connected to newspapers. This should be a lesson in how to avoid making local business sections suck, as Phillip Blanchard put it. And it should be a wake-up call to those in traditional media that want to stay relevant.
One of the best is Wonkblog, honcho’d by Ezra Klein at the Washington Post. It is constantly updated with stories that are timely, exclusive, sophisticated and backed by inviting and informative graphics.
For example, this post looks at the phenomenon of Cyber Monday. It gives some background on the event, then looks at the striking growth in online sales. Yes, Ezra has a staff backing up Wonkblog, but this is the kind of story that almost anyone could do. If you can’t handle the graphics yourself, download charts from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank’s wonderful FRED graphs. Add some local content and you’re good to go.
Some other sites are also kicking ass online. One example is the Atlantic, especially the work of Matthew O’Brien. Another is The Guardian, highlighted by the insightful work of Heidi N. Moore. The Economist has brought its expected expertise (and Tory biases) to a host of strong blogs.
Salon, a survivor of the 1990s “zine” fad, devotes an entire page on its site to business reporting. So does Slate. One great recent example on Salon that you could do is a backgrounder on the Black Friday protests and strikes. Over at Slate, Matthew Yglesias wrote how Black Friday tells us nothing about how holiday sales will turn out or the overall economy. Here is the kind of skeptical, “what are we missing” reporting that should be a staple for local businesswriters.
A number of economists and experts run sites that are taking readers away from you. Among the best are Cathy O’Neil’s Mathbabe; Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View; UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong’s influential blog; Econbrowser, run by James Hamilton of UC San Diego and Menzie Chinn of the University of Wisconsin; Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution; the finance-heavy Calculated Risk; Middle-Class Political Economist, and the must-read Baseline Scenario.
If you are writing about the economy, employment, housing or finance, put them on your list, along with Paul Krugman, the New York Times’ Economix, the Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics and FT Alphaville. The latter three could be translated into local blogs that explain the economy in everyday life. I try to do this with my modest daily blog at the Seattle Times.
The independent non-profit ProPublica devotes some of its space to business and the economy. One recent piece examined President Obama’s nominee for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the “mystery man for derivatives.” You could use the same formula for an important regulator in your state.
Almost all of these sites also have a robust presence on social media, especially Twitter.
The competition can be overwhelming. But don’t despair. Learn. Make your own. Someday you might be working for one of these outfits. In the meantime, don’t buy the propaganda that “readers want local news.” They don’t want just any local news: Press releases rewritten, school-lunch-menu-style briefs and Don’t Read This leaden copy.
The fight is for eyeballs, and the geography of the competition is boundless.