By Andrew Leckey
MUMBAI, INDIA – A free sample of Wealth, a new tabloid-size publication on personal investing, was tucked inside a recent edition of The Economic Times, India’s 750,000-circulation daily financial newspaper.
Wealth’s cover read “Welcome to Golden Period of Investing: Make the Most of it,” pointing out that the coming 20 years will offer dramatic wealth-building promise as India’s economy continues to grow rapidly. There may not be 9 percent GDP growth a year, but 5 to 6 percent definitely seems likely as an investing class grows along with the country’s favorable financial and population demographics.
The night before the launch of Wealth, Rohit Saran, executive editor of The Economic Times, fielded numerous cell phone calls from his newsroom about last minute publication details as he discussed with me the nation’s explosive increase in business news. It is a demand that seems limitless and he has helped to launch a number of new publications for his publishing group.
The Indian financial press has a very different economy and mindset from the U.S. financial press, which underscores the reality that business journalism is likely to grow in many different ways. Journalists, journalism professors and students must have open minds as to the multitude of choices in focus and length to relate business stories effectively.
In India more than a half-dozen national financial publications vie for readership in a market in which print still rules supreme and recession is on no one’s mind. Publications aggressively point out opportunities, take corporations to task and rate the economic steps taken by the government. Readership includes many young people still devoted to print coverage.
A survey of more than 3 million literate Indian youth found that nearly two-thirds of them consider newspapers as their preferred media for news and current affairs, with most of the remainder divided evenly between radio and TV. Far behind, the Internet – still in its infancy in India – trails even magazines as a preferred choice, according to the survey commissioned by the National Book Trust and conducted by a National Council of Applied Economic Research team.
“Even in an age of over a hundred 24/7 news channels, newspapers are seen as the primary source for news and current affairs, with television largely an entertainment medium,” Shailesh Dobhai, executive editor for features of The Financial Express, noted in an article analyzing those survey results.
Sooner or later, there is likely to be some consolidation of financial publications. Sooner or later, they will take on more of their individual branding rather than replicate each other. But that seems a long way off for now.
Even though the Internet is not yet a threat to print in India, some publications are enacting strategies that run counter to the tack that many U.S. publications have taken of favoring short web-like stories and reducing feature content.
Anand Mahadevan, national features editor of The Economic Times, sees in-depth feature stories of more than 2,000 words as the best way for newspapers to clearly differentiate from brief Internet stories. Long-form writing, considered dead by many American journalists, makes sense to The Economic Times. Writing longer business stories that have a beginning, middle and end is, however, is a task that requires considerable patience and thoughtful editing. That art has not really been nurtured.
The Indian focus in business coverage, rather than adhering to any other nation’s path, will be uniquely Indian. The country’s massive population will still have more access to newspapers than to the Internet for a long while. Other emerging markets will similarly evolve their own ways.
But this again raises the question: What’s the best way to present business and economic news?
Each year business journalism professors—and I am one of them–send out graduates to work in print, online and broadcast newsrooms. Each year it becomes more evident that this is not a “one-size-fits-all” endeavor. Understanding balance sheets, stocks, bonds, regulation and strategies will always be important, but other than accuracy the ways of explaining are not cut-and-dried.
More than any other coverage, business story-telling can take many different forms. Some newsrooms emphasize terseness and immediacy. Some favor multiple stories about the same event. Still others emphasize the global nature of their coverage or specific industries. Others have a focus on luxurious lifestyles, investigations, saving money or building portfolios.
A few years ago, everyone seemed confident about how a business story is put together. Now there is a potpourri of choices. News organizations open to trying a variety of ways of doing things have it right. Business journalists willing to try different ways of telling stories are on target as well.
As important as U.S. financial media is, now is a time for it to examine how other countries and markets go about coverage. Print, online, broadcast and multimedia will evolve. Monitoring the ways this can occur is important for the future.
Long or short, financial news should be covered well because it affects so many people. To say one way is right or wrong is to disregard inevitable change. The better prepared we are to go in numerous directions and try different methods, the more effective our efforts will be.
Andrew Leckey is President of the Reynolds Center and the Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in spring 2009.