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The rise of business journalism education

April 8, 2011

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Business journalism students in one of Andrew Leckey's spring 2011 classes listen to a report on their stock picks. Photo: Robin J. Phillips

By Andrew Leckey

The semester had just begun a decade ago when one of my students, recently named stringer for one of the nation’s most prominent newspapers, came up to me before my Business Journalism class.

“I’ve been asked to write a story tomorrow when the proxy statement of Hewlett-Packard comes out,” he said. “Would you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Sure,” I said. “Fire away.”
“OK,” he said, then paused before asking: “What’s a proxy statement?”

Both of us can laugh about that now because he went on to have a successful business journalism career. However, being thrust into the eye of the business journalism hurricane is not easy whether you’re a beginner or a veteran—if you don’t know a thing about what you’re covering.

A participant at one of our East Coast workshops gave this explanation as to why she was only thrust into the coverage of business:

“My editor said I dressed presentably and I would fit in if I was talking to business people, so I became a business reporter.”

This scenario has changed. More and more business journalists know what they’re doing and understand balance sheets, the global financial markets, the economy, government documents and fundamental analysis. The Reynolds Center is playing a role in the change.

Through daylong workshops, weeklong seminars and online training, we have been privileged to train more than 12,000 journalists nationwide since our 2003 inception. Our Reynolds Business Journalism Professors Seminar has each January for a half-dozen years trained prospective business journalism professors. The university level remains one of the most important places for effective training.

That’s why we’re excited about the new Reynolds Visiting Business Journalism Professors’ Program that begins January 2012. As noted in the detailed information on BusinessJournalism.org, the program will assign visiting professors to four journalism programs to teach business journalism during a semester in residence.

I encourage you to let your local university know about it and, if you are a veteran business journalist, consider applying to be a visiting professor. Another possibility is to look into teaching a business journalism course at your nearest university.

Some of the past problems with business journalism education have been:

  • Not enough schools have been insightful enough to offer it. If they do, they may not promote it properly so the students can see the correlation between business, the economy and their lives.
  • Not many professors have been up to teaching it. That’s often because they can only teach from their own professional experience, which may not be broad enough to cover all the bases the students will encounter.
  • It is such a rapidly changing field that the coursework must take into account current events and changes ranging from global markets to government legislation to company quirks. It moves quickly, so the the professor and the students must be up to the task.

All of these issues can be resolved with the proper information, goals and presentation. Today’s students have gone through a wrenching economic period, have seen the rise of branding of products and know more about changing technology than the prior two generations put together. They are ripe for business journalism education.

Of course, every journalist is an educator, whether for readers or viewers. Perhaps just as important is a commitment to the younger journalists in our newsrooms. Providing useful information and encouragement based on your own professional experience is vital to keeping business journalism vibrant.
Remember that you didn’t always know what a proxy statement was either.


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