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The greatest generation of business journalists

February 2, 2012

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The Greatest Generation of business journalists will come from today’s university students.

A perfect storm of events, technology and globalization has equipped this generation to better understand and effectively report on the world of money than any that preceded it.

Its words and visuals for financial issues that matter will also carry faster and further than ever before to a mass audience.

Just as Tom Brokaw couldn’t dub the Depression/World War II generation “The Greatest” until long after the fact, time and perspective will be required here as well.

But here are seven advantages this generation has going for it:

  • It has seen a dramatic economic downturn and volatile financial markets directly impact family finances. Job security, home values and money issues have been as common dinner discussion topics as the weather. This generation “gets it.”
  • It has watched giant investment scams, inflated executive compensation, corporate failures and government bailouts dominate the news. As a result, it takes nothing for granted and possesses a healthy degree of skepticism.
  • Instant access to financial data and information, the ability to report immediately and multimedia platforms help this generation tell dynamic stories. There are apps for everything. Numbers-heavy data can be tailor-made to the interests of consumers and readily accessible through clicks, pull-downs and other features.
  • The branding of most everything is an ongoing part of its life. There is understanding that products, services, companies and industries may not last forever. Web and cellular phone leadership, for example, has changed hands many times in this generation’s lifetime. Car brands come and go. You must keep up. These young people mourned Steve Jobs’ passing and hope Apple Inc. innovations continue unabated.
  • An array of views on current events—from the reliable and intelligent to the ridiculous and superfluous–barrage it daily through Internet and video channels. This generation must make daily personal decisions on what is credible. This drives home the point that thoughtful and accurate reporting on business and the economy can play a vital role.
  • Stories have become global with any region capable of rocking the worldwide economy and markets. Opportunities in business journalism similarly stretch around the world. Major international news organizations that hire reporters have clout and are fond of bilingual reporters. Closer to home, local media now considers business to be an unquestioned lead item that attracts wide interest.
  • The political debate is focused on the economy and other issues that involve money. Federal funding, Social Security, healthcare, trade, immigration and the environment all have dollar signs in their equations. History’s free-enterprise economist Adam Smith or government-interventionist John Keynes would fit right into today’s arguments in Washington.

These add up to a generation of journalists that doesn’t need to have the importance of business and the economy impressed upon it. The difference between today’s students and those of even five or 10 years ago is significant. They’ve lived in the maelstrom of business and the economy all their lives, many of their fellow students major in those subjects and business journalism is increasingly being offered in university curriculums.

That’s not to say that, like many other generations, it may miss its golden opportunity. Or that we as business journalists and educators might overlook our responsibility to keep this group’s interest alive in the name of good journalism and public service. Finding pertinent numbers, being a watchdog for the benefit of society and intelligently simplifying difficult concepts are demanding tasks.

I am, of course, biased because I spend a considerable amount of time with this generation as I teach courses in business journalism. I have also had opportunity to talk with many students in other countries. More than my parents’ generation, my own generation or those leading up to the current one, this generation is trying hard to understand the complex business and economic world it has inherited. I always learn something new from these young people taking a fresh view.

Whether it becomes the Greatest Generation of business journalists remains to be seen, but it is further along and better-equipped than its predecessors. Doing a better job of coverage will make a difference in its future and that of subsequent generations. Money isn’t everything, but it has powerful effect on the lives of everyone around the world. Assuming the responsibility of reporting on business and the economy accurately, creatively and relentlessly is a first step on the road to greatness.


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