Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

AP small business editor shares coverage tips

October 1, 2012

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Many small business stories revolve around interesting profiles and lending, but there’s far more information out there to cover.

The Associated Press has expanded its small business coverage recently so I checked in with Philana Patterson, small business editor, to get some tips for coverage.

“When we talk to companies, we’re talking about a certain issue, not profiles in the way they might ideally want,” she says. “But it’s a great opportunity to get their voices heard and talk about issues that are important to them.”

The news agency often explores companies’ problems or challenges, and how those companies solved them, she says. For instance, a recent story highlighted a limo business owner who had to “change his rides” as many executives “no longer wanted to be seen in the swanky vehicles,” the story says.

The AP is also connecting its coverage to the election by looking at issues like job creation, taxes, and lending, she says. “There are a lot of issues that are question marks in an election year and the question marks become bigger and bigger,” she says.

Some stories also focus on the candidates themselves. In August, it posted a story exploring how Paul Ryan’s family small business roots could impact the election.

Reporters also pursue stories that illustrate how the economy is recovering by talking with business owners to see what trends they’re seeing, Philana says. One recent story focused on businesses where owners say customers are returning, she says.

“Small businesses are often indicators of what will happen,” she says. “It’s important to look at what’s going on with small companies. They may start to see a little bit of movement before large companies do.”

From the local level, she says reporters should dig deeply into the healthcare law to explain its impact on small business owners and their employees. “It’s not a task we have the manpower or time to undertake, but locally you can really do your community a favor,” she says.

Finally, she advises reporters to ask small business owners this question: “What keeps you up at night?”

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