Business associations such as chambers of commerce can be hotbeds of stories and sources and often intersect local government, economic development and the community.
Get to know the chamber president and board members if you seek the buzz on what’s going on in the community, whether it is property and retail development, city politics, new businesses in town, or upcoming events and initiatives.
Using Business Associations
Here are five ways you can use chambers and business associations in your reporting on the business beat:
- Sources: Start a spreadsheet and identify the business organizations in your community, their heads and their board of directors. Ask them to coffee. Get data on membership trends, ask what key initiatives the chamber is working–particularly those involving economic or business development–and get a list of members.
- News leads: Keep a running list of the websites and all social media platforms for the chamber and business associations. Follow the local chamber’s Twitter and Facebook feeds. Also, get on the mailing lists for the chamber’s newsletters or membership publications to keep updated on their news.
- Follow the numbers: Most chambers of commerce and business associations are nonprofits, which means they have to file a 990 tax form every year. It’s important to know how the association or chamber is being funded and how that money is being spent. The 990s can help you get that picture. Even if you have solid sources, it is important to go with the numbers and get the actual documents.
- Investigate connections: Find out how your local chamber is funded, what its operating budget is and what the money is spent on. Look at tax filings to find out how the chamber leaders are involved with local community and business. Also, sometimes cities will give money to downtown business associations. Connect with your city’s finance director and city manager to get the history of such funding and understand the arrangements between the city and association. In an election year, chambers and business associations often hold forums or endorse candidates. If you build solid sources, you could get the endorsement dish first or be invited to a forum.
- Diversify your coverage: Don’t forget to reach out to chambers of commerce and associations for Hispanic/Latino, Asian, African-American, LGBT, religious and other communities. Not only will you get scoops and great feature ideas, but you’ll also develop sources that offer different viewpoints on business development in the community.
Use Chamber of Commerce Connections Wisely
If something happens in the business community you cover, you’ll likely hear about it from the Chamber of Commerce and other business associations. Sometimes the news may simply be a fundraiser worthy of an entertaining feature. But making and keeping these connections in the business community will pay off when an important story develops.
Remember, your job isn’t to promote the minutiae of every local businesses. If an event or announcement isn’t important enough to cover, be open with members and officials within the association.
But if you can find a fitting and informative way to cover a chamber’s pitch, it might be useful on a slow news day, or provide the basis (or descriptive color) for a larger story your audience will appreciate. Working honestly and openly with associations will bolster your relationship with the business community and help you develop sources that trust you’re being fair and earnest in your reporting.