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Several Papers Lose Business Section Fronts

By Kevin Sweeney
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An alarming trend is taking place in business sections across the nation.

Several newspapers have recently implemented or announced plans to consolidate the business section by combining it with other sections, such as sports and metro. Business editors are taking notice and defending the importance of their section fronts to top management.

Among the papers to announce such a consolidation:

  • Starting later this month, The Indianapolis Star will combine its business section with the paper's metro and state section.
  • In March of this year, The Arizona Republic introduced a "simple" Monday section that rotates business news with various sections.
  • The Akron Beacon Journal announced that it was combining its weekday business section with sports in February 2007.
  • Following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, The Times-Picayune lost its business section front with little room for discussion.

With turmoil rampant in the newspaper industry itself, those who head up business news realize they must do all they can to raise the stature of their section's coverage.

"I have not heard of this (combining sections) at papers in my area, but it is a very scary trend," says Lisa Gibbs, business editor of The Miami Herald. "The business section is where some of the most important local stories are told -- jobs, cost of living, housing market etc. -- not to mention matters of money and investments that are vital to readers."

"(It's not that) we haven't talked about it," notes Marce Edwards, business editor of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. "Last fall when we shrunk our stock pages, one of the options we briefly discussed was adding the business pages to another section. The idea was quickly discarded. We believe pretty strongly around here that business news is important to readers and deserves its own section."

The realities of shrinking revenue lines at newspapers across the country are forcing top management to make tough decisions in order to save dollars. The new environment is one in which many readers are turning to the Web or other technology for news.

Kim Quillen, business editor of The Times-Picayune, notes that the decision to lose a weekday section front (along with a move to reduce stock listings) was practically made overnight with very little discussion. She says there was "no time -- and no room for -- for politicking and debating."

"Katrina factors caused the business section to lose its section front," Quillen says. "We still have a standalone business section on Sundays. Both the truncated stock listings and the loss of the section front, though changes that were made quickly to cope with Katrina-related factors, have become permanent"

Though this is an isolated event, it illustrates that decisions can be made very quickly to initiate change. Business editors must take a proactive stance and step up defense of their sections.

"I remind (our) editors that much of business reporting is about money," Edwards says. "Readers have jobs and spend money. When I ask for resources such as money for travel or technology, I offer real examples of how those things can improve our coverage."

Seemingly reversing trends at other business sections, The Miami Herald has added staff in the past two years. Gibbs says she has filled her vacancies, added an editor and converted a part-time clerk to full time.

Gibbs notes her arguments for additional resources are pretty straightforward.

"Simply, that we are one of the most productive and well read sections at the paper," she says. "We contribute regularly to 1A, produce projects and special sections, and our Business Monday tabloid is one of the most successful and followed parts of the paper. Through additional staff and some reallocation of resources and prioritizing, we have focused harder on enterprise that makes us stand out."

The News Tribune has lost one business reporter over the last two years. Though Edwards says management supports the idea of opening that position back up, the budget tells another story.

This makes it all the more important for Edwards to argue her case and keep her staff as cohesive and productive as possible.

"Improving the business section has been among the top goals of the top editors for the past several years," she says. "That means spending time thinking about what types of stories we should be doing and providing training to reporters and editors. (Business editors should) work to make their sections more relevant to readers. We are constantly rethinking what we do with the consumer in mind."

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