Sunday, November 23, 2003

Does the quality of the Business Section reflect the quality of Local Business?

During my dry-eye many plane trips a few weeks ago, I picked up a bunch of newspapers to read while waiting in airports.

I admit it - I'm a media junkie. I've always loved the newspaper, I learned how to read from the Detroit Free Press, and my favorite class in middle school was physical education, because the 'teacher' sent me to the library for study hall because at the age of 13 it gave me a chance to read Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Consumer's Report (where I got the best chocolate chip cookie recipe EVER), and the Detroit News.

It was nice growing up in a city that had 2 of the top 10 papers in circulation, and they were damn fine newspapers.

And, then I moved to Arizona and had the Arizona Republic. A paper owned by Dan Quayle's family, a paper then sold to Gannett. A paper whose business section can't seem to break the 4 page barrier (that's discounting the stock quotes).

Now, it's not that Arizona does not have businesses located here, it's just that the business section is a bad joke. The technology reporter does not understand technology - little hint, but Motorola has its offices here, not its HQ - and the rest of the section just is lacking. And, this is what POP! Public Relations gets to pitch for local clients - which makes me happy that I have more out-of-town clients than local.

While in California, I read the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times. Granted, neither are my favorites, but at least their business sections had meat. A lot of meat. Twelve to 14 pages of meat, enough to give me a feeling of the issues for local businesses, and how I would go about pitching the sections for any local client.

While in Ohio for the PRSSA presentation, I picked up the Cincinatti Enquirer and the Dayton Daily News. Okay, Dayton and Cincy are not THAT big of cities, and I believe that Phoenix outranks them in size with the census. But, once again, both papers had a business section that had at least 8 pages - twice the norm for the Republic. And, the Enquirer is owned by Gannett as well!

While flying through Chicago's Midway (cute airport), I picked up the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times. The Trib is a typical layout, and had a 16-page business section, while the Sun Times is a tabloid, so it was harder to read with my little hands, but its business section topped out at 14 pages.

Realize, that I read all these papers twice - both coming and going from these cities. And, the whole time, I was amazed. Here I have been living in all these cities - I didn't even talk about the Bay area papers, or the New York papers - and the worst business section has been my 'hometown' where I have been trying to open my firm to bring better PR to local companies.

So, I came up with a little theory - the quality of the business section reflects the quality of local business.

Am I saying that Arizona business is lacking? Not in the least - I am saying that the Phoenix area businesses might not get as much respect nationally - or nationally, consumers don't realize they are Phoenix-based - because the local paper does such a bad job covering the businesses. And, this seems to extend to public relations and the quality of PR in a city. The better the business section, the better the local PR?

When local CEOs tell me that they don't bother reading the Arizona Republic, but read the Phoenix Business Journal for news, that says alot. That says to me that the local business section is so lacking, that businesspeople would rather wait for a weekly newspaper to get their business news.

Or, on the flip side, there are the CEOs that go around talking about how they "own" certain journalists, and not to worry about working with the paper since "so and so will write whatever I tell her to write," and then lo-and-behold, she will write an article that has no business appearing in the paper, no less on the front page of the business section. Phoenix has a bad enough reputation as being an old boy's network, and the paper does not need to help perpetuate that image.

Of course, one thing I learned from a mentor is that it's easy to come up with the questions on an FAQ, but the hard part is coming up with the answers. I do have a couple of solutions. For the Republic: get rid of the dead-weight in the business section, hold roundtables with local business owners, expand the section from four pages, and stop thinking of Phoenix as a small town.

Or, Freedom Communications, the owner of the Orange County Register also owns a local paper in Phoenix, but only covers the East Valley and Scottsdale with it's East Valley Tribune. While this paper also has a small business section - which is quite good - it's section is dictated to only cover the East Valley, ignoring the city of Phoenix and the whole West Valley. If this paper expanded its coverage area, it might be able to offer an alternative with a better business section.
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