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Give your work a peer review: Send your best to CJR’s ‘The Audit’

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Ever feel you’ve written something a national audience should read? For more than three years, the Columbia Journalism Review’s “The Audit,” has reviewed and critiqued the coverage of business news. But, mostly for logistical reasons, its coverage has been confined largely to work produced by the nation’s largest media organizations, leaving a lot of great regional and local business reporting out of the discussion.  To fix that, CJR is asking SABEW members – regardless of the size of their media outlet – to send our best published work. So if you think you’re up to the challenge of an independent, public peer review from one of the most respected franchises in journalism, read more and send a link to theauditcjr@gmail.com

By Dean Starkman, editor, The Audit

Fellow SABEWians, Greetings:

This is to announce what I hope will be an interesting collaboration between The Society of Business Editors and Writers and The Audit, the business desk of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Let’s call it The Audit/Sabew Local and Regional News Initiative.

As many of you know, The Audit reviews and critiques the business and financial press, both online, at CJR.org/the_audit, and in longer form in our bimonthly print magazine, The Columbia Journalism Review. We provide qualitative judgments about the news, often a thumbs-up or down analyses of individual efforts, as well as more in-depth looks at broader issues facing business and financial reporting. We seek to be a thought-leader about financial news.

We have a staff of three, including staff writer Ryan Chittum, who is responsible for much of the daily work on business and finance on the blog, and Holly Yeager, who critiques the coverage of fiscal and economic affairs from Washington — both writers you should really check out. Freelancer Martha Hamilton, a longtime WaPo reporter, editor, and columnist, is our Audit Arbiter, investigating business-news investigations and assessing their quality and fairness.

We try to read widely, but, for substantive and practical reasons, our critique has been heavily weighted toward the big national outlets: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Bloomberg etc.  That’s OK, but we know we’re missing an important stream of business journalism — the work generated by the local and regional staffs that make up the bulk of SABEW’s membership.  This has always bothered me, particularly around awards time when I read of excellent work that we would have loved to have highlighted around the time it was published. Work like Puget Sound Business Journal‘s WaMu coverage or Sarasota Herald-Tribune‘s “Flipping Fraud” series. Over the years, we’ve tried various schemes to search online for work that merited attention, but the task posed surprisingly knotty logistical problems that I won’t bore you with.

So, we approached SABEW for help. President Rob Reuteman and the SABEW Executive Committee responded enthusiastically and very kindly offered to solicit its members to send The Audit their best work for collection and review. This will be done via weekly postings on sabew.org.

So, please, send any local business reporting you think is noteworthy to: theauditcjr@gmail.com

Here are the answers to a few questions you may have:

1. Why would we want to do this?

Well, it’s good to share, and especially so with our audience of reporters, editors, and senior-level news executives at New York and Washington-based business publications, their readers, academics, and other financial-news aficionados. I think it’s important that local and national business reporters see each others’ work, learn from it, draw story ideas, and maybe even start a dialogue. This would also be way for local reporters to keep an eye on what their counterparts are doing. An aggregation of the best local business reporting would call national attention to local economic conditions and business issues. It might also reveal regional or national patterns. It’s also a chance just to show off your best. This is not a bad thing.

Both SABEW and CJR are committed to excellence in journalism. This is initiative is in service of that.

2. What would we do with the stuff once we get it?

To some degree, this depends on the volume and, frankly, quality. If we get a trickle of good stuff, we’ll post about it or link to it.  If we get a large volume of noteworthy material, we’ll try to find a way to aggregate it. If we get a flood of run-of-the-mill stories, sprinkled with good ones, we’ll separate the wheat from the chaff and ignore the chaff.

3.What are The Audit’s criteria?

We make our judgment on the usual journalistic grounds. We like things that are in-depth, thoughtful, original, courageous, well written, etc., with a special emphasis on investigative reporting. We would also love to see things that bring local views and reporting about national issues: particularly unemployment, foreclosures and the mortgage crisis, lending, local economic conditions, and the impact of government programs on local economies and businesses. I have a weakness for public corruption probes, so send those, too.

We’d ask you don’t send run-of-the-mill stories. Do send big projects, investigations, well-done profiles, and anything you’re proud of.

A couple of caveats:  We’ll apply the same standards on stories that are sent to us as to those we find on our own, so it’s certainly possible that our comments about your stories could contain criticism as well as praise.  (We are critics, after all.) Even so, the way the system is set up — with journalists selecting their best — I expect our posts to skew toward the thumbs-up side.

Second, as noted, we may ignore things you send, either because we don’t think something merits note either way or we’re snowed on a particular day or week.  But we’ll do our best and will lean toward spreading the word about good local business reporting. That is the point of the exercise.

Finally, this is basically an experiment, so we ask your indulgence as we work out the kinks. But mostly for it to succeed, we need your best, so we ask for that, too.

Thanks in advance. I look forward to being in touch with many of you and to reading fabulous local business reporting.

Dean Starkman,

Editor, The Audit.

CJR is the nation’s oldest media criticism publication. Its mission is to encourage and stimulate excellence in journalism in the service of a free society. It is both a watchdog and a friend of the press in all its forms, from newspapers to magazines to radio, television, and the Web. Founded in 1961 under the auspices of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, CJR examines day-to-day press performance as well as the forces that affect that performance. You can subscribe (under $20!) by clicking here. The Audit is CJR’s business desk, with fresh daily content and 40,000 unique visitors a month. It has grown steadily since its relaunch in 2007. In the immodesty department:  This spring, a story I wrote for The Audit won a Mirror Award from Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications and shared (with CJR) this year’s 2009 Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism from Penn State’s College of Communications.

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