2019 State of the Business Journalism Industry survey released

SABEW and rbb Communications conducted a Snapshot Survey about the State of Business Journalism Today in late October that engaged 78 members. rbb is an integrated communications agency in Miami, Florida, which generously sponsors the Larry Birger Young Business Journalist Award contest.

The survey is designed to capture a “read” of how members feel rather than be scientifically perfect. We asked about digital content manipulation, attacks on the media, the most important skill young journalists need, today’s journalism environment and unionization. The following are the answers from 78 survey participants; 27 of them chose to make comments at the end of the survey.

Here are the results of the 2018 Snapshot Survey.

Question 1 Answers
* Because of “bad actors” and other digital content manipulation, people are facing an onslaught of false or misleading information. Which of the following do you believe to be most true?
The platforms that are publishing this information, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, must be held to higher standards and be accountable for policing this content. 31
It is impossible to stop the flow of misleading information and it is up to the consumer to pay more attention to the source of their news. 12
News organizations should take a more proactive role and devote more resources to debunking false information and producing media literacy. 35
Question 2
* The media continues to be at the center of attacks with regards to its credibility and perceived bias. Which of the following most reflects your feelings on this topic?
1. The attacks have made me more concerned for my overall safety and I am now paying more attention to my surroundings when working. 31
2. The questions about bias and “fake news” has made me more aware of the need to source and double check my reporting and the information I receive from sources. 12
3. It’s had zero effect on me and I continue to do my job the same way as I always have. 35
Question 3
* Which of the following is the most important skill young journalists (those with 1-3 years of experience) should be learning?
1. Mining data for stories. 15
2. Building relationships with sources. 21
3. Building their own individual brand by focusing on a beat and an individual marketing plan. 3
4. Generating and pursuing story ideas. 34
5. Understanding the business aspects of your news organization. 5
 Question 4
  * In thinking about today’s journalism environment, which of the following do you find the least pleasant?
The pressure of producing content for any platform (produce an audio story/podcast, write several iterations of a story for a website and social media sites such Facebook and Twitter, shoot video, create graphics, report on-air). 8
The continued uncertainty and instability in terms of jobs. 19
Journalists are continually being asked to do more with less, sacrificing depth and nuance in favor of brevity and click-friendly content. 51
Question 5
* Which of the following best describes your feelings toward unionization in the journalism industry?
I fully support news organization unions and feel they are necessary to protect my interests. 57
The formation of unions is detrimental to the journalism profession and is likely to hasten more news organization closures because profits will be squeezed even more than they already are. 21
Question 6
*Any comments about the state of the industry?
Question 5 is not an either-or question. 1
I’m not sure if this is me getting older and having worked in the industry longer, but I’ve never been more depressed by media news than I was in the past year or two. The layoffs, closings, drama around purchases, attacks on credibility, push to do dumbed-down stories for clicks, job instability… 2
The industry has mostly itself to blame for shifting from objective reporting to more-of-less participatory (a.k.a. “advocacy”) journalism. While this latter approach is an acceptable business model (primarily from the entertainment perspective), it hurts us traditional journalists who only care about the numbers, not the politics, of the story. 3
In some ways, I feel the giant news organizations — NYTimes, WAPO, WSJ — are strong. But it’s the newsrooms in our big and medium-sized cities that are at peril. We need to be more vigilant and relevant than ever as our nation reels under a government and leaders — in both political parties — who exaggerate and manipulate information. 4
The industry needs to find a way to support the continued production of quality journalism. This requires establishing standards of pay that will make journalism a field that talented young professionals want to enter– not one you can only afford to work in if you have a well-to-do family or spouse behind you. We cannot develop a diverse newsroom and freelance group if we underpay staff and especially freelancers. My company (a website) pays staff OK, but pays freelancers one-tenth of what freelancers used to make writing for print outlets, say 10-15 years ago. It makes it difficult to recommend the field to talented young people. This also means that writers cannot “afford” to spend as much time developing stories and reporting as they could when they were paid better. 5
Regarding unions: The union effort at my paper has been incredibly disruptive, and the guild has used incredibly misleading statements that would never pass muster for a news story. It’s incredibly sad and disappointing that “journalists” would essentially lie and mislead others in order to get a union passed. 6
I answered the first two questions with the closest answers I could find to what I think. But the phrasing of the questions and the options provided as answers tells me this survey isn’t interested in finding out the truth. “Fake news” isn’t an accusation, it’s a product, pumped out by far too many of my colleagues at name-brand national media. It’s clearly a one-party industry that has dropped all pretense of objectivity — and, just as clearly, can’t see that fact because of groupthink. We have largely earned this contempt. 7
Every day I think of leaving, but every day I decide its important to stay. 8
I’d like more than an either/or option for question 5, because I think it depends on the employer. I see both advantages and disadvantages with unions. 9
You bet: There is a social breakdown underway – which I call DMR – Digital Mob Rule. Its the underlying societal change driving social which is in process of breaking everything. Balance is gone, depth is at the airport getting ready to leave, and attribution to credible sources was shot at the wall some years back. The pups today are “vics” who don’t see who the “perps” are and have blindly accepted the new corporate “rent your life” business model that predominates in the asset-stripping of individual assets and the “community” response (communism/socialism) which has inculcated at deep levels by the hysterical revisionists in education. (cranky George of whined in passing. As much of his 2012 book Broken Web is now coming to pass…) 10
I can’t help but feel like journalism as profession is being devalued because anyone with a camera and YouTube/Instagram account now is considered a writer and part of the ‘working media.’ Some of the content is great, but I feel like it can be detrimental to the industry overall. 11
Business journalists need to get back to the job of following the business niches they focus on — and learning its ins and outs. They should grease the skids of commerce in those niches by providing value to the B2B or B2C buyers and sellers. Translate the value proposition of the sellers into language the buyers understand — and become the objective source of info that brings together buyers and sellers. And it can be done with zero coverage of what normally goes for “news”. The news buyers want to hear is “how do I get ahead in my profession? How can what a solution provider sells allow me to reach my goals.” Fraud and social justice issues should play a valuable but only minor role in everyday business journalism. A biz journalist can succeed as a moderately paid independent if they learn a particular industry niche well, develop contacts, and can position themselves as an essential info provider and indirectly be “in the middle of a sale”. What I’m advocating is to become a combined industry journalist and analyst — not in Fortune 500 markets, but serving B2B professional niches where pros buy software, services, data analysis, and productivity enhancing tools. Would be happy to develop a podcast program (or other educational tool) for SABEW to provide tips on how I position myself in the telecom industry as a good example of what can be done elsewhere. I have listened to several of the podcasts regarding freelance journalism and I think I’ve developed a more realistic program of personal branding in an industry niche — as opposed to relying on cultivating editors. Calling your own shots and your own editorial niche is more fun and motivating. And i calculated there are something like 4,000 B2B niches out there in the US market that could support a journalist. My journal is Black Swan Telecom Journal ( My name is Dan Baker and my email is 12
The gradual evisceration of mid-sized dailies makes me very sad. I feel we’re going to be left with a few national newspapers and specialty pubs for lobbyists/industry, and it is very worrying for civic health. 13
The way the current administration denigrates facts and normalizes lies makes journalism as important as it has ever been. Yet the resources to hold elected officials accountable to the majority of their constituents shrinks and leaves Americans increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by those with power. 14
If the question about paying reporters more isn’t on the table then journalism as a whole faces an existential threat. A young talented professional who could be a great asset to a newsroom will go to other professions that pay them more competitive wages. 15
Any statistics from this survey are going to be distorted by the lack of alternate answers available to many of the questions…including a none of the above 16
It is really bad out there. the ability to do real, good journalism has been violently circumscribed. everywhere i have worked has hired me with the promise of time and space to do investigations, failed to publish most of those investigations when I’ve done them, and demanded daily sums of 500 words on Bill Ackman’s latest equity stake, for some reason. AI can’t come soon enough. 17
There clearly needs to be more investigative journalism in business coverage. That has clearly gone by the wayside as more of the profitable publications in existence depend on premium subscriptions (so don’t bite the hand that feeds you) while traditional newspapers, struggling to find a profitable business model, seem to be cutting back on exactly this. 18
Concerned that some readers don’t differentiate between objective news and sponsored. And I see it at the newspaper with management pushing those boundaries. I get google alerts on a story with the name of our paper but it is written by the advertising division. First residential areas that new home buyers should look at, then home sections, now some other sections. there has been talk of getting grants to hire reporters who will write only positive business stories while we can write the objective ones etc. VERY concerning. Slippery slope
Practically every story is about Trump, or needs to relate back to Trump in some way according to editors. This will ultimately backfire and erode public trust in the media even further. Also, the industry needs much more diversity of thought and background. The fact that practically no professional news organization saw the 2016 election outcome coming underscores how far removed journalists are from the every day reality of Americans. 20
Your union question isn’t black and white. 21
I did not want to answer question 1 because all the answers are equally important holistically in the real world. As a researcher, I find that question to be poorly written. 22
The concentration of advertising revenue in a few digital platforms worries me more than unionization. 23
I would have rather had a third option on Question 5. I’m pretty ambivalent to unions but the answers offered require a very black-and-white response. I support unions, but I DO NOT believe they are necessary to protect my interests. 24
God help us all. We are more important than ever. 25
 To thrive, it will be essential to move quickly and pivot to adjust to the vast changes ahead in the industry. At the same time, certain rules continue to apply: Treat people fairly, be passionate about the truth, and engage readers and viewers. Short cuts, layoffs and one poorly thought out new idea after another won’t ring the register. 26
Too damn many agenda pushers, reporters who really are stenographers. 27
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