Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Government Sources Dominate Business Crisis Reporting

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Government Sources Dominate Business Crisis Reporting

Article excerpt

Newspapers in America have provided the public with business information since Colonial times. Some early newspapers were concerned primarily with mercantile developments. (1) As technology developed, broadcasters began covering business matters. Recent years have witnessed what appears to be an increasingly antagonistic relationship between business and the news media. (2) Both print and broadcast news have been criticized for their business news coverage.

Literature Review

Black and Bryant have noted that newspaper editors often trade a certain amount of editorial coverage in return for significant volumes of advertising. (3) Morton Mintz, a former reporter for The Washington Post, noted a pro-corporate bias in newspaper coverage, which reflected a chronic tilt that distorts mainstream media coverage of grave, persistent and pervasive abuses of corporate power. (4) Chris Welles, a financial writer, criticized journalists for merely regurgitating corporate press releases instead of applying their investigative talents to the successes and failures, scandals, crises and trends in business. (5) He noted the subtle influence of advertisers and corporate secrecy barriers as two main reasons for the superficial treatment of business news. There is also concern that business news sometimes trivializes sinister business conduct. Cheney said that too many business news articles have portrayed business cheaters and scoundrels as amusing characters. (6) He contended that reporters were often aware of the previously blemished histories of financial rogues, yet failed to warn the public of the truth about their pasts. "As the communications industry continues to consolidate with cross-ties to the companies on which they are supposed to report,' often advertisers,' will they want to go beyond puff pieces on business leaders?" Chency asked. (7)

Not all of those concerned agree that the news media favor business in their news reporting. Sethi said that business sees the news media as one of its adversaries. (8) Guy L. Smith IV went further by charging, "Instead of impartial journalism, we have double-standard journalism." Journalists have become patsies, handing over their typewriters to any critic of industry who comes along, rarely giving serious hearing to industry's defenders. (9) The American business institution has accused the media of distorting facts when reporting on business news events. The news media have been characterized as viewing private industry with "if not outright hostility, a somewhat jaundiced eye." (10)

One of the problems underlying flawed business reporting may be poorly prepared reporters. "The public doesn't understand the stories and the reporters don't either. (11)

Herbert Stein suggested that "journalists often miss the flow of history and present a distorted view of reality." (12) One reason for this is that journalists are generalists who rely on the expertise of others for information. (13)

One problem with reporters' coverage of business is their choice of sources. Hackett's study indicated a reluctance of editorial staff members who were unfamiliar with or distant from a news event to use sources other than high level or official sources. He suggested that the news becomes an official story of official sources, rather than the multi-level story proposed by Gans. (14) Sibbison noted that even though the press makes decisions on what it will print, its dependence on official government sources places it in a position in which it can be manipulated. (15)

Brown, Bybee, Weardon and Murdock examined news sources and news channels appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post and four North Carolina newspapers. (16) They discovered that front-pages and wire stories relied very heavily upon routine channels. They also found that local news stories contain more enterprise channels than do routine channels. In the context of reporting business crises, this could predict that geographically distant news organizations will rely upon easily reachable government officials. …

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