Covering a World That’s
Falling Apart, When
Yours Is Too
Between falling media revenues and the global financial crisis, the world in autumn 2008 had become topsy-turvy for journalists. The Dow Jones Index had lost $1 trillion in just one week, and the newspaper industry was in such disarray that fifty media CEOs huddled in a closed-door “crisis summit” to attempt to resuscitate the industry and stem the tide of declining ad revenues and resulting journalist layoffs.
Television ratings and news readership soared as panicked Americans turned to journalists for any scrap of information. Should they take what’s left of their money out of the stock market? Renegotiate a mortgage that’s more than their house is worth? How can they protect their jobs in a time of massive layoffs by U.S. companies?
Journalists had a front-row seat for the crisis, interviewing weeping homeforeclosure families and fumbling to find new ways to describe another staggering day on Wall Street, all while worrying about their own investments and employment future.
Business journalists were in a tightening vise. Their expertise was in high demand, but their numbers were dwindling, as reporters and editors were laid off or took buyouts. Business sections at papers like the Allentown (Pa.) Call and Honolulu Advertiser disappeared altogether because banks and investment houses weren’t buying ads.
In those disheartening times, it became usual for the board of directors of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) to have a “gutcheck” at the beginning of each meeting.
The SABEW board members spanned the range of those who report on financial and economic matters for newspapers, wire services, broadcast,