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The Death of Business Reporting? Not So Fast.

July 26, 2018

Online stock exchange team

Does a new dynamic between corporate communicators and the media spell the “death of business reporting”?

That’s what Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein concludes in a recent piece recounting his frustration in trying to write about Clorox. He explains how he “offered to come out to Oakland, Calif., and spend time talking to some of the top executives and a couple of brand managers, and perhaps visit a manufacturing plant closer to home in Maryland.”

He further explains that he had no particular angle for the story, but wanted to explore why the company was so admired. That’s when, he says, corporate communications told him Clorox’s executives were too busy to talk to him. 

“Such is the sorry state of corporate media relations these days,” he wrote. “Even the prospect of a positive story can’t crack open the door to the executive suite.”

Pearlstein attributes some of this to the increasing use of corporate-owned channels to reach specific constituents. Indeed, so many owned channels are available today that some companies are relying on them more and on traditional media less. This is especially true of companies who view news as something that happens to them rather than by them.

In fact, companies that shun traditional media do so at their own peril. Traditional media provide companies with a credible third-party voice that their own channels do not, and they can reach a wider, more diverse audience. 

Building relationships with traditional media also fosters greater understanding of the company, its place in the community and how it contributes to the greater good. These relationships are important when things are going well, and essential when a company needs to get its side of the story out during a crisis.

Effective media relations requires corporate communicators to know the difference between news and marketing content. It requires them to know how the media work and what reporters need to do their jobs. This takes far more energy and expertise than packaging content for owned channels, and it may be why Pearlstein and others find access more difficult today. 

Fortunately, there still are many corporate communicators with a strong appreciation for the media and its value; some of the best once worked as reporters themselves. Likewise, there still are many business reporters who, despite smaller newsrooms and increased responsibilities, want to know a company deeply, tell good stories and get things right.

And that’s why, Pearlstein’s experience notwithstanding, business reporting is not dead yet.