Covering the business sector isn’t as daunting as you might think
Many rookie journalists feel that business journalism is an area reserved for businessmen, economists, or at least, for the grey-suited few with an economics degree, or MBA. However, if you can get past this mindset, the business field offers a remarkable number of opportunities for the aspiring journalist.
“Special qualifications can help, of course, but they will only help in a limited field – accountancy may help you read company accounts, but it won’t teach you how to sniff out a good story,” says Ros Bew, a professor of business journalism at Cardiff University.
Freelance business writer Gary Merrill agrees. “It’s quite apparent that a lot of people who report on business [in the UK] don’t actually understand it. But the thing is, it’s very easy to understand!”
“The bottom line is that there is no real difference between business journalism and any other specialist field,” says Ros Bew, “business reflects what is happening politically and socially, and in fact is often ahead of the game.”
“If you look at the world around you, 10 years ago you could see that the business world operated separately from everything else. But these days, with privatisation and various other things… the fact is that corporations are a big part of our lives,” says Mr. Merrill.
“A fair amount of business journalism is written for insiders within the industry,” counters Mark Gregory, producer of the BBC’s The Money Programme. “On some occasions, this is fair enough, but business is an area that can touch all of our lives, and journalists need to remember that.”
So, what should you do in order to become a business journalist? And what are the benefits of entering this field?
The most important thing is to read as much as possible on the subject – follow business new, in the Financial Times’ Markets & Companies section, on the BBC website, listen to The Money Programme and so forth.
“You can’t expect to be able to write good business pieces if you aren’t reading the business pages,” says Mark Gregory.
“Not everyone should be an economic journalist, but from a journalistic point of view, I do think that everyone should have an understanding of business. Flexibility, and the ability to report on anything is a skill every journalist should have,” finishes Mr Merrill.
Significantly, with a basic grasp of guiding business principles, you will find yourself in a relatively elite group among your journalistic contemporaries.
“Britain needs more, quality business journalists to properly cover this area,” advises Ms. Bew. Your ability to comment on the sector means your work will be in demand- and this obviously provides the novice journalist with an opportunity to build up their reputation, and their portfolio of published work.
The lack of understanding in what business journalism entails does mean that, “as a career move, it tends to be slightly less competitive than other journalistic specialisms [sic],” admits Mr Gregory.
However, don’t let the thought of financial reward be the only sway in your decision. “Go into business journalism only if it truly interests you, not because you think it’s a step forward,” warns Ros Bew. Leave the mercenary tactics to the MBA-ridden economists in the grey suits.