What Happens When the Business Press Covers All the Same Things?

A look at the headlines across Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, the Financial Times and the New York Times business section shows that all cover the same major stories in much the same way. Many smaller media in the business press business also cover the same stories under their most prominent headlines. There is no surprise in that, but it begs the issue of how many media business readers will read, and why people rely on the accuracy and impartiality of one brand over another.

At the top of the business news today was the wild speculation by a J.P. Morgan analyst that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) could sell enough iPhone 5 models to raise U.S. gross domestic product by 0.5%. The math done to support the opinion is fuzzy, but the story is too good to be true. An American economy, teetering near recession because of, among other things, the fiscal cliff (another subject covered daily) could be partially propped up by the retail activity of the world’s most valuable public corporation.

Also near or at the top of headlines of major business media are stories, barely distinguishable from one another, about whether the new European Central Bank initiative to buy the paper of Europe’s financially weakest nations will work to help salvage the economic prospects of the region. Across the business press, writers give essentially the same reasons it may work or not. Some nations do not want to agree to the terms that would trigger the ECB bond-buying activity. The ECB plan is essentially a bit too good to be true.

The most important M&A activity was covered by almost all of the business press: the BP PLC (NYSE: BP) sale of some of its assets. And Glencore has made its “final” offer for miner Xstrata — $36 billion.

No day can go by without some more negative news from the new Web 2.0 companies that had IPOs in the past two years. The most recent is that the chief marketing officer of Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) left. Each of major business press pointed out that this is part of an ongoing exodus of talent from these companies that, as the most media point out, has done more and more to press the stocks of these firms to near 52-week lows.

Beyond the current news the business press offers two things: reporting on issues that journalists uncover because of days of investigation or new angles on existing stories. The Wall Street Journal does that well because of its army of writers and editors. So do Bloomberg, Reuters and CNNMoney. Whether these “exclusive” stories are enough to get and retain readers is a mystery, at least to outside observers of these media. Today, the Wall Street Journal looked at how much cellular carriers might or might not make on the Apple iPhone 5. The New York Times reports that low interest rates help governments that are in the midst of raising money. But it hurts investors who want modestly high-yielding investments that are safe. Almost everyone with a college education already knows about that about fixed-income instruments. Bloomberg has a story, prominently displayed at its website, about the new head of Opel and General Motors Co.’s (NYSE: GM) commitment to its embattled Opel unit. GM has made that same commitment over and over for years. CNNMoney has an article about how the pay of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.(NYSE: GS) management will drop these people out of the top 1% and into the 99%. Some reporter had to look at quarterly earnings and proxies to figure that out.

The question of why people pick one business medium over another then swings around to issues of opinion or commentary. Do people read the New York Times business section because of Wall St. expert Andrew Ross Sorkin — the Zelig-like man who can appear on CNBC and in the Times building at the same time. Do people go to and stay at TheStreet because of Jim Cramer, who also spends a great deal of time in front of cameras at CNBC. Do readers go to and return to Business Insider because they want to read what editor-in-chief Henry Blodget has to say? Blodget also appears to be in two places at the same time — in his office at Business Insider and on the set of Yahoo! Inc.’s (NASDAQ: YHOO) financial TV.

A great deal of the research on the media deals with whether major news outlets are credible. Pew issues data on this once a year. That research covers the “major” media such as CNN, Fox News and USA Today. The business press may have a different problem. Much of the content coverage the business press reports and writes about may be credible to the reader. But is it different enough from medium to medium? Probably not, based on a look at headlines that are often common across these media. That leaves a long-term problem that editorial stars like Andrew Ross Sorkin and Henry Blodget cannot solve. Neither can “scoops” probably. There is just too much overlap among the business press that covers the same things. The business media business, in other words, is too crowded.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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