As a former business reporter, I am pained to see daily newspapers pulling back on their business coverage.
It seems counterintuitive that a struggling industry would abandon the most logical source of revenue: business. Follow the money, indeed.
One prominent exception is the Reading Eagle, which is coming up on the second anniversary of its Business Weekly section. While other media outlets have contracted, the Eagle, like Susquehanna Style magazine, has expanded.
Dan Fink, a colleague of mine at the York Daily Record back in the 1990s, has been the Business Weekly editor since its inception. Dan has one of the most well-rounded reporting and editing backgrounds that I know of in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
In York, he began as a freelance sports reporter before joining the Daily Record full-time. In succession, he was county government reporter, editor of the Daily Record’s weekly edition, copy editor and features writer.
Next he was managing editor for the Central Penn Business Journal. After he and his wife, Shawn, had twin daughters, Dan needed to be closer to his York home. He handled communications for a nonprofit there.
New advertisers, new content
When that organization merged with another one, Dan was out of work for four months before having the opportunity to help launch the Business Weekly.
The tabloid-sized section was the brainchild of Peter Barbey, whose family has owned the Eagle for many years. Barbey had worked in commercial real estate in the West, Dan told me, before joining the family business.
“When he came, he wanted to do some entrepreneurial things with the newspaper,” Dan said. “And he thought there were some new products that the paper could produce that would maybe engage with new advertisers or attract new advertisers and provide content that we weren’t providing in the daily paper. And the first one he wanted to do was a weekly business magazine.”
Karen L. Miller is the business editor for the Eagle’s daily business section, which publishes seven days per week. She and Dan each have a reporter on staff; in his case it’s Erin Negley, who had been a metro reporter for the Eagle. The four of them sit in the same pod in the newsroom, on the third floor of the Eagle’s Penn Street building.
Miller’s daily section is geared to consumers and breaking news.
“I tend to think of mine as more business to business,” Dan said. “Manufacturing, health care (not consumer health care so much), economic development, commercial real estate. It’s not a hard-and-fast line. Sometimes she’ll have a manufacturing story. Sometimes I’ll have a retail story; she does a lot of retail. But that’s kind of how we work.”
Dan describes the weekly as a “magazine-style treatment of business stories, so really reader friendly with good visuals wherever possible.” This is evidenced by lots of feature stories, crisp graphics and color photography throughout. A typical edition numbers 16 to 24 pages.
Cover stories this summer included one on meat processor John F. Martin & Sons’ plans to renovate the former Valley Forge Flag Co. plant in Womelsdorf; another week’s lead story: “Economic Blessing: Jehovah’s Witnesses bring faith and dollars to city,” referencing that denomination’s annual convention in Reading.
Each week, Eagle graphic artist and page designer Craig Schaffer comes up with a full-page illustration, called “Snapshot,” such as this one:
And every week, Dan writes a 300-word column and conducts a Q&A, dubbed “The Conversation,” with a local CEO. The interviews are videotaped and available on the newspaper’s website.
One of the things that I liked most about being a business reporter was finding out about entrepreneurs and sharing their trials, tribulations and triumphs with readers.
One company Business Weekly readers are getting to know is BooRoo Shoes, which sold its first suede boots in 2012. Business Weekly is running occasional stories on the company and its environmentally friendly focus throughout 2013.
It takes a lot of time and effort to get one’s arms around an area economy, as Dan has been doing the past two years in Berks County.
“There really are a lot of successful, significant companies in Berks County that I never knew about,” Dan said.
Reading Eagle readers certainly wouldn’t know about them had the newspaper followed the lead of other area news organizations that have scaled back or eliminated their business sections.
I’d say that Peter Barbey was on to something.