Journalism We Back

We support original journalism that looks into the wider economic, environmental and social implications of business actions. We want serious reporting on the key issues, from the causes of the next financial crisis to the impact of business on climate change.

We focus on the space worst served by the market: medium-to-long form stories for TV, radio, print or online with significant readership and impact. Stories for all grant programs must be research-led, based on detailed reporting over a period of time. They must be original, excluding summaries of material published elsewhere, as well as breaking news.

Stories should focus specifically on the activities of businesses, rather than the state or individuals, and should highlight the wider implications of those activities: social, environmental or economic.

We will at all times adopt a collaborative approach to working with news organizations, and hope to encourage  – where appropriate – collaboration between partners covering stories for different markets or mediums.

Why won’t these stories happen without us?

We believe charities such as ours – alongside other public service institutions – are needed to make up for the failure of the news industry to provide this kind of journalism. It costs money – and there is none. Why? News organizations are increasingly dependent on reducing their expenses in order to remain profitable as advertising revenues fall.

This is partly the result of the migration to the web. Initially, online advertising was additional to traditional forms, but since 2000 overall revenues have shrunk. As a result, as web advertising’s share of total advertising increases, total advertising revenue is in decline.

Crucially, the online percentage of advertising revenue (now 7%) does not approach the online percentage of news readership (now 35%), and by extension the online share of news content. In other words, the per-story advertising revenue online pales in comparison to that which was once sustained in some old media formats.

According to the Pew Foundation, when news organizations report a profit on the web, most (59%) do so by expensing the cost of reporting to an in-print or on-air division, where the combination of advertising and subscription revenues provides a richer cushion. By implication, as readership migrates more completely to the web, news organizations will have to produce more content—for a faster-updating news cycle—than ever before at thinner-than-ever margins. So news outlets are cutting back on the most expensive stories, namely original content and research-led reporting that goes beyond daily events. The Pew Foundation and the Newspaper Association of America report that:

  • Since 2005, a majority (56%) of news outlets have seen a decline in story length. The majority of stories are now shorter than 300 words, roughly the length of a summarized press release.
  • At metropolitan dailies, original content makes up less than half (42.1%) of all stories. Stories with only one source, or no sources at all, make up the majority (51%) of all newspaper content.
  • Since 2005, 64% of news outlets have shrunk their budgets for foreign news or stories requiring international reporting, as longer investigative pieces often do. A majority (57%) of news outlets have also shrunk their investments in national coverage. Only state, local and community focused stories—which, though crucial and valuable, are less costly to produce—have seen growth.
  • Business coverage is shrinking. In 2008, less than half of surveyed newsroom executives considered business coverage to be a top priority. And prior to the financial meltdown of 2008, newspaper newsrooms devoted just 7% of publishing space to business stories.

While the cutbacks in staffing and enterprise reporting may be understood as a response to online revenue models, the dearth of business coverage has no market explanation. Indeed, it overlaps with a dramatic rise in public demand for business stories, and with a global recession that put business news at the center of the public mind. This is a profound indication of market failure.

At Public Business, we give journalists the additional funds to close this gap.

Here are some stories we haven’t supported, but that show the types of journalism we would support:

“Is Enron over-priced” – by Bethany McLean (Fortune)

“Blood and Oil – A Special Report. After Nigeria represses, Shell defends its record” – by Paul Lewis  (New York Times)

“Capitalism to the Rescue” – by Jon Gertner (New York Times Magazine)

“Home Wreckers – How banks are worsening the foreclosure crisis” – By Brian Grow, Keith Epstein and Robert Berner (Business Week)

“Gap and Nike – No Sweat.” BBC Panorama

Trafigura investigation (Guardian, BBC, Volkskrant, NRK & Others)