Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poynter's Romenesko pointed to an intriguing story in Talking Biz News yesterday about a couple of Gannett papers merging their business and metro desks into one big reporting squad.

It's easy enough to interpret these moves as cynical cost-cutting efforts packaged as improved public service, but the irony of this particular development is that it could make the papers better.

The comments with the story do a good job capturing the range of good and bad that could result, with the bad leaning toward a dissolution of the business staff and the diversion of economic expertise into a schedule of night cops shifts. And, with the way things are going, this is an unfortunate likelihood.

But my first reaction to this move was more like commenter Tim, who posits that uniting the news and business staffs under one editorial roof could result in more holistic reporting. As people like Tom Friedman have asserted at length, the manifold forces affecting our lives no longer can be viewed in isolation from one another. Globalization, the Internet, increasing public-private partnerships and a much larger chunk of the population invested in the stock market through 401(k)s and similar investments means that segregating "news" and "business news" paints a false picture of the way the world works.

Governments, corporations and citizens are mixed up in so many ways that it's foolish trying to extricate one from the other. The State of Michigan's now-chronic budget crisis is largely attributable to declining tax revenues resulting from the shrinking American auto industry, and the impact extends to higher unemployment, rising college costs and fewer resources for public school children. Michigan State University is now partnering with the state to develop a number of economic development incubators aiming to solve these public and private problems in tandem. The Wal-Mart a few miles from my office is suing a local township that has voted against its expansion plans. Coporations are lobbying the government to address our national health-care and environmental crises, because boards of directors are beginning to feel the sting of short-sighted political policies.

The less that newspeople view these stories through separate lenses, and the more they pay attention to the relationships among public, private and personal, the more creative and meaningful reporting they can provide. Having news and business reporters working under one editor might well create more problems than it solves, but here's a case where the idea of synergy, if approached properly, can bear some sweet fruit.

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