Improving business coverage

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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What do you want from us?

It sounds flip, but it’s a question every editor at every newspaper ought to grapple with. What do you, our readers, want from us, the folks who bring you print and online news every day?

Finding the answer to this question for the business section of the paper is particularly tricky. We have to try to please engaged business leaders who eat, sleep and breath financial data, as well as folks who don’t care about the difference between “revenue” and “net income.”

It’s impossible to give every possible reader everything they want every day. But it’s vitally important that we try to understand who you, our readers, are so that we can provide the news and information that will best help you as you make decisions about your jobs, your finances, your economic life.

I’ve been thinking about this challenge since I became editor of The Columbian’s business section this summer.

We’re fortunate to have three talented reporters on the business team: Cami Joner, who focuses on real estate and development; Libby Tucker, who writes about the high-tech sector and business innovation; and Aaron Corvin, who follows port districts and the business of health care. Day after day, they report on which companies are growing, which are shrinking and they look into the economic trends that shape all our lives.

But there’s always room to do better. I’ve got a few small examples today, and I hope that you will help me by sharing your thoughts about the types of stories you’d like to see in our pages.

Example one: The Columbian serves all of Clark County, not just Vancouver. Yet 78 percent of the stories we’ve run about businesses or events since Aug. 1 have been based in Vancouver. That’s disproportionate. We need to do a better job of covering the economic, financial and business activities of northern and eastern Clark County. Now that we’ve identified this shortcoming, we will try harder to cover all of Clark County.

Example two: For more than 20 years, The Columbian has run a weekly feature called “Clark County at Work,” which provides a quick snapshot of a local business. Starting with Saturday’s story, we’re making a few small changes to the feature.

Too many of these companies have been small one-person shops who nominate themselves in an effort to try to drum up publicity and sales. I don’t blame them, but the result is that we get a distorted view of Clark County’s business community. To include a broader range of local businesses, we are now using a small-business database to help identify folks we might have overlooked.

We’ve also moved the Clark County at Work to Saturdays. It had been running Mondays. I believe business readers are more likely to want news and hard-hitting information during the week, when they have to go to work each morning. Saturday is a time to relax, and a more appropriate day for a softer feature. We’ll keep putting hard-hitting stories in the Saturday paper when news breaks Fridays, of course.

In the grand scheme of things, these are tiny changes. In the months ahead, I will continue to look for ways to make The Columbian’s business coverage stronger. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

Courtney Sherwood is The Columbian’s business and features editor. Reach her at 360-735-4561 or courtney.sherwood@columbian.com.