The Need for Conflict in Business Journalism

Jack Flack reveals

an open secret in the journalism community:

Business journalism sells best when it apes sports journalism, particularly

in framing clear conflicts that elevate the mundane into something more compelling.

That’s particularly true of business television. CNBC struggled until Ailes

focused it on the stock market, which effectively provided a scoreboard that

sets the context for hundreds of little dramas each day. Squawk Box was supposedly

modeled on ESPN’s Sports Center, and each day is neatly summarized by market

"winners" and "losers."

There are two consequences which follow from this fact – and it is

a fact. The first is that important business stories fail to be written, every

day, because there isn’t a nice obvious conflict to drive (readers to) the story.

The second is that very unimportant stories, about the Dow going up

or down a couple of hundred points in one day, take on a massively overblown

importance, because they fit so well into the winners-and-losers paradigm.

As a result, a good test of any business story is to ask yourself whether there’s

an obvious conflict driving it. If there is, then you might want to mentally

downplay it. If there isn’t, then it might actually be very important.

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