Reading and writing the business pages in a fast-changing world

From in-depth analysis to a pioneer web presence, business coverage has been at vanguard of innovation

Wed, Nov 13, 2013, 00:23

Business, or more particularly the markets, have featured in this newspaper from its earliest days. Back in 1860, the paper carried a Market & Commercial Intelligence section towards the back of what was then a four-page production – alongside Foreign Intelligence, Law Intelligence and Police Intelligence columns.

Its focus back then was effectively on the financial markets and, while it was presented as news liberally interspersed with comment, it was a largely anonymous affair.

Since May 20th, 1963, business and finance has been a daily feature, under various titles. Market data was quickly relegated to a second page to allow more space for news reports.

Since then, the pace of change has accelerated, regardless of boom or recession, as Ireland’s increasingly open economy has brought the world’s leading companies to our shores. In November 1992, driven by a desire to broaden and deepen the business coverage, and facilitated in part by rapidly increasing demand for recruitment advertising, the paper launched a standalone supplement. Key to its success was the arrival of colour printing to Irish daily newspapers.

For the first time, in-depth interviews and profiles of business figures featured in the pages each Friday, alongside personal finance coverage which was sought by an increasingly affluent middle class with money to invest but little understanding of the options open to them.

Five years later, in late 1997, technology coverage was added to the mix. The Irish Times had already taken its first tentative steps into the digital age with a website for the paper in 1996.

Towards the end of the 1990s, online reporters created the first dedicated business pages on The Irish Times online. Since then, digital has played an increasingly important role.

In February 2012, recognising the central role of business coverage, The Irish Times announced that business supplements would appear each day from Monday to Friday.

At a time when breaking news is readily available online – both at and elsewhere – what readers increasingly value in their newspaper is the insight into why certain events have occurred and what might be expected next.

From within its ranks and through the paper’s syndication agreements with other leading world papers such as the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Guardian, The Irish Times has built up an impressive array of commentators. These include John McManus and Ciarán Hancock looking behind key events in Irish business, and top Irish economic writers alongside Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and the FT’s widely respected Martin Wolf.

The paper’s long-standing technology columnist Karlin Lillington is recognised as one of the most authoritative voices in the sector across Europe, covering policy issues and new developments from Dublin to Silicon Valley and Brussels.

Chris Horn, one of Ireland’s most successful technology entrepreneurs, writes regularly on the challenges for Irish business and policymakers in innovation, alongside science editor Dick Ahlstrom and Davin O’Dwyer.

Media, in all its forms – not forgetting social media – is an area critical to business development and Laura Slattery keeps a critical eye on developments in one of the fastest-changing sectors.

Our export-driven economy means business leaders need to be aware of developments in key markets, and the paper plays its part with Asia correspondent Clifford Coonan reporting weekly, while Fiona Walsh, business editor of Guardian Online, comments on key business stories in Britain.

Over the years, The Irish Times has also built up a market-leading network of foreign correspondents, giving the paper the ability to deliver analysis and commentary relevant to its business readers from Brussels, Washington, Berlin and London, among others.

Informing the reader is a key role of these commentators but they are valued also for the quality of their writing and, in this regard, few rival Lucy Kellaway, whose sideways, but always straight-spoken, look at the world of work makes it a weekly must-read.

Among the more recent innovations, Cantillon, a thrice-weekly column, allows the paper’s business writers to comment on or analyse business stories as they arise, giving readers a perspective beyond the headline.

Alongside commentary, the increasing focus on added value for readers comes from the breadth of features in the paper – ranging from the ever-more complex world of personal finance and investment, to innovation, technology and analysis of the key business stories of the week at home and abroad.

Interviews with key business figures remain a staple of the paper but increased pagination has allowed The Irish Times to beef up its coverage of smaller businesses which continue to account for the bulk of enterprises in any economy and provide some of the most interesting stories of relevance to others looking to establish or build businesses in our recovering economy.

The Future Proof and Inside Track interviews give voice to this dynamic sector while, in the world where emigration is again a reality, the paper talks to those who have established careers and lives in an impressively broad range of countries and the lessons they have for those who might feel inclined to follow on behind them.

But at the heart of the business operation remains the determination to bring the most comprehensive coverage of the most significant and latest breaking stories from the world of business that affect Irish readers or companies – not forgetting coverage of markets which was where it all began.

Digital media
But if the focus remains the same, the medium is changing all the time. The Irish Times is a “platform neutral” media group, with a presumption that most news stories will be published first online, and has integrated its online and traditional print journalist teams. Business has been in the vanguard of this transition.

Much of the paper’s focus is now on making the business website www.irishtimes. com/business as much of a “must-read” for the Irish business community – and others – as the printed Irish Times has traditionally been.

The website and app now feature dedicated online business columnists and Irish Times journalists engage frequently on social media.

It’s a world where engagement with readers is very different online from, say, the Letters page of the printed newspaper. It would have been unthinkable when the newspaper’s first financial editor Nicholas Leonard established an identity for the paper’s business coverage 50 years ago.

But, as in his day, the paper continues to look to be at the forefront of continued innovation in the sector.

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