Article: Survey of Business Journalists Details Impact of President Trump, Anonymous Sources

Author: Josh Merkin
Date: Josh Merkin

Despite challenges, state of the industry snapshot finds enthusiasm for profession
A new survey of U.S. and Canadian business journalists shows that while President Trump hasn’t changed the way media reports news, his tweets still cause angst for some business owners and bring mixed feelings about the use of unnamed sources.

The survey was conducted by rbb Communications, an integrated communications agency, in partnership with the Society for Advancing Business Editing & Writing (SABEW) and included responses from journalists and media professionals who are current members of the organization.

Respondents were asked a series of questions relating to the media industry under President Trump’s administration, as well as questions about the journalism profession. Key findings included:

When asked how they think journalism had been impacted under President Trump’s leadership, 70 percent said journalists are staying true to their mission of seeking the truth and reporting it. Only 9 percent of respondents believed unconscious bias was impacting reporting.
A question about the president’s tweeting yielded a more balanced number of responses. Forty-five percent said businesses and organizations had overcome their concern of being the subject of a presidential tweet, while 35 percent said businesses were still wary of being targeted.
SABEW members were also asked opinions on using unnamed sources, and 18 percent stated that the current political landscape had created a distinct, growing skepticism about the use of unnamed sources and they are concerned stories will be viewed as less and less credible. The majority of respondents, 36 percent, said while naming a source is always preferable, most readers/viewers understand the necessity to use unnamed sources. Twenty-six percent said they did not feel compelled to use unnamed sources.
When journalists were asked to elaborate on the most unpleasant parts of the profession, 37 percent said the uncertainty and instability of the profession, while 32 percent said they disliked the emphasis on brevity and click-friendly content. Eleven percent noted the pressure of managing and navigating multiple platforms.
The survey concluded with an opportunity for participants to offer advice to the next generation of business journalists.

“With all of the challenges and changes in the industry, we were curious to see what type of feedback we’d receive from journalists in the business industry,” said rbb partner and SABEW member Josh Merkin. “Interestingly, the final open-ended question revealed an overwhelmingly positive response advocating for this career choice with many participants answering, ‘Go for it.’”

Some additional pieces of advice included treating the job as an entrepreneurial venture, learning how to produce content across multiple channels, staying current on the industry trends and following your passion.

rbb is a long-time supporter of SABEW and the Larry Birger Young Business Journalist award, named after rbb partner Larry Birger, a former Miami Herald business editor who led SABEW as president in 1977. The award recognizes journalists under 30 and provides a $7,500 grand prize and an all-expense paid trip to SABEW’s fall conference. This year’s winner was Alex Heath, 25, a senior reporter for Cheddar. Dani Burger of Bloomberg News and Robert Hackett of Fortune were finalists for the award.

The survey was conducted in September 2018 and administered by SABEW.

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