Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reading the Business Press

Once again I find myself drawn to a CNET News headline. This time it is a post to Dave Rosenberg's Software, Interrupted blog with the intriguing title, "Has business press lost touch with the tech industry?" (Yes, I admit to being a sucker for provocative questions.) Here are the data points that provoked the question:

A new report by ITDatabase that examines tech coverage over the last six months from eight top business news publications raises some questions, in particular: Does the business press factor companies' revenue and profits into their tech editorial agenda?

The report shows that Apple and Google dominate, while Twitter and Facebook are far more discussed in the business press than Intel, Dell, IBM, or even HP (the largest tech company in the world).

The eight publications surveyed are: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, The Economist, Financial Times, and USA Today. Over a period of six months, ITDatabase measured coverage by the number of times a tech company was mentioned in print and online in these publications, including blogs such as All Things Digital, which is affiliated with the Journal. (Disclosure: I am an adviser to ITDatabase.)

Enterprise IT is woefully underrepresented, despite being the cash-cow in the industry. "In the overall editorial agenda," the report says, "enterprise IT is treated like consumer tech's snaggletoothed twin. It barely even makes the family photo."

Oracle ($22 billion in revenue, $5 billion in profits) only cracks the top 10 companies by coverage for one of the eight publications examined: Fortune. Cisco ($40 billion in revenue, $8 billion in profits) didn't make it on anyone's top 10 list. IBM ($100 billion in revenue, $12 billion in profits) wasn't even in The New York Times' top 20, and was No. 19 for The Wall Street Journal.

My own reaction is that Rosenberg has asked the wrong question. I see these data points as indicators of what the business press readers want and an invitation to hypothesize about why they want it. My personal speculation is that, when just about every business is tightening its belt in every imaginable way, it is not particularly interested in news about utilities that it is currently using and sees no need to replace in the immediate future. It is not that readers are not interested in looking at the "snagletoothed twin." Rather, they are managing well enough with what they have and prefer the diversion of reading about new toys that probably have more to do with personal use than business operations. Think of Larry Ellison over at Oracle. My guess is that he is more interested in preparing for the next America's Cup then in whether or not he is holding his own with enterprise software. After all, he has numbers that are perfectly adequate for survival in hard times; and he (presumably) he still has one or two researchers in his stable who have plenty of time to worry about the next moves to make when the economy improves.

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