|Art by Leo Acadia for Jan. 2, 2011 Money & Careers section.|
This is the month when industry reporters “look ahead” to next year, talking to sources and using their expertise to offer audiences a sense of what to expect, trends, potential newsmakers, etc., in the year to come. Some reporters also produce “look back” stories, recapping the past year on their beat and, hopefully, offering some analysis.
Reporters and editors are people too, with families and friends. They want time off at the holidays like everyone else. These look back/look ahead pieces can be written and laid out well in advance, allowing the media to fill pages with staff content while giving reporters a year-end break.
For business and enterprises, these stories represent an opportunity to pitch experts and analysts who can comment on what lies ahead for an industry or segment. The pitches rarely work if they are self-promoting. Don’t expect a profile of you or your organization. Instead, be satisfied to position yourself as a thought leader and perhaps become a source for future stories.
What was unusual about the Globe’s effort to forecast 2011 was the lack of experts cited in the spread of stories penned by Gavin and his colleagues – Jennifer B. McKim, Robert Weisman, Scott Kirsner, D.C. Denison and Casey Ross. That’s gutsy.
“The recovery will speed up as jobs are created,” was the headline on the piece penned by Gavin, who said the economy “will gain enough momentum by the second half of the year to spark substantial job creation and bring down the stubbornly high employment rate.” Right about now, he wrote, “workers, businesses and investors will start to believe that conditions are headed for long-term improvement.”
Oh, how we wish he was correct.
The U.S. unemployment rate did drop in November to its lowest level in two and a half years, but one reason was that 315,000 adults simply stopped looking for jobs. Other data and surveys – by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, by the Globe’s own poll – confirm an overcast economic sky with only occasional sunny breaks.
To be fair, there was absolutely no way that Gavin, who is very smart, could have foreseen the Europe’s failure to act to stem an ongoing debt plague; the decision by most large corporations to hoard cash rather than invest in hiring; the do-nothing attitude of Congress; the chill of new banking regulations, etc. If macroeconomics was easy, we all could play the stock market like Rain Man could count cards.
That’s why reporters often quote experts as intellectual shields to support their prognostications. The other Globe fortune tellers focused on smaller slices of pie and fared better.
McKim’s story predicted the “Massachusetts housing market will remain stable in 2011.” Massachusetts Association of Realtors data seems to back that up.
Weisman’s piece said it was “a safe bet 2011 will be another year of consolidation” in the Massachusetts biotechnology industry. A safe bet indeed.
Kirsner spoke to “about a dozen local entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists and investment bankers” to devise his “take on the people, companies and technologies that will be making news in 2011.” The headline on his piece focused only on “electric vehicles, video games and clean energy,” but the story was incredibly detailed and confidently named names.
Denison took on technology, predicting a 2011“surge” in the number of technology start-ups in New England. The roulette wheel is still spinning on that one.
Prediction stories are thankless if low-risk tasks. With the exception of stock-picking stories, few consumers (or editors, for that matter) check to see how close reporters came to reality a year later. The January 2, 2011 “Money & Careers” section of the Sunday Globe would have been forgotten had it not been used to cushion holiday ceramics headed for my attic.
But they are a mainstay in editorial calendars and, with smart pitching, represent an annual opportunity for rapport building, positioning and thought leadership. Look for them again anytime from Christmas Day through New Year’s Day.