Trade journalists as investigative reporters

Book examines major government and industry changes driven by tough reporting in the business-to-business and association press.
John Gannon in 2001 was just getting familiar with his new beat covering the chemical industry when he stumbled on an alarming fact: One-third of the first six chemical accidents investigated by a little-known federal body, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, involved faulty chemical data sheets.

Cover Image: Journalism That Matters

Chemical manufacturers are required by law to fill out these sheets — instructions on how to handle industrial chemicals safely — but the Board’s findings suggested the federal government was exercising little oversight over how the companies complied with the law. The results were headline-making accidents like the explosion at the Morton International plant in Paterson, N.J., in 1998 and the 2001 Bethlehem Steel Mill fire in Chesterson, Ind.
Intrigued, Gannon dug into the matter and wrote about his findings in a hard-hitting piece in the Daily Report for Executives, published by the Washington, D.C.-based Bureau of National Affairs. The piece caught the eye of a leading national industrial safety advocate and, within months, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration had developed a plan for improving the accuracy of the sheets.
“By rolling up his sleeves and pushing OSHA for answers to his questions, Gannon demonstrated how effective the business-to-business press can be in driving concrete change in government and industry,” says Robert Freedman, co-editor of a book on business-to-business journalism released in June that details stories like Gannon’s. Freedman is immediate past president of the American Society of Business Publication Editors.
Journalism That Matters: How Business-to-Business Editors Change the Industries They Cover (Marion Street Press, Oak Park, Ill.; ISBN: 1-9333-3808-3; $16.95) looks at 17 stories of change-making journalism by trade and association publication editors.
Among them:

  • How the U.S. Department of Defense came clean on weaknesses in its computer network after a report by Federal Computer Week.
  • How federal agencies stepped up their verification of job applicants after Government Computer News uncovered egregious resume padding by a top U.S. Department of Homeland Security IT official.
  • How London-based Legal Business shook up the tradition-bound U.K. judicial system by exposing broad discontent among lawyers with one of the country’s most important courts.

“We selected stories from a wide range of business-to-business and association publications to showcase the power of trade journalism,” says Steven Roll, co-editor of the book and president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of ASBPE. “We include pieces from traditional trade magazines and tabloids, newsletters, association publications, peer-reviewed association journals, and publications that sit in the nexus between trade and the consumer publications, like PC World.”
The book is designed as a compilation of best practices for professional editors, but it’s also a window into the world of business reporting for journalism students. “It may wake up some journalism professors to inspire young students to join the trade press,” Don Ranly, professor emeritus, Missouri School of Journalism, says in the book’s foreword.
The book is set to make waves. Its case studies are by editors who are members of, or have had their work recognized by, ASBPE, which in early 2005 spearheaded a panel discussion with the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of National Association Publications at the National Press Club to look at the ways interest groups blur the lines between advocacy and journalism. The panel, which was broadcast on C-SPAN-2, took aim at the inadequate disclosure of publication ownership by some interest groups.
Some of the book case studies are also by editors who have had their work recognized by Trade Association and Business Publications International, which hosts an international awards program for trade journalists.
“We’re showing that trade journalism is journalism that matters,” says Freedman. “Trade editors are changing the face of the industries they cover by running stories that shake up the status quo and lead to innovation.”
“The book also shows the dynamic role trade publications play as the forums through which industry leaders debate issues and drive change,” says Roll. “The book makes clear that editors who know how to shape these forums create an environment that attracts the kind of issue exploration that leads to change.”

Journalism That Matters
Table of Contents

Chapter 1 — Robert Freedman
Editors as Change-makers

B2B publications are uniquely positioned to drive change in their industries.
Chapter 2 — Steven Roll
How Editors Push Industries Forward

All the President’s Men has something to teach B2B editors — to a point.
Chapter 3 — Frank Tiboni
Getting Real on Virtual Espionage

Spurred by Federal Computer Week, the U.S. Dept. of Defense acknowledges weaknesses in its computer network.
Chapter 4 — John Gannon
Coming Clean on Bad Chemical Data

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration wakes up to the dangers of sloppy chemical warnings after investigation by Daily Report for Executives.
Chapter 5 — Matthew Rushton
Judgment Day for Judges

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, reacting to a Legal Business piece, tells the Technology & Construction Court to shape up.
Chapter 6 — Michelle Vanderhoff
Off the Critical Path

Software makers, challenged by Engineering News-Record, close a hole that lets construction timing be manipulated.
Chapter 7 — Katy Tomasulo
Second Thoughts on a Lobbying Plan

Exposed by Housing Affairs Letter, a former U.S. official decides not to charge a fee for help on a rule he wrote.
Chapter 8 — Patience Wait
Not Worth the Paper It’s Printed On

The U.S. government weeds out bogus degree-holders in its midst after Government Computer News uncovers an
egregious example of resume padding.
Chapter 9 — Molly Moses
When U.S.-Canada Tax Relations Hang in the Balance

Transfer Pricing Report helps the two countries agree to stop bickering on trans-border tax issues.
Chapter 10 — Alice Lipowicz
Caught in a Feedback Loop

Executives air concerns to Washington Technology then abandon a high-priced computer security advisory board
Chapter 11 — Michael Martin
Switching the Current on Electrical Rebates

Manufacturers and distributors tap TED magazine to help tame an electrical product monster.
Chapter 12 — Catherine A. Kreyche
Saying Hello to the Elephant in the Room

With help from Journal of Government Financial Management, policymakers find beauty in federal accounting reforms.
Chapter 13 — David Silverberg
Trauma Care on Life Support

Lawmakers and HSToday step up efforts to save emergency response capacity.
Chapter 14 — Beatrice Schriever
Sounding the Alarm on the Teacher Shortage

Led by Professionally Speaking, Ontario’s classes echo with the sound of learning
Chapter 15 — Christopher M. Wright
Taking the Specter Out of “Spec Abuse”

A standards board is receptive to a truth-in-advertising plea after PC World gives manufacturers a reality check
Chapter 16 — Claire Sandt-Chiamulera
Raising a Legal Bar to Improve Children’s Lives

Standards inspired by ABA Child Law Practice give child welfare agency lawyers a target to shoot for.
Chapter 17 — Sherry L. Harowitz
Better Ideas, Better Security

A company puts its guard contractor on the hook to earn all of its pay—just like in the Security Management case study.
Chapter 18 — Jeanne LaBella
Rattling the Electricity Pricing Cage

A heretical pricing idea, floated in Public Power, survives to fight another day.
Chapter 19 — Taylor Rau
Turning a Club into a Rock Star

Nightclub & Bar shows beach-goers how to trade in their sandals for dancing shoes.