Listen to NPR and you’re more likely to hear news about Palestine than what is going on in the corporate headquarters of your area’s largest employer. If the news offers a context for daily life, this suggests that the news is moving towards irrelevance.
Like all sectors, the media is as defined at least as much by tradition as current reality. A free press grew up coincident with the evolution of modern democracies. The major story of the free press was politics and that remains the main story, the meta-narrative.
This can be good during a time of elections and political crisis. But it rests on an implied assumption: issues played out in the political sector matter and are the biggest determinants of quality of life for the average person.
If you live in Darfur or Palestine, this assumption is valid. In such places, it is not obvious that anything has more impact on quality of life than political issues played out through policy or battle. But if you live in a place like Germany or the U.S., this assumption is not so obvious. I would argue that quality of life for the average person in the developed world is more determined by corporate policy and strategy.
If you live in a democracy, it is obvious that changes in fiscal or monetary policy or laws DO make a difference. But this difference is secondary to what happens at work. If your employer makes a decision to radically change health coverage, needs to consolidate operations and layoff, or is expanding and has great opportunities for promotions, you will notice a real difference in levels of stress, income, and hope. Reducing taxes by 5% does little to offset a loss of job.
Yet business news still tends to be a side note, whereas real news is inevitably focused more on disasters and politics.
But it is time for business news to become more central to the main stream media. Issues like environment, quality of work life, income growth, and benefits coverage ought to be covered within the context of policy implications. What kinds of corporations do we want? What balance of environmental and economic concerns should they navigate? What sort of work experience do we want for our kids? For ourselves? Political reporting is invariably made within such a context, the context of what should be as an overlay to what is. There is a great deal of debate about the ideal political policies, but the press and readers have real ideas about what kind(s) of government and policies ought to be pursued. By contrast, it seems as though most business reporting is done as if one were reporting on the weather: these are facts (e.g., layoffs or expansion) that simply need to be accepted, seems to be the subtext.
The time for the mainstream media to cover business policies and issues as a more central part of the news is long past. If we want our media to help shape a better world - and for hundreds of years it has - it has to shift its attention to the new constraint to progress. What is central to progress now is significant change in the corporation; believe it or not, this will make even more difference to the life of the average person than will additional changes to government policy.