When I'm out on speaking engagements, I'm often asked why the general business press pays so little attention not just to women-owned companies, but to emerging companies in general.
This issue surfaced recently in Los Angeles, where I was moderating a panel discussion that included representatives of The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Jose Mercury News. The journalists responded by pointing out that private companies are much more difficult to cover than publicly traded companies. For one thing, private companies often deny reporters access to reliable financial information -- the kind of information that public companies are required to provide by law. In a similar vein, some panel members took INC. to task fors covering private businesses with too little skepticism, writing favorable pieces about companies that self-destructed soon afterward.
There may indeed be some truth to the criticism -- writing about closely held businesses can be a risky proposition at times -- but it seems to miss a more fundamental point: that most of the major business publications read as if they were written primarily for investors. Sometimes, this is explicit, as in the case of The Wall Street Journal or Forbes. Other times, it is not.
Fortune comes to mind in this regard. Recently, that magazine published an article about the impact on Syracuse, N.Y., when two of its largest companies were acquired. Lest investors feel shortchanged by the piece, the magazine included "Investor's Snapshots" of the acquiring companies. (Evidently, what's bad news for the citizens of Syracuse might well be good news for shareholders.)
Or consider the May 26 issue of Business Week. The cover type reads: "HOT GROWTH COMPANIES: Annual Ranking of the 100 Best Small Corporations." Nothing untoward here, until one looks inside and discovers that the companies in question are all publicly traded. Don't get me wrong. I don't think for a minute that Business Week is trying to mislead magazine buyers. Rather, I suspect that the editors share an understanding with their readers that, by "small corporations," the magazine really means "small public corporations." The assumption is that readers want to know about "hot growth companies" as investment properties, pure and simple.
This investor bias explains other oddities in the way the business media cover the growth sector of the economy. Why, for example, there is so much coverage of venture capital when we know that venture capital directly affects only a tiny fraction of small growth companies. Or why the press writes religiously about the market for IPOs, yet ignores the availability and cost of credit -- an issue of much greater concern to most smaller companies.
On one level, of course, this propensity to view business from the investor's perspective is simply a function of the marketplace. There are lots of investors out there whose needs are being served to one degree or another by the likes of The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, and Fortune.
Nevertheless, the effect of all this is disturbing. Too often, we in this country wind up viewing securities trading as synonymous with business, while the individuals who create wealth, jobs, and opportunity remain virtually ignored -- at least until they become investor bait.
On the other hand, it is of such ironies that opportunities are made. Like INC., for example . . .