Amid Meltdown, Crain Websites Delivered What You Needed -- Fast

Editors on the Frontlines Describe How They Handled the First Days of the Crisis

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Here at Crain Communications, we've always prided ourselves on being aggressive journalists.

But for most of our 92-year history, we had to hope that the daily newspapers wouldn't get wind of one of our scoops before we could get it into print.

The internet has put us on even footing with news operations anywhere in the world. And our publications and websites continue to be required reading because, as trade journalists, we have plenty of practice tailoring stories to the precise needs of our tightly defined audiences.

The financial meltdown that brought great institutions to their knees was a defining moment for us -- one that brought our internet coverage to the forefront. Here's a frontline report from our editors as they managed and directed our most extensive web reporting ever.

Investment News, our weekly for financial advisers, did a special webinar on what to tell worried clients, plus several quickie surveys to help our staff gauge where we needed to concentrate our news coverage. One such survey helped a reporter craft a front-page story on whether advisers were moving mutual funds from a subsidiary of Lehman Bros. Along the same lines, Investment News recently launched INthecommunity, an online forum for advisers to swap notes on client concerns.

When Nancy Webman, editor of Pensions & Investments, reviewed how P&I handled what she calls the biggest story of her nearly 27 years at the publication, she said, "Thank goodness for the internet. As a biweekly publication, P&I would have been at a major disadvantage without the ability to post stories online as events unfolded, to conduct online-reader polls, to pull together a webcast on the effect on our readers."

During the entire process, our publications worked diligently to pass relevant stories along to our other publications, something we have not always done. As Glenn Coleman, editor of Financial Week, noted Sept. 18, the publication posted at least 25 staff stories in a three-day period, plus a half dozen or so web stories grabbed from other Crain publications.

Our editors sent me some of the e-mail traffic that flows between editors and reporters. Glenn and Regis Coccia, editor of Business Insurance, shared big scoops: Glenn broke the story on Putnam closing a money-market fund because panicky investors had pulled so much money out of it, and Regis told Glenn that BI had just posted news that AIG's core commercial-insurance business was not for sale. Crain's Chicago Business did the first profile of Chicagoan Ed Liddy taking over AIG. Editor Joe Cahill said "a central issue running through our coverage is the evaporation of credit and how that affects Chicago companies' ability to fund expansion, hire new workers, and just plain keep operating."

Mark Dodosh, editor of Crain's Cleveland Business, alerted other editors that municipal bonds might be next to gridlock. One of his sources told him that with companies running to invest any excess cash in the haven of U.S. Treasuries, the market for municipal debt had essentially dried up. The state of Ohio, said Mark, canceled a $300 million debt offering due to lack of interest.

Our editors took pride in providing crucial, real-time information on what readers needed to know to keep functioning. Said Glenn: "The credit crunch and all its crazy layers has been Financial Week's No. 1 concern since we first started reporting back in the fall of 2006 on early concerns about excessive risk-taking. It's been a nonstop ride of a lifetime ever since. ...Our websites' readership levels are soaring off our mere 2-year-old charts. It's been a highly satisfying reminder of why we matter to readers."

It's always been our job to break news and explain what it means. Now, thanks to our new best friend, the internet, we can also provide practical advice on how to do your job in the face of stark terror.
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