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TV Is Bullish for Business News

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At the same time, business journalists are often held to higher standards than journalists in other genres. "When you're writing about markets or bonds, you have to be precise because information is money," says Matt Winkler, editor in chief of Bloomberg News.

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Anything less can be a financial nightmare, as Reuters found out last year. An incorrect report by the influential wire service caused shares of ACT, a computer networking equipment company in Camarillo, Calif., to fall 22 percent.

Such mistakes are rare because business-news organizations know their credibility is constantly at stake, says Mr. Winkler. At Bloomberg, every story is required to have two independent on-the-record sources. A story with an anonymous source can run only with approval from Winkler.

Business reporters are routinely required to disclose their financial holdings to their editors. Some take it a step further, like Fox's Cavuto, who says he never interviews a CEO in whose company he owns stock.

Competition among programmers

Tune in any weeknight to CNBC or CNN, and you'll witness television's most visible battle for business-news viewers. Last October, CNBC launched "Business Center," the network's answer to CNN's "Moneyline."

Tackling breaking news and emphasizing business personalities, "Business Center" is banking on one of its own personalities for success: Maria Bartiromo, CNBC's chief stock-market reporter.

Ms. Bartiromo resembles a young Sophia Loren, and the program's opening close-ups make sure viewers know it. Yet even with quick-cut, MTV-like visuals, "Business Center" is seen in only about 190,000 households each evening, less than half the number watching "Moneyline."

On another front, CNBC isn't challenging competitors but joining them. Earlier this year, Dow Jones & Co. and CNBC announced the two companies would collaborate on a global business-news partnership on channels overseas.

Yet what it all adds up to is a lot of effort to reach what traditionally has been a small audience. Only two business programs draw network-size viewership, and both air on public television stations: "Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser," with 4.7 million households each week; and "Nightly Business Report," which draws more than 1 million viewing households each evening.

A recent Freedom Speaks/Roper Center poll found that 25 percent of the public watches business programs on television "occasionally," while only 9 percent watches "regularly."

That finding doesn't surprise Peter Kann, chairman of Dow Jones & Co., which publishes The Wall Street Journal. "I doubt there will ever be a mass audience for business news," he says. "The Wall Street Journal, arguably the most successful business-news medium, is bought by 1.8 million people a day. That's a small fraction of the number of people who watched 'Seinfeld.' "

But for business news on television to succeed, viewership doesn't have to be vast, says Mr. Kann. For an audience to draw lucrative advertisers - the key to most shows' success - it's more important that viewers be loyal, not large in number.