Undertaker Blues

   In a down economy, it’s easy to pick on journalists for being too negative. I’ve done it myself recently, and I’m one of ‘em.

   Somebody’s going to point the finger at me soon; it’s a surprise that I haven’t heard some catcalls in the past few months. The list of less-than-sunny stories in the stone industry just keep on coming, including:
  
   • the failure of the far-flung Rock Tops Inc. empire;
   • the closing of the doors at Matrix Stone Products Inc. (followed with a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy);
   • DuPont’s withdrawal from natural stone sales with its guaranteed granite;
   • the disappearance of Calypso Water Jet Systems; and
   • the decline in natural-stone imports and attendance at stone trade shows worldwide.
  
   Back some seven months ago, all we could talk about was the big run-up on radon and radiation with granite. Since then, stone shops went from looking for customer concerns on safety to ... well, looking for any customers.
   It’s not an especially fun time to be writing about the trade. Even in completing the online archives at Stone Business Online recently, the Net searches for industry vendors and fabricators occasionally turns up another dead company.
   Journalists often become the easiest people to blame for bearing the bad news, and some think we enjoy doing this. Don’t count me on the people taking glee in watching the express runs on the Graveyard Express.
   For one thing, reporting bad news is hard work. Everyone’s eager to tout successes, but few issue a press release and hold a reception when they go out of business. The immediate nature of the Internet also means that online information can disappear overnight, so getting the difference pieces of an article requires hours of searching caches of old Webpages and very creative keyword searches.
   Just finding enough detail to sift through rumors can be a slow process. For example, it took a week of phone calls, emails, online forum questions and other queries to find enough to report on the Calypso Water Jet closure. And, you’ve got to be confident about the information; wrongly reporting the death of a company can be fatal in itself.
   Why do it? First of all, it’s something people need to know. We may have a close-knit community in the stone trade, but owners of orphaned equipment rarely get an official notice that manufacturer’s defunct.  It’s better to read about it now than later, when you’ll need spare parts or service for a broken machine.
   It’s also important to record the bad with the good, because that short notice on the Webpage or in the magazine may be all that’s available, save for some obscure court or bankruptcy filing. Journalism is often called “the first rough draft of history;” in many cases, it’s the only draft you’ll find.
   As for me, bad news is part of the business, but there’s more than being an obit writer. I’m also writing about ongoing businesses with firm plans for the future, company expansions and the introductions of plenty of new products. There’s plenty of good news out there, and I’m not losing sight of that.
   Neither should you.

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Article ©2009 Western Business Media Inc.