Reports of unethical or illegal behavior on the part of corporations or individual executives have a significant impact on the way journalists cover a business story, according to the results of this year’s Middleberg/Ross Survey of Media, conducted by Don Middleberg of Euro RSCG Middleberg and Steven Ross, associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Of those respondents who regularly cover business and technology issues, 86 percent say disclosures of unethical behavior on the part of a corporation’s ruling body sometimes or always affect financial coverage; and 72 percent say they sometimes or always affect product coverage.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say that revelations of personal unethical behavior on the part of individual executives always or sometimes affect corporate financial coverage. In addition, 42 percent of respondents believe that such revelations sometimes or always influence product, service or technology coverage.
According to Middleberg, the results have profound implications for the way individual executives, as well as corporations, must act to ensure business success and long-term viability. The study results show conclusively that the media microscope is focused on corporate behavior—including the personal behavior of corporate executives.

The study also reveals the sources of financial information journalists find most credible and trustworthy, as well as those organizations and/or individuals that are most likely to influence a journalist’s perception of an issue, trend or market.—Regarding sources and credibility of financial information, the 85 percent of respondents who report using such information in their tories rank corporate websites as their most popular source.

But, while the media use corporate websites most frequently, they trust the federal government’s EDGAR database of SEC filings more than any other source.

When the source being sought is for business or technology related stories, “industry leaders” are the most sought-after sources, with 47 percent of respondents claiming to tap them regularly. CEOs and corporate spokespeople tie for second most sought-after sources, with 41 percent of respondents claiming regular use. Industry analysts and academics come in a strong third, with 35 percent saying they cite those sources regularly.

In the credibility department, however, more than two-thirds of respondents report holding CEOs, CFOs and financial analysts in lower esteem than they did a year ago. And more than two-thirds of respondents believe financial analysts to be less trustworthy this year than last. Academics, readers, consumers and non-governmental organizations are viewed as the most credible sources, though they are not much used. The big winners in both the credibility and use departments are industry analysts—not financial analysts.

“If there’s one message the business community should take away from this year’s study, it’s that corporate reputation matters and so does an executive’s personal reputation,” said Don Middleberg. “No matter how good your product or service, corporate or personal misdeeds will affect how your story is reported in the media. And how your story appears in the media will affect how your customers, partners and vendors view your business.”