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Editorial: The best way to bring you business coverage

by Michael McCoy
October 14, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 34


I’ve worked for C&EN for more than 25 years, and one of my favorite features of the magazine is the one that I contributed to first: business briefs.

The name and the look of the feature have changed over the years, but the basic idea is the same: two pages (one page in earlier years) of short items about acquisitions, partnerships, investments, and start-up company launches in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

These items aren’t big pieces of news. A large business development such as a multibillion-dollar acquisition is likely to be covered as a longer news story that can require interviews with both people involved in the deal and outside experts who can comment on its significance.

Business briefs are, well, brief, usually fewer than 100 words each. They are typically based not on interviews but on a company announcement, research in C&EN’s archives and other sources, and the reporter’s own knowledge. Each week’s installment, on page 12 in this issue, generally includes 12 of these short stories plus 8 two-sentence roundup items—20 pieces of news in all.

Every week, C&EN’s business and life sciences reporters contribute ideas for briefs in a shared spreadsheet. Then the briefs editor, usually Alex Tullo, narrows the ideas down, weighing both their significance and the interests of our audience—mostly chemists from industry, academia, government, and other fields. The choices can be hard to make and often require consultation with colleagues. And the lineup can change during the week as we approach our print deadline day of Thursday.

On its own, a brief is a slight thing that a reporter can easily knock out, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Taken as a whole, though, the business briefs provide a window into themes and trends shaping the world of chemical business. This week, those themes include low-carbon chemical production, battery materials, and artificial intelligence. I like to think that readers who scan C&EN’s business-related news stories and briefs each week are up to date about what’s going on in the chemical industry.

But the business briefs make no splash on our home page and are hard to find on our website. Most of our other news stories are “digital first,” posted on our website after being written and edited and only later laid out on the page for our weekly print and digital editions. In contrast, the briefs are produced on a print cycle, wrapped up on Thursday evening when we are getting the magazine ready for the printer.

The truth is that they are anachronistic, a relic of an era when C&EN was read mainly by members of the American Chemical Society when the magazine arrived in the mail each week.

We still print the magazine, but for fewer and fewer readers each year. Most ACS members who subscribe choose to receive the digital version of the magazine. Members as well as nonmembers also access our stories by visiting our website, receiving one of our weekly newsletters, or encountering them on social media or while searching the web.

C&EN’s science and policy news sections used to carry briefs each week; these days they rarely do, and editors instead devote reporter resources and magazine pages to longer news stories.

I’m convinced that the business briefs are easily scannable nuggets of news that are important for anyone who wants to keep up with the chemical industry. We need to make them digital-first products that are more timely and easy to find online.

One solution would be a business newsletter that appears on our website and can be received as an email. Such a solution would require additional resources, but they might be well spent. Let me know what you think about getting a chemical business newsletter. I’m at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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