Media: Sky News challenges BBC's business crown

The economic downturn was the making of the BBC's ubiquitous business editor, Robert Peston, but Sky News is determined not to be outdone by its publicly funded rival in the post-credit crunch era.

Having hired industry heavy hitter Jeff Randall on a permanent contract late last year, the channel has now brought in ex-Sunday Telegraph City editor Mark Kleinman, who started last week, to challenge the BBC's business coverage head on.

When news of Kleinman's appointment broke in May, the press built it up as a prize-fight in waiting - Kleinman vs Peston for the title of the undisputed voice of business.

Kleinman says comparisons with Peston - 'an absolutely superb journalist' - are 'flattering', but plays down talk he is being prepped as Sky's answer to the BBC man. 'We are different journalists, with different sources and different audiences,' he says.

Kleinman and his bulging contacts book have been brought to Sky News with a clear objective - to break industry-defining stories.

Nick Phipps, Sky News executive producer, says: 'Sky News stands or falls on breaking news before the opposition. Ask anyone in the City who has broken more stories than anyone over the past six to 12 months and it will be Mark.'

Jason Nisse, director at Fishburn Hedges, notes: 'Sky recognises the BBC has taken a lead and will be much more proactive. I expect Kleinman to give Peston a run for his money.'

Sky has built a reputation for its political coverage, but its business output has not enjoyed quite the same kudos.

'Sky is good at breaking news, but not necessarily stories,' says Jo Sheldon, media director at Edelman. 'It does not get the exclusives the BBC gets.'

The economic crisis has rocketed business stories up the news agenda and Sky News is now clearly committed to fighting for ownership of the space. 'There is a voracious appetite among the general public for business news now,' says Kleinman. 'We've been through the worst financial crisis for decades.'

Consequently, the channel has been strengthening its business output for some time. Phipps notes that the business unit has 'effectively tripled over the past 14 months' - last week former BBC financial correspondent Dharshini David joined as its new business correspondent.

Gay Collins, founding Partner at Penrose, believes the biggest challenge facing Sky will be matching 'the extra resources BBC News has at its fingertips'.

But Phipps is convinced his 'lean and mean' business team can offer breadth of coverage no-one else has. 'This isn't the end of the growth of our business coverage,' he says. 'We are making it clear we are a force to be reckoned with.'

QUICK FACTS

Audience: Available to 145 million people in 36 countries in Europe, 14 in Asia, 15 in the Middle East and 56 in Africa

Average weekly reach: 4-5 million; the sole news provider to more than 300 commercial radio stations (with a total of around 310 million listeners)

Website: skynews.com

Unique: users 8.1 million in August

Contacts: Nick Phipps 020 7585 4544, nick.phipps@bskyb.com; Mark Kleinman 020 7705 5533, mark.kleinman@ bskyb.com.

A MINUTE WITH ... MARK KLEINMAN, CITY EDITOR, SKY NEWS

What is your view of Sky's business coverage?

The foundations are strong - having a figure as heavyweight as Jeff Randall full-time has done wonders for the credibility of its business output.

How do you see your role?

It is focused on knowing exactly what is going on inside the City - breaking stories that are of interest to Sky News viewers.

How has the credit crunch changed business coverage?

There is an insatiable appetite out there for business news and I don't see that diminishing. The global banking system is no longer on the brink of collapse, but as the Government is the biggest shareholder in two of our major banks the story is not going away.

How do you view the transition to broadcast?

It is an interesting challenge. The media are very different but the journalistic principles underlying the roles remain the same - building relationships with contacts, breaking news and analysing the biggest stories.

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