Public Editor

December 17, 2013

When a business no longer exists, who claims its history?

A reader brings up an interesting point in how to trace a business’ timeline through mergers and acquisitions. Should journalists always trace the lineage of which parts of a company’s business came from entities it later absorbed? I think the bottom line is what makes things clear to the reader.
An emailer today identified himself as a former employee of the engineering firm Pritchard Corp. In 1985, Pritchard was acquired wholly by Black Veatch, whose company history says the purchase “helped Black Veatch enter the gas, oil and chemicals field and gain major energy companies as clients.”

The reader contacting me was taking exception to a line in

a recent profile of new Black Veatch CEO Steve Edwards.

The sentence in question read:

Black Veatch has developed a technology called PRICO that’s proving to be a powerhouse in the (natural gas) marketplace.

The problem, according to my emailer, is that PRICO was originated by Pritchard before its acquisition by Black Veatch. I did find a clipping from 1974 in The Star’s library that mentions PRICO as Pritchard’s.

There is no longer a separate company called Pritchard today, but Black Veatch has incorporated that company’s timeline into its own.

“In the early ’70s, Black Veatch developed the PRICO single-mixed refrigerant process,” it writes

on its website, subsuming the now-defunct Pritchard’s achievements into its own.

Is that a problem? It’s a common practice in any business that deals in mergers and acquisitions. But should journalists always trace the lineage of which parts of a company’s business came from entities it later absorbed?

I think the bottom line is what makes things clear to the reader. In this case, Black Veatch has continued to refine PRICO through the years, including after 1985. I think delving into the technology’s origins might be interesting, but I don’t think it would have been necessary in a single mention coming in a profile of the company’s CEO. But absolutely, a story about PRICO itself would certainly have to make its specific history clear.

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