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Senior editor and business columnist
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senior editor and business columnist
The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee
Why did you become a journalist?
Like a lot of people who grew up in the 1960s, I saw journalism as one way to right some of society's wrongs. I still feel that way. I grew up in a house where newspapers were always around. But I really got the journalism "bug" in high school where we had a daily student paper that tackled a lot of meaty issues -- the Vietnam War, drug use on campus, racial tension. I was editor of the paper -- the Berkeley Daily Jacket -- during my senior year and got my first lesson about the First Amendment when one of our editions was confiscated by the school administration. We had written about the suspension of some students and the administration thought (perhaps correctly) that it was inappropriate. We followed the next day with a big story about the confiscation (along with a picture of the previous day's paper with the word "banned" across it). That paper was circulated.
What are your main duties as a senior editor and business columnist?
I write three columns a week, supervise a couple of reporters and run a program The Bee has started to mentor students in one of our local high schools. It's a lot of work -- especially the column writing -- but it's also a lot of fun.
What's your column about?
I write sort of a three-dot column, news tidbits from a variety of different industries (separated by ellipses). But I tend to do only three or four items per column and try to produce some significant scoops each day. I also try to bring out the personality -- and humor -- of the local business scene.
Tell us about the mentoring program.
We're just getting it started this fall, but the idea is to promote journalism as a great career option. We have "adopted" a local high school that has a very diverse student body -- including a fair number of Hmong and Russian students -- and hope that they will get excited about working in newspapers. We're planning to send reporters, editors and photographers into the classroom to talk about journalism and offer one-on-one help to students who request it. We're also encouraging students to come to the Bee and observe our story planning meetings and to shadow journalists as they go about their jobs. So far, more than 25 of our staff members have volunteered to help, which I think is extraordinary.
How did you get interested in business coverage?
To be really honest, I sort of lucked into the field. I was working for a weekly in Seattle in 1979 and was looking for a job at a daily. I heard from a friend that the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News -- then engaged in a fierce newspaper war -- was looking for a business writer/editor. I figured I could do that -- and fortunately the Daily News people agreed. I've been working in business ever since.
Is it your sense that there's a demand for journalists with expertise in business reporting?
Absolutely. Business is still one of the "growth" fields in journalism, and good papers are always on the lookout for people who understand financial issues and can explain them clearly for readers. I think the field will be even more important over the next few years if, as a lot of folks expect, we're headed into a serious recession.
Can you describe the range of beats in the Bee's business department?
We have a fairly traditional approach toward beat coverage, with people assigned to cover our area's major industries: banking, technology, health care, housing, development, small business, retailing, agriculture and biotechnology with others covering themes such as the workplace, personal finance and the workplace. Lately, though, we've been thinking about a different, more thematic approach that focuses more on consumer issues. The basic feeling is people want to know a lot more about how to manage their money, how to use technology better in their business and personal lives, how to survive on the job, how to shop more intelligently, etc. -- and we want to give them more of that kind of hands-on information.
How can I prepare myself for such a career path? Are there certain kinds of classes I should take when I get to college? Magazines or business journals I should be reading?
I studied journalism and English in college. I wish I had majored instead in history and economics. My point is that it really helps to bring some business expertise and sense of history to your work as a journalist. I encourage people to develop some specialized knowledge in areas they might want to cover. Students also should read. A lot. The Wall Street Journal is a good place to start. Read the front page and B front stories. Business Week also is good for an overview and I'd keep an eye on what Time Warner does with Business 2.0.
Some people assume that business writing is a bit on the plain side. Can you use a variety of writing styles in writing business stories?
Well, it is on the plain side way too often. But it needn't be and that's one of the things we're looking at as we examine our beat structure. To hold on to readers, we need to engage readers in the same ways the best reporters do in sports and metro -- with clever, personal, fun stories.
If you were not a journalist, what would you do be doing?
Oh, man. I don't know. I guess I'd be a teacher -- of journalism. And to some extent, I am now as a result of our mentoring program.