My first week as a business reporter seems like yesterday. At the Manatee County bureau of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in May 1989, I spent the first week being trained by my predecessor, who was transferring to the newspaper's main office. After a week, she left. I panicked.
I had never been a business reporter before. My previous job was covering cops and courts in the Pasco County bureau of the St. Petersburg Times—a job, I might add, I hated. I wanted to do anything other than look at dead bodies. So I called a friend in Sarasota who told me about the business opening. After the first week, I got over the panic, made some mistakes, and learned what to do on the job.
It was the break I needed, and the right career move. Becoming a business reporter put me in the fastest-growing part of editorial content in newspapers, magazines, and, later, the Internet. Reporters who knew something about business were recruited by other publications, and my career took off, like the careers of many others.
After a year in Sarasota, the business editor at the Tampa Tribune called me. I had no idea who he was, or what stories of mine he had seen. But he wanted to hire me, and offered me more money and the opportunity to work at a larger newspaper. The trend continued. BusinessWeek needed someone in its Connecticut bureau who knew how to write about insurance. Bloomberg News wanted someone in its Atlanta office that had covered the beverage industry. A publishing company in Virginia hired a recruiter to find someone who could start an insurance magazine.
Business news, whatever the form, has been the growth industry of mass communication for the last 15 years. Yet, during the entire progression of my career, I kept thinking back to that first job and my lack of experience. I learned on the job, just like many others in the field, about the differences between revenue and profits, and net income and operating income. I discovered public company filings the way other reporters did—someone with more experience told me about them and what they contained.
And as my career has transitioned into teaching, I have thought even more about how most business reporters get into the business. Why should they start off with little or no knowledge of corporate America?
The answer is they shouldn't. The public deserves to have information about the business world from all forms of mass communication written and edited by