This week, we talk with Beth Hunt, senior director of editorial talent development and a weekly columnist for the American City Business Journals, the nation’s largest publisher of metropolitan business newsweeklies, with 44 publications coast-to-coast reaching more than 3.6 million readers weekly. Business journals are woven into the fabric of their communities: They cheerlead for success but aren’t afraid to chronicle failures. Many daily reporters start there, breaking news that got them noticed by a bigger circulation publication. Not Hunt. She’s a lifer of the Charlotte-based company, and she’s proud of it.
Hunt is a University of Florida graduate, a mother of one and an all-around amazing woman. Here’s what she had to say about change – both at her company and for her.
Dawn: You’ve spent your career in business journals. Why?
Beth: Well, it wasn’t a grand plan. I started at the business journal in Orlando because they were going to let me cover tourism in the biggest tourism market in the world. I was 23 and it seemed too good to pass up. My plan was to do that job for a year or two, then take that experience and go somewhere bigger with more resources.
About 10 months later, American City Business Journals bought the paper, bringing in deep pockets, world-class journalists and a rock-solid business model. I decided to stay until there were no more opportunities to stretch and grow.
Thirty-three years later – after doing several investigative projects, running our newsrooms in Austin and Washington, D.C., and helping to build the National Content Team – I’m still here. It’s been an amazing place to do great journalism and work with exceptional people.
Dawn: You were with the company as it went from weekly print to a more digital operation. When I worked at a business journal, I remember praying that the daily didn’t scoop my print story before it hit the stands. What was that transformational change like?
Beth: Like all change, it was hard. It was also necessary, and, if I’m being honest, incredibly fun. We all knew, from our CEO to our entry-level reporters, that if we didn’t get good at digital platforms, we wouldn’t be able to serve our audience going forward. Because ACBJ is privately held, we were able to make the necessary investments and deeply study the needs of our audience before we made the shift from legacy print to digital first. As a result, the move was significant, but it wasn’t jarring. We asked our audience what they wanted from us and we kept them informed as we made the shift. And they all came with us.
Dawn: How has the circulation decline of daily newspapers changed your business?
Beth: Business Journals are more relevant today than ever. Local business owners and executives need business intelligence to make smart decisions. That’s what business journals do – we dig up important business intelligence and report it with the kind of context that tells readers what it means for them, their customers, their employees and their competitors.
Unfortunately, as sources of information become more and more plentiful, sources of credible, valuable information get harder and harder to find. Business Journal readers, sources, advertisers and sponsors tell us they are thankful that we avoid both the sensational and the mundane and stay tightly focused on essential market intelligence that helps them grow or protect a business or career.
Dawn: What is the future of business journals?
Beth: It’s pretty bright, frankly. Local business owners and executives need business journals to help them make good decisions. Our paid membership is growing. Our events business continues to expand. We continue to have financial strength across all platforms. And while we never take it for granted and are always looking for new growth opportunities, we’re in a strong position.
Dawn: You’ve spent time as a recruiter. How have the candidates you’ve hired changed in recent years?
Beth: They are so much smarter, more agile, more savvy than I ever was. To be a journalist has always required an extensive toolbox. Today’s requirements are deeper and more varied than ever, and journalists are rising to the challenge, especially early-stage journalists.
I am consistently amazed at the caliber of people who want to work at ACBJ these days. They are so competitive and curious, and adaptable and driven. And when they get into our newsrooms, they make us all better.
It’s a great time to be a journalist. It’s a better time to be a recruiter of journalists.
Dawn: What advice would you give to an aspiring business journalist?
Beth: Never stop learning about the topic/industry/company/people you cover. The more you know, the better you’re able to report what’s really happening. Relying on other people’s knowledge leaves you at a disadvantage because you’re at the mercy of hidden agendas. When you know as much as your sources do, you can be sure you’re do the right stories the right way.
Dawn: You’re leaving for a new career. Tell us what it is and how your background in journalism will help.
Beth: After 33 years, I will leave ACBJ at the end of the year to pursue a new passion. For several years, I’ve been working on a master’s degree in conflict resolution one class at a time. In January, I will go to school full time and finish my degree in summer 2023. After graduation, I will become a mediator and conflict coach.
It was a bittersweet decision, for sure. ACBJ has been my professional home for more than half of my life. I love this company, its mission, its audience and, most of all, its people. I have friends, real friends, across the country because of my work here. I have had the chance to do what I do best every day of my career in business journalism because ACBJ leadership makes it that kind of place to work.
I may be leaving ACBJ and business journalism, but neither will ever leave me.
Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who loves to read and write. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner and an avid Peloton user (@PeloDawnW). To submit tips for her Media Movers column, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn.