I retired from the San Francisco Business Times on Tuesday, Nov. 1, after a cumulative 21 years or so with the paper, in various stints.
Talking Biz News wants to know why I stayed so long, what I got out of it, and what I liked about it.
The truth is, I fell into business journalism, as kind of a fluke. After studying English and American lit at Brown University, I floundered for quite a while, trying to decide what to do with my life as a grownup. This type of journalism, strangely enough, turned out to be the answer.
I tried a Ph.D. program in literature at UCLA but dropped out without a degree, after deciding that while I loved books, writing and literature, I wanted a closer connection to the flesh and blood world around me.
My short tenure at UCLA overlapped with the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, which ended up overthrowing the Shah, and installing the Islamic Republic. People marching in the streets, shouting insults at America, the Great Satan.
Tumult. Craziness. Drama. And I was stuck in a library.
After that, experiments in trade publishing at Miller Freeman Publications, at a computer magazine for Atari computer aficionados, and in a couple of quick-hit corporate communications jobs convinced me I still hadn’t found the real me — but by then I was in my 30s and clearly running out of time to figure things out.
That’s when I finally found a place, a calling, and a longtime home, beginning with freelance work for the Oakland Tribune (back in something approaching its glory days), Diablo Magazine and other venues, and ultimately to a full-time job as an assistant editor at the Business Times, then an independent business weekly.
As soon as I could I ditched the editing job, and latched onto the first reporting position that appealed to me — covering the business of health care in the San Francisco Bay Area. That became my primary focus for the next 27 years or so, at the Business Times and during tenures at Modern Healthcare and Healthcare Business magazines (where I also covered national trends and stories).
In a sense, I’ve been more of a health care reporter than a business journalist, because health care is to a large degree a world of its own. I never got into the minutiae of covering public companies. I never spent a lot of time on earnings calls, or covering Wall Street’s up and downs. And I never really warmed up to the not always scintillating prose and insights of the Wall Street analysts, who supposedly know so much but who all too often seem to be offering up the conventional wisdom. Or trying to sell a product.
I guess — to quote Frank Sinatra’s anthem — you could say I did it my way.
I loved the chase, the adrenaline rush of racing after and, with luck and perseverance, catching up to a big story. Or even a smaller one, if it was a scoop, and others following health care news in the vicinity hadn’t caught a whiff of it yet. I loved knowing and talking to insiders, grabbing the latest gossip, getting tips from consumers who were getting screwed, and following each small thread to see if it led to a better understanding of the entire fabric.
And every once in a while, to righting an injustice.
Those who know me know I have little patience with PR people who don’t know their craft, or business executives who can’t — or won’t — answer simple questions with coherent answers. I like to break the complex into its most basic components. Is your company making money? Why is your product or service better than the other guys’? You say you have a new CFO, but what happened to the last one?
Why did I stay in one place for such a long time? Stability, I guess. Security. And knowing from experience that the Business Times offered a rare blend of high journalistic standards, a clear mission (as former Editor Steve Symanovich explained it, write about “Big companies and big people doing big things in Bay Area business”) and a great sense of camaraderie.
Like an underdog in baseball or football, it was Us vs. Them, the plucky weekly against those big bad daily papers.
Times have changed. The Business Times is part of ACBJ, a big chain that in turn is part of a much larger holding company. Clicks rule now, and SEO headlines and all the rest. Even the big bad dailies are hurting. And nearly three decades is a long time to be doing something, even something you love.
Time to chase new challenges, and let a new generation tackle the current crises of business journalism. But it’s been rewarding, intellectually and otherwise, to follow this path. It’s helped put two kids through college.
And, far more often than not, it’s been a blast.
Chris Rauber recently retired as a business journalist at the San Francisco Business Times.