Media Moves

New to the job: The life of a young business reporter

October 14, 2014

Posted by Liz Hester

Alex Dixon earned degrees in reporting and economics with a minor in creative writing from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2014. He’s currently the only business reporter at The (Durham) Herald-Sun, a job he started in July. While a student, Dixon worked with publications including Our State Magazine, The Daily Tar Heel and founded Carolina Eats, a student-run food publication.

He spoke with Talking Biz News about his first few months on the job and how it differs from his expectations.

What’s your favorite part about working as a reporter?

I wasn’t expecting the wide range of topics I’d be covering, and that’s what I have enjoyed the most so far. In college I wrote a lot about arts and food. I thought I would lose that as a business reporter, but that’s not been the case. Durham has a big food scene. I’m getting to cover restaurant openings, the new distillery, chefs and other food topics as well as things like real estate development.

What surprised you the most about the job when you started versus being a student or your expectations?

In college, people were more willing to talk to you. Now I’m writing about things people don’t want to talk about. People aren’t always pleased with the stories, but they still need to be written.

There were two recent examples. One was an apartment complex that was in danger of having the water shut off because the home owners’ association wasn’t paying the bill. It was hard to find out exactly what was going on because the homeowners weren’t being responsive. People weren’t pleased once that information was out.

The other was a fracking company that was soliciting to buy mineral rights in Durham. We got a copy of one of the leases. We found out the company had listed the wrong address. So, we were trying to track them down and talk to them, which was difficult since the address was wrong. The next week (N.C. Attorney General) Roy Cooper issued a cease and desist order. We were trying to figure out if they were even registered to do business in North Carolina. It turns out they weren’t.

If you could do something differently as a student – for example write more or take a different class — what would it be?

Actually I didn’t take the class of business journalism, and I would take that. I had “Economics Reporting” as well as “Business and the Media.” Those were helpful. But I would go back and take the business journalism class. I’m learning it as a I go such as reading a Form D or finding property records. I didn’t learn a lot of that in college and I wish I had.

What is the best/worst part about working for a local paper?

Most of the time in college people thought they wouldn’t get a job in newspapers because they were dying. But it’s surprising to see how much people still rely on the paper. If they don’t get the paper in the morning, they’ll call very angry. There’s still a market out there. We put everything on social media and the website, so it’s good to see that we’re doing both models.

What I’ve enjoyed the most is getting away from the desk and talking to people. I get to go to downtown Durham and meet with people – business leaders and at conferences. At some of the bigger organizations, you might not be able to get out as much.

Sometimes being the only business reporter is difficult. I can feel spread a little thin. We don’t get to everything we could be covering because we’re a small paper with a small staff. It’s a big area with lots of big companies.

What advice do you have for those just graduating and looking for journalism jobs?

Make sure you look something you’re passionate about. I love this area and knew I wanted to stay here. It’s important to know what you want to cover going into looking for a job. If you know an area well and can set up a niche for yourself that can help on the job hunt. I love writing about food and keeping up with what’s going on there. They hopefully set me apart when I was applying for the job. I knew Durham and emphasized that on my job search.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned since starting my job is that a daily paper has a different audience. When I was in school, we talked a lot to reporters at The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, so when I initially started, I tried to write for that audience. But mine is different and I’ve been trying to adjust to that. I’m trying to make sure I’m writing about what people want to read.

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