OLD Media Moves

New SABEW president talks about business journalism

May 29, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

Gail DeGeorge, who was elected president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers last week, is the Sun-Sentinel’s business editor, a position she has held for nine years. She is responsible for directing the coverage of South Florida’s business community by a staff of ten reporters, four assistant editors and an editorial assistant.

Gail DeGeorgePrior to joining the Sun-Sentinel, Gail served as the bureau chief for BusinessWeek magazine’s Miami office, responsible for covering Florida, the Caribbean and parts of Latin America. She started her career as a business journalist at the Sun-Sentinel in 1982 and worked as a business reporter for the Miami Herald before joining BusinessWeek in 1987.

DeGeorge talked about her plans for SABEW and business journalism with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.

1. When did you get involved in SABEW and why?

I knew about SABEW for many years and admired its work on behalf of business journalism. When I changed jobs from the Miami bureau chief for Business Week to become business editor at the Sun-Sentinel in May 1998, I became more involved in SABEW. I attended the conferences and spoke on panels several times before being elected to the board of governors.

2. As a member, what do you feel like you’ve gotten out of the organization?

There are so many benefits to membership, some quite apparent and others more subtle. The conferences provide a wealth of ideas and a range of sessions, from practical to inspirational. SABEW conferences have given me insights into business issues and a ‘heads up’ on trends which I’ve found invaluable. I’ve gotten to know colleagues (many of whom have become friends over the years) across the nation who share similar challenges and have helped me find solutions and implement changes in our department. And of course there are the other benefits – membership directory, job board and now, our training sessions as well as TBJ and the Talking Biz News blog.

3. What are your goals for the year as president?

Under the leadership of immediate past-president Dave Kansas, SABEW has just completed a five-year strategic plan that lays out a set of goals and steps to achieve them. Providing world-class programs and services for our full range of members is our top goal, which will drive the other goals of increasing and diversifying membership, providing the resources to grow and strengthening the board and staff capacity to handle that growth. My goal is to make sure we implement the first year of the strategic plan, while recognizing that some goals may have to be adjusted as we move forward. The plan is meant to be a roadmap, not a straightjacket. I want to make sure SABEW is truly a member-based, member-focused organization.

4. What are some of the issues that the organization faces?

SABEW historically has derived much of its support from newspapers in membership and sponsorships. As our industry changes and newspapers face increasing challenges, we need to make sure we serve the full range of business journalists, from those in wire services, online, weeklies, broadcast, trade as well as daily newspaper business sections.

5. The SABEW ethics code is being revised. Why is that happening?

SABEW, as our former presidents rightfully note with pride, was the first specialized journalism professional organization to hammer out a stringent code of ethics. The first code was written more than 40 years ago with an addendum in 1992. The framework of that code still serves us well, but we need to ensure that it covers the new realities of business journalism. Five years ago, SABEW started the Gary Klott Ethics Symposiums at our annual conference in honor of former SABEW president Gary Klott who had helped formulate the code of ethics.

Last year, we were honored to receive a $25,000 grant from the Ethics And Excellence in Journalism Foundation to help us examine and revise our code of ethics. Among other efforts, that grant helped us hold a very innovative, interactive session on ethics at the SABEW annual conference in Anaheim. We also appreciated those who showed up at a workshop at 7 a.m. the next morning to give input on revising the code. SABEW Chair Marty Steffens along with board members Diana Henriques and Rob Reuteman are taking the lead in reworking the code with that input. A draft will be posted in a few weeks for comment and the final code will be finished by the Aug. 1 grant deadline.

6. What are some of the biggest issues facing business journalism today?

There are many. The business world is increasingly complex, which requires even greater reporting and analytical skills on the part of journalists who cover business. The rash of companies going private will make it more challenging to keep tabs on what are still big players in particular industries and communities. We must challenge ourselves in reporting clearly the red flags and realities as many of these companies are taken public again. There are many demands on business journalists who must learn about a host of sub-specialties in various industries as well as areas such as technology, workplace and finance that cut across all beats. On the print side, the resource squeeze too often is hitting business sections, which are being seen as somehow ‘optional’ and are in danger of being folded into other departments and sections.

7. What do you think the Thomson/Reuters deal and the offer to buy Dow Jones & Co., the parent of The Wall Street Journal, signal about business journalism?

We provide valuable service to readers and our expertise is sought after. Business journalism is a growth area of journalism overall.

8. What can SABEW do to attract more members from weekly business papers, business magazines and trade publications?

We need to listen to those facets of our membership to make sure we’re providing relevant programs, contests and resources. I would also urge interested members in those venues – and from real-time, online and broadcast – to get involved. We need members beyond the board of governors to participate in our various committees and task forces, from the Best in Business contest to conferences, education/diversity, training and others. Check out the list of committees on the SABEW website and our five-year strategic plan. Find a project you are interested in and help make it happen.

9. What are some of the changes taking place with your own business news desk to adapt to the changing media world?

With the help of an online producer, we are posting more of our news online first, then in print. We are training our staffers in various online tools and methods. We’ve also started a small business resource and personal finance page on our website which are proving popular with online readers.

10. What advice would you give for a person starting out in business journalism?

While still in school, get as much experience as you can in the field through internships and specialized courses at college. Attend SABEW conferences and fall workshops, enter the student contest, find a mentor (or two or more) among professionals, attend workshops offered by the Donald W. Reynolds Center. Once you’re done with college, continue to attend SABEW conferences and the fall workshop, as well as other seminars. Stay abreast of the field by reading TBJ and the Talking Biz News blog. Look to distinguish yourself by breaking news, getting top-notch stories and taking advantage of opportunities to progress in the field.

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