OLD Media Moves

A talk with Steve Shepard

October 5, 2005

I spoke today with Steve Shepard, my old boss at BusinessWeek. Steve stepped down as editor of the magazine earlier this year after 20 years at the helm. He’s now the dean of the new graduate school of journalism at the City University of New York, and as part of that program, the school will have a business journalism component.

I remember Steve as a very meticulous editor at BusinessWeek. He had a reputation of reading every single story that went into the magazine every week. He also was very interested in what was on the cover every week, and often changed the cover story during the week.

Here is what Steve had to say:

1. On how business journalism was perceived in the 1960s: “Very much a backwater. It was considered second-rate. It didn’t really change until the mid-1970s when we had the Arab oil embargo, the near bankruptcy of New York City and the appearance of inflation and recession at the same time, which was a phenomenon so new. All of a sudden, business journalism became front-page news, and ordinary newspapers didn’t know how to deal with it. That was the turning point. Ever since then, business journalism has taken its place in the mainstream in journalism as an important story. ”

2. What did it mean to have an engineering degree as a journalist? “It was an enormous help. First of all, it made me not afraid of complexity in general and not afraid of technology and science in particular. It was very useful when the PC revolution happened in the 1980s and the Internet revolution happened in the 1990s. I wasn’t intimidated by it. And I think it also gave me an advantage. There were a lot of people who had liberal arts degrees trying to make their way in journalism, and I was a little bit different.”

3. How has BusinessWeek changed since he started there in 1966? “First of all, it looks completely different. It was a black and white magazine with virtually no color photography and dull graphics. All of that has completely changed. I think that it’s also much more newsy and timely,. You can do stories closely to the deadline because of the technological advances. You can do a cover story on Wednesday and have it done by the time it went to bed on Wednesday night. You couldn’t do that before, so the readers are better served. I think the core is the same in this sense. Business Week was then and is now a magazine of analysis and interpretation and commentary rather than what the news magazines were back then, which was a rehash of the week’s news. Business Week was never that. The core is the same, but it looks completely different, and it’s more lively and topical.”

4. The role of business journalism education at the new CUNY graduate school: “Business and economics will be one of the four major subjects of concentration that you can major in. There will be a three-course sequence, and we will teach all of the media tracks, whether broadcast or print or interactive multimedia. There will be a lot of blogging and online journalism and things like that taught. But a good business journalist will have to become like a zoom lens on a camera to zoom in and understand what’s happening about a company and an economy, and them zoom out to get the big picture and the trend. And it’s very hard to see both. The goal is to train journalists to do both.”

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