Barry Newman spent 43 years at The Wall Street Journal with one goal in mind: Getting a broader readership for his front-page stories than just business executives and economists.
“The real challenge was not whether to write business news or not,” said Newman on Monday. “The leap was to write for a general news audience and not for businessmen. If you want to broaden your audience and talk to everyone, that took some mental exercise.”
Newman spoke Monday to business journalism students at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism. He wrote more than 400 front-page feature stories during his Journal career and how has a book, “News to Me: Finding and Writing Colorful Feature Stories,” about his writing style.
Newman’s career at The Journal began in the early 1970s covering the nonferrous metals beat. But Newman said he worked hard to expand the beat into writing stories that interested him instead of writing about whether copper prices rose or fell.
“It was my job to seduce the little old lady in Dubuque,” said Newman about writing for a general audience.
His career at The Journal included five years in Singapore and 16 years in London. He wrote from more than 65 countries and most states. He won the Overseas Press Club’s award for explanatory journalism and the National Press Club’s award for humor writing.
Newman advised students to stop relying on public relations professionals and telephone interviews when reporting stories. He said was able to write stories that sources didn’t like, but were true because he primarily wrote features and didn’t have a beat during his Journal career.
“You have to be able to risk losing your sources,” said Newman. “There are some people that will accept that.”
Newman, 68, also emphasized that he was able to find business angles in every story, such as why there’s only one size of banana and why the beer vendors at Yankee Stadium ask for identification from purchasers with gray hair.
“Everything that I did has had some kind of business element,” said Newman. “That defines the world that we live in.”
Lastly, Newman told the students to respect their readers and explain topics that they may not understand.
“You have no business writing for the general public unless you explain your terms,” said Newman.