Finding and cultivating a niche in business journalism
Andrew Westney’s journalism career has grown more focused through the years. After attending graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for journalism, Westney took a job at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
From there he moved to Charlotte to work for Sports Business Daily. Now, he covers a variety of beats for Law360, a subscription-based service that covers every major litigation in U.S. federal district courts, opinions and lawsuits covering the world’s top 2,000 companies across 44 practice areas.
He spoke with Talking Biz News about his career and finding your niche in journalism. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
You’ve had a variety of jobs in journalism. How did you go from sports reporting to legal coverage?
The hours at Sport Business were much rougher. We aggregated a lot of content and the pace was intense. I had an interest in the law and enjoyed coming at it from a journalistic standpoint.
At Law360 we are assigned to teams for coverage of different practice areas. I started out with aerospace and defense. Now I’m covering a lot of energy and life sciences stories. I really like dipping my toes into a lot of different areas.
There’s also a lot of room to expand what you’re doing. For example, I’m building up a potential wire to expand into Native American legal issues. Some areas of coverage would include casinos and gaming. That’s publicly well known. There are also a lot of energy and resource-related issues that are going on. There are also issues surrounding the federal government and tribes. They also have standard business issues such as employment law that need covering.
In my relatively short journalism career, I’ve worked at various places, a couple of them niche publications. It’s certainly a model that makes a lot of sense when you can identify a readership with a real hunger for information. We’re a subscription model, so you need to find people to pay for information and analysis.
No one is doing it quite the same way as us. There are niche publications in other fields, but they often don’t have the same level of sophistication as our readership.
What about your competitors? How do you differentiate yourself from them?
First, it’s breaking news. We’re focused on the legal side of stories, not as focused on what the stock price implications of something will be. We dive deeper into the analysis as well – particularly in litigation and legislation – we have more in-depth coverage of issues and what they are and what they portend. We’re in touch with attorneys in our fields and we have attorneys write expert pieces as well. That’s something that you can’t find in other places, particularly across so many different practice areas.
We also provide links to the original filings. We try to distill information without over simplifying it. The links allow people to get more in-depth on the topic. Some of the archives and chains go back years.
What did you find challenging when you took the role?
Legal reporting is a more interesting field because you can dive into subject. And with our structure, you develop a working knowledge of different beats. Sometimes you’re diving into a new case and have to be able to acclimate yourself quickly. You have to dig in on the facts as well as the strategy behind them. Now I think about how an attorney would approach a filing and what he or she would need out of it.
What advice do you have for those looking to get into legal reporting?
Enjoy it. Don’t forget that as you go along. Go after what you’re most interested in. Of all the things I’ve done – newspaper, website or whatever – when I walked into a different area of coverage, I’ve never been discouraged from doing that. You have to have initiative. And you get out of journalism what you put into it.