The news about women business owners
Colleen DeBaise is a journalist and author covering entrepreneurship.
She is currently the director of digital media at The Story Exchange, a nonprofit media organization devoted to covering women business owners, and a contributor to The New York Times. Her book, “The Wall Street Journal Complete Small Business Guidebook,” was published in 2010.
Prior to her current roles, DeBaise was the small business editor at The Journal, and has served as an editor at Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek and SmartMoney. She has been interviewed as a small business expert on television and radio, including MSNBC, Fox Business Network, CNBC, CBS and NPR.
Before covering small business, DeBaise spent many years writing about white-collar crime as lead court reporter for Dow Jones Newswires. She also wrote a personal finance column. In 2005, she was the winner of the Newswomen’s Club of New York’s Front Page award for specialized writing.
DeBaise has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in English from St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.
DeBaise spoke by telephone Wednesday about The Story Exchange and coverage of women in business. What follows is an edited transcript.
TBN: How did The Story Exchange get started?
CD: I have been with The Story Exchange since September. It started a little over two years ago. The two co-founders are women, Victoria Wang and Sue Williams. Victoria lives in Boston and is a retired banking executive. Sue is in New York and is a documentary filmmaker. Victoria’s experience was in banking for many years, so she wanted to provide a resource for women out there who want to start and run their own businesses. She came up with the idea and talked to Sue about it. They both concocted this idea of providing mentoring about entrepreneurship while also giving them guidance.
So they decided to put these documentaries on a website. It started as a video project, and it has evolved into a start-up, nonprofit media site.
TBN: How did you get interested?
I was looking to do something different. I had been a journalist for a long time, and I was feeling run down by the demands of modern journalism today, especially working in the online world. I had considered leaving journalism. This was in August, and I happened to stumble across the fact that The Story Exchange was looking for an editor of the site. It seemed so tailor made for me. For the past seven years, I have been covering small business and entrepreneurship, and I have written about a lot of women entrepreneurs.
CD: As far as we can tell, women business owners, and people who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs. That is who our target audience is. Most of our readers come in from the United States, but we do have an international following. The country that comes in the most is India. We have written a few articles now about India, so that could be why.
TBN: Where do you find your story ideas?
CD: The same way any journalist does. We go to events. We go to a lot of conferences for women business owners, things of that nature. We meet people there. For some of my articles, I use services such as ProfNet, so I hear about women business owners that way too.
Another resource that we have, one of the things we do in addition to producing articles, is that we have an ongoing research project with Babson College called the 1,000 Stories Project. Once we are done, we are going to analyze the data about women entrepreneurs. So on our site, we ask women to submit their start up stories. Because of that project, we hear a lot about women owners that way.
TBN: How is the content distributed to other media outlets?
CD: One of the things that Victoria and Sue and now me have as a goal is to change the media narrative. We find that the stories about women business owners are lost or not touched upon at all. That is our reason to be. We want to tell the story of women business owners. So by producing these videos and articles we can. Ideally, we want partners to get more exposure. Mainstream media partners. Partners like women’s organizations that might have sites as well. Our big partner is the New York Times. (Editor’s note: Another is The Huffington Post.)
With the Times, what originally happened is that it does pretty extensive small business news, and it produces a lot of small business content. A year ago, one of its bloggers happened to write a profile of a small business owner who we had done a video about. So the Times did an update blog post embedding the video with one of their stories. That is how it all began.
When I came on board, we really pursued this because it seemed like a perfect fit. So in October we entered into a more formal relationship. We do a series of videos with accompanying videos about women business owners, and we provide them to the Times. How we have done it so far, for December for instance, we rolled out profiles of five different female entrepreneurs, one a week. And we started up again in February with another series of five. The last one was posted today.
TBN: What is your opinion of mainstream business media and how it covers women business owners?
CD: There is a lot of coverage of entrepreneurship by mainstream media. But what you tend to see is a lot of coverage about fast-growth tech companies with a lot of buzz with products that we all use. Naturally, you tend to get a lot of coverage of these companies out of Silicon Valley, and a lot of them are led by white guys. I can see how it happens. They are growing like mad and hiring a lot of people.
What our thought in all of this is that because those fast-growth high-tech start-ups are getting the lion’s share of coverage, the ones started by women are not getting the media attention. If you look at the research by American Express, you will see that women-owned businesses since the recession have added more jobs to the economy than male-owned businesses. But you don’t hear about that. These small businesses are having a huge impact. What we are trying to do is tell the stories of these women-owned businesses and trying to show what all of these women are accomplishing.
TBN: How do you measure success?
CD: The traditional measurements. We’re trying to get as much exposure as possible. Our numbers are quite small when we publish stories on our site. But when our articles and videos get picked up by the New York Times, our exposure is significantly made broader.
We’ve been using social media a lot. It is a great tool when you have a small, no-name site when you want to gain a following. So we tweet and Facebook all of our stories, all of our videos, and all of our blog posts. We are gradually getting a following.
And we are growing. We just hired an assistant editor this past week, and we have a new person coming in to help with video production. It is great to feel like we’re evolving and growing.
TBN: Anything else?
We want to provide a role model to other women, which is why we were thinking video when we first started. We wanted to show how a woman is successfully starting and running a business.