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Making the most with less

Alicia Esposito, Telegram & Gazette

Alicia Esposito, Telegram & Gazette

Andi Esposito, former business editor of the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass., talks about making the most of your resources, changes in the digital age and crafting coverage that speaks to readers in Central Massachusetts. Esposito told us about how essential it is to use every piece of the carcass even before the latest recession and thinning out of news staffs. She has since been named managing editor of local news.

1. How big is your staff and how do you make the best use of your resources to provide quality coverage?

I have three full-time business reporters-each a veteran in the newspaper industry-and a full-time copy editor who lays out the daily business section. We also use AP and Bloomberg copy and services. Because of its reach into news about our local, publicly-traded companies, we consider the Bloomberg terminal the equivalent of a half-time reporter. We cover more than 80 communities in a broad geographic swath of Central Massachusetts from Connecticut to the New Hampshire border. Worcester is about 45 miles from Boston, but our market does not include the Boston area. I deploy my staff according to the relative importance of the economic sectors they cover. But whenever I consider where, when and why to send them, I must affirm that their reporting will support our mission of covering local business news and people.

2. Are there any unique business beats in the area that you emphasize in order to give a distinct Worcester feel to the section?

The life sciences-and work related to this discipline, such as drug development and the medical device industry-stands out as a unique and important beat in our area, primarily because of its promise for the future (research and capital investment, entrepreneurial activity, new jobs, a heightened political profile for the city. We are home to Nobel Prize winner Dr. Craig Mello and more recently have learned that Worcester will be the location of a government-supported stem cell research institute. I would suggest, too, that our traditional manufacturing base is also unique in its ability to have survived and prospered because of its transformation into knowledge-based enterprises–idea-generating factories. We are also economically diverse with other important employment sectors in financial and business services, education, energy and technology, and we are home to really bright people with ideas that they have shown a strong willingness, historically, to patent and turn into businesses.

3. What types of business stories seem to resonate most with your readers?

Readers want to know more about the local businesses they work for, sell to, buy from and hold stock in. So, much of our coverage does focus on these companies, including a special section we published a year ago that examined the economic clout of the nearly 30 public companies with headquarters in Central Massachusetts. We also have a plethora of private, family businesses that are truly job-generating engines and important supporters of the region’s human fabric. But as the newspaper industry changes, as newspaper circulation declines and we all wrestle with what readers want and have the time and desire to seek, what we cover also will change. We know we have carried fewer consumer business stories than we probably should be offering. We know people are looking for advice. We know they have competing sources of information at hand and less time to seek information from those many sources. One thing we hope to pursue this year are the story possibilities that may unfold by going down the “Newspaper Next” path and by trying to learn how business news fits into the readers’ “jobs to be done.” (more on Newspaper Next)

4. How have you seen business and business coverage change? And how is the Web affecting what you do?

I have been business editor at the Telegram & Gazette since about 1985, and so, yes, I have seen coverage change. We have fewer business news staff members and a smaller news hole. We used to carry a full section of stock, mutual and money market funds. Those offerings have been trimmed radically. Our writing, I believe, has become much better, stronger and more appealing to the traditional business reader. Yet at the same time I believe we have successfully wooed the general reader with some unique offerings, such as a series we did called “Men Not Working” and our “On the Job” feature. It’s a weekly Q&A with a regular person–not a CEO–about his or her job. We’ve had this feature for nearly three years, and people consistently tell us how much they like it. We post breaking business news on our Web site, telegram.com, and for years have sent an electronic newsletter, Business@Noon, to subscribers Monday through Friday. It’s also posted on our Web site. It is likely we will offer more coverage on the Web, but whether this will mirror our print reports or be something entirely different must be explored.

5. What advice would you give to other business editors?

Don’t be afraid to try new approaches, new ideas for coverage (both subject matter and medium). Change doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. Newspapers are great product vehicles because they are “new” everyday. If something doesn’t work, we can abandon it or do it differently. For those who lead their sections, try to stay enthusiastic, upbeat and creative amid tough times and often depressing industry news. Make sure your staff stays focused on the mission, but give them the tools to do their jobs. That means being creative about development opportunities (try to tap into everything that is free or inexpensive and the Donald W. Reynolds National Center has been particularly helpful in this arena). Be demanding and set high standards for yourself and others, but don’t forget praise and a kind word when they are deserved. Finally, we’ve got to learn more about our consumers and how we can serve them better: That is the biggest challenge ahead. If we don’t get that right, we won’t have a second chance.

Two years on, we asked Esposito this follow-up question:
6. What is the biggest change (staffing, space in the paper, moving your section online or anything else) to the way you cover business since we talked last?

Since we last talked, I have become managing editor and we no longer have a business editor. Business news coverage has transitioned to “Money,” which is supposed to be more consumer-oriented than what we used to do. We still wrestle with what that means to daily reporting and writing. Additionally, we have two business reporters now instead of three, but they also have general news reporting responsibilities. At the same time, we have tried to encourage more GA reporters to tackle business stories. That has been challenging but has yielded some interesting angles. Finally, our pull-out, standalone Business section has disappeared. Our new Money section is part of the local news section, though luckily we have retained two full pages of Money coverage and color capability for centerpiece stories, typically local Money features. Given the difficult environment, I am encouraged that we do cover the key sectors of our local economy and that our skilled former business reporters use their talents well in other reporting sectors while still contributing to smaller-scale business coverage. Our readers still benefit!

About the Author

The Reynolds Center, created through generous grants from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation of Las Vegas and operated by ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is dedicated to improving the quality of business and economics coverage through training programs for business reporters and editors.

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