You can lead a reporter to culture, even in business

by May 10, 2014

Some of the best business journalism is being done by magazines and online ‘zines. For example, John Cassidy’s New Yorker pieces, although not exclusively focused on biz, are always worth reading. Salon and Slate both do aggressive business reporting and columnizing. Some are the long reads that magazines do so well, but others are daily newspaper length. They are always worth reading for inspiration — they tend to go beyond the basic coverage and illuminate issues, people, conflicts and trends you rarely see in today’s newspapers.

Peculiar Traits of Rich People Motley FoolIn pre-collapse days, we turned the Charlotte Observer’s Business Monday into a magazine. The cover story was what I described was “high concept,” accompanied by the amazing photo illustrations of Stephanie Grace Lim. It won multiple awards and was very popular with readers. Often the cover stories delved into the culture of business and companies, what it was, what it meant and how it was changing. For example, Amber Veverka was fascinated by the proliferation of badges required of employees (this was the 1990s) and produced a fun and illuminating article about it. And, no, it didn’t require 3,000 words.

So, even in these days of small staffs and budgets, don’t forget the culture of business. Some recent examples:

• Wired wrote about the evolution of today’s cubicles, how they were intended to make work more pleasant yet evolved into today’s soulless office “hell.”

• New York magazine produced a fascinating article about the “caste system” in Silicon Valley. It pivots off a wage-collusion lawsuit to expose a deeper corruption in the tech industry, even for seemingly privileged workers.

• F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “the rich are different from you and me” (and Hemingway supposedly replied, “Yes, they have more money). But in a short, compelling article, Motley Fool runs through the ways that the wealthy really are different.

• Want to know about the inside story of “brand-name” journalists? Vanity Fair gives it a look. The Columbia Journalism Review also has this on the risks.

• You know my hot-button about reporter’s using corporate jargon in their stories. But the Atlantic used “office speak” as the genesis of a story that looks at its evolution and what it says about corporations and us.

• Barbara Ehrenreich has become famous reporting on the lives of America’s increasing cohort of low-wage workers. She hasn’t merely interviewed people, but took some jobs herself to report on this dismal milieu from the inside.

• The Morning Call sent a reporter inside an Amazon “fulfillment center,” i.e. warehouse. The harrowing story made national news and shed a new light on the culture inside the high-flying e-commerce/technology giant.

Business culture stories are always about “deeper,” about “why is that?” They are particularly inviting for the non-business reader because they are fundamentally about people and their work lives, or about the messy business of making and spending multi-millions. They are the sexiest stories of the daily water-cooler conversation — but real, reported journalism. Often, they tell employees inside an organization what’s really going on.