Career Q&A: Alison Lake, Washington Post Brand Studio

by February 1, 2017
Editor Alison Lake says the opportunities for business journalists are changing as quickly as the media landscape.

Editor Alison Lake says the opportunities for business journalists remain strong, particularly for those who develop a deep understanding of an industry.

Alison Lake spent three years on The Washington Post foreign desk and has been managing editor of a think tank, director of an online news journal and an independent communications consultant. Today, as the custom content editor of the Washington Post Brand Studio, she says that business reporters remain as employable as ever.

What are the core skills business reporters and writers offer employers outside of traditional media? And are there any pockets of work you think job seekers frequently overlook?

The best business writers have their ear to the ground. They know what’s on the horizon in business news, and can anticipate trends before they happen. They are tech-savvy and fluent in both the consumer and business-to-business markets. And ideally, they are good at research, are adaptable writers and excel at interviews. These skills apply not only in business writing but also to work with associations, non-profits, creative agencies, corporate communications and government.

Within traditional media, where do you see the bigger job opportunities, especially for writers and reporters with business skills?

Tech trend writing seems to shine brightest and affects other business topics such as buying preferences, product development, workplace productivity and overall trends in various sectors.

Keep an open mind and interview smaller, established players, not just the flashier startups or large corporations. Often, the middle market businesses that fall in between can offer the most interesting insights on trends and challenges, because they are living those challenges every day.

What skill set(s) do you see many business reporters and writers needing today vs. years past? 

The same principles that have always made strong journalists in any field continue to apply to business journalism, and are more important than ever in today’s saturated media market. These include a deep understanding of the industry or sectors they cover, which include not only the major corporate players but also the regulatory environment, the future trajectory of that sector and specific takeaways for business leaders. Too many articles focus only on consumer trends and fail to bring readers the bigger picture that gives context, which is a reporter’s job in the end.

Today’s business writers should also ask how they can differentiate their coverage, because likely someone else has thought of the same approach. To that end, fresh reporting is always preferable over repurposed content and sourcing. Anyone can copy and paste from another story and give credit, but readers are better served by original content that brings value and new insights. And with the fast trajectory of business trends these days, it’s important to keep up with your reading so you stay ahead of readers.

Many experts say strong writing skills are only getting more important. Do you agree? 

Good writing remains very important, as well as credible sourcing, fact checking and an overall narrative arc. These skills are too often lost as volume becomes more important than quality to many publishers. Business readers are hungry for usable information but also want to learn something and enjoy the experience of reading an article. So business journalists should strive to provide this service rather than just provide quick takeaways.

In your own training as a journalist, what’s one skill you wish you’d developed?

I began working before digital went big, and wish I had taken the opportunity to take some courses in digital publishing to become more versatile on various platforms. Thankfully, I’ve since learned on the job. Fortunately, many of today’s journalists grew up with that digital focus and it comes naturally.


Reporter’s Takeaway

• Tech trend writing remains a shining star in the writing industry, especially if you can report on buying preferences, product development and workplace productivity.

• The same principles that have traditionally given business journalists an advantage remain essential in today’s saturated job market: a deep understanding of the sectors or industries you cover including the big corporate players and regulations, strong writing, credible sourcing, fact checking and the ability to write strong narrative.

• In your reporting, don’t overlook the middle market businesses that fall between the flashy startups and the established players. These smaller companies are dealing with business challenges every day.