Posted by: LYF | September 12, 2009

1YP: Business journalism?

I was contacted by Joanne Cleaver earlier this week.  She’s a wonderful woman who’s doing great work here.  Her current project aims to find exactly where women are in the accounting pipeline, what keeps them in the profession, and how employers can quickly adopt best practices proven to retain and advance women in accounting.

She’s very bright and was kind enough to write the first guest post for the 1 Year Project.  I wanted to get her take on business journalism.  Here it is…

***

Business reporting is all about people.  People choosing how to spend money, time, effort, imagination and resources, and what will likely happen next. That’s it.

I’ve covered a lot of people and a lot of businesses as I’ve written hundreds of freelance stories for the likes of the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (where I was a deputy business editor for a few years), and magazines like Inc., Pink, Entrepreneur, Working Mother and others.

Journalists — like accountants, I’m guessing — are supposed to be dispassionate, reporting just the facts. But the facts often have a human impact, intended or not, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. In the early 1980’s, I did a lifestyle feature for Crain’s Chicago Business about a businessman who supported a nonprofit home for severely disabled kids. My editors thought it was on the very soft side of the publication’s mission. I thought it showed a well-rounded person in action, bringing his financial skills to help those who quite literally couldn’t speak for themselves. I did the story, got paid, it ran, and I went on the next story. Several years later, new neighbours moved in down our block. Turned out, they’d read my story and became houseparents at that charity. After doing that for several years, and having a baby of their own, they were now going back to a more traditional suburban family life. My story was pivotal to their decision to parent eight disabled kids. The kids’ lives were changed, my neighbours grew through their experience, and I never would have known, had they not bought that particular Cape Cod.

This goes to show: your work reverberates in ways you can’t know. Your holistic intuition is valuable. Colleagues who have been around for a while can underestimate the emotional investment of their readers (or clients). And sometimes you can be a force for good in the process of doing a good job.

And every once in a while you get a career-changing assignment. For me, that was in 1998 when I was asked by the then-editor of then-being-published Working Woman magazine to come up with a methodology for a list she envisioned: The Top 25 Companies for Executive Women. I came up with a way of indexing the proportion of women in a company’s management pipeline, which proved to be an unshakeable ruler for determining which companies were actually “the best.”

That methodology kept me running the Top 25 list for six cycles, which segued into a specialty of designing and running lists. Now, I’m partnering with the ASWA and the AWSCPA to bring our proven methodology to bear on the accounting profession. Our jointly sponsored Accounting MOVE Project just opened at the two association sites and ours (www.wilson-taylorassoc.com).  And because I really appreciate their help, I have to mention that BDO Seidman and Moss Adams are putting their money where their mouths are and helping us get this big project off the ground.

We’ll get some nice tidy statistics out of this project, but what my team of business journalists and I are really looking forward to are those stories – what happens next. Behind every statistic is drama. Who is included in that statistic and why? Who is left out? Those are stories we are after.  I suspect we will learn that many CPA firm partners still like accounting, but for very different reasons than they had expected when they started out.

I chose journalism because I intended to freelance and have kids and of course there is much precedent for that. Now, I run an editorial services and research firm. I’ve found that I like delivering business results: winning new clients, growing revenues, turning an observation into a marketing advantage. I still write, and I still like to write. Only the context and the scale have changed.

***

Thanks again Joanne!

If any of you guys are interested in what Joanne is doing let her know – jycleaver@wilson-taylorassoc.com.  She is currently recruiting accounting firms and corporate accounting employers into the project.  And let her know your thoughts on why women stick with and bail out of accounting.

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