Business journalism and political coverage
by Chris Roush
Kent Hoover has been Washington bureau chief for American City Business Journals since 1999. Before that, he was editor of Washington Business Journal and Orlando Business Journal. He started with ACBJ in 1986 as special report editor for Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Before he joined ACBJ, Hoover worked for several daily newspapers around the South, starting at the Bristol Herald-Courier. He also worked for the late great Nashville Banner and the Marietta Daily Journal. Hoover briefly was editor of the Richlands News-Press, a weekly in the coalfields of Virginia.
Hoover is a native of Kingsport, Tenn., and graduated from Duke University in 1977, with a major in history. He lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife, Kate, and their cat, Pooky. He has two jukeboxes in his basement and hits yard sales and thrift stores looking for vinyl records whenever he has a chance.
Hoover took time out this week from covering the political conventions to answer some questions about covering the intersection between business and politics. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did you get interested in business journalism?
I wasn’t interested in it until I did it. I was a daily newspaper reporter/editor who wanted out of a bad journalistic marriage, and I saw at classified ad for Atlanta Business Chronicle. I’d never even seen the publication, but I decided to check it out.
How did you learn business journalism?
On the job. I can’t think of a better business journalism school than the Chronicle, especially during the late 1980s. I ended up being special report editor for five years, which forced me to learn about various industries, since I had to put out special sections on them every week. Commercial real estate was once a month — sometimes the sections were 48 pages or more. Fortunately, I grew to like that industry.
When did you start covering the intersection of business and political news?
As an editor at two business journals — Orlando and Washington – I always was interested in that intersection, and made sure we covered it, from a local business community perspective. Then when Sougata Mukherjee, who founded ACBJ’s Washington bureau, decided to move back to Raleigh in 1999, I decided that was the job I always wanted, and managed to get it.
What are the biggest hurdles in covering politics from a business perspective?
Keep the business perspective first. Whatever the issue is, cover it from what the stakes are for businesses, not what it means for Republicans or Democrats. Best way to do that is talk to business owners and executives about taxes, regulations, health insurance, access to capital, and whatever else is on their mind.
It’s also important to listen to business associations and trade groups — if they’re legitimate, they’re pursuing priorities that have bubbled up from their membership.
The other hurdle is finding politicians who actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to business.
What do you think of the increased attention being placed at other media organizations – such as Bloomberg Government – on such coverage?
The more coverage of business and politics the better. Competition is good.
You write for a company that has papers in 40 different markets spread across the country. How do you keep it interesting for all 40 markets?
I focus on news that would be important to business people no matter where they are: e.g. taxes, regulations, health care reform, access to capital. That way my coverage complements what each paper is doing to cover their own business communities.
Plus, I’m now writing for bizjournals.com web site first — that way, I’m able to break news when it happens instead of waiting for the print editions. Papers then are free to pick up whatever I want — I also compile a weekly Washington Briefs column for them of edited versions of my newsiest posts.
How do you decide what to cover for ACBJ?
My primary focus is on legislation and regulations that affect small business. I’m not interested in the “inside baseball” of Capitol Hill — e.g. process, political gamesmanship, bills that have no hope of being passed but are voted on just so one party can make a point. I’m interested in things that actually are in play, and could help or hurt small businesses.
Do you get requests from specific ACBJ papers for stories, and how do you handle those?
I rarely do stories for specific papers — there are too many of them!
How much do you interact with the specific ACBJ papers?
Editors and I do a fair amount of tip-sharing back and forth — plus I get good feedback from editors on what they think is valuable for them. That often depends on the editor — each of our papers is slightly different in their approach to the news, which makes sense since no two business communities in the U.S. are exactly the same.
A lot of regional papers have cut their DC bureaus back or eliminated them. What kind of opportunity does that give ACBJ with your coverage?
I think that gives ACBJ additional opportunities to become the source for business-related Washington news, even in markets where we don’t have papers. Business owners anywhere can keep up to speed on what’s going in Washington by going to www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/washingtonbureau/ (had to get that plug in)
What advice would you give someone new to the beat of business and government?
Focus on business first — that will lead you to the government stories that matter to your readers. Get to know the folks who represent businesses in Washington, and talk to real-life business owners anytime you can. Tell their stories as you explain the details of legislation or a regulation.
Don’t run with the pack on Capitol Hill, chasing every incremental move or every statement by a congressional leader. And try not to get cynical — Congress is dysfunctional, but what it does or doesn’t do has a major impact on businesses.