Switching to daily from weekly business journalism
by Chris Roush
Lance Williams was named the business editor of The Tennessean in Nashville last month after being the editor of the Nashville Business Journal
Williams has been editor of the weekly business newspaper since 2008. Before that, he was editor at the Austin Business Journal since 2006. He had previously served as that paper’s managing editor for two years.
He joined American City Business Journals in 2002, working as a reporter and editor with the Cincinnati Business Courier.
Prior to joining ACBJ, Williams worked as a bureau chief for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa.
Williams talked by email about his new job with Talking Biz News last week. What follows is an edited transcript.
What has been the biggest shift in changing from a weekly paper to a daily paper?
At the Business Journa l, I was the editor and I could have called all the shots editorially. I always tried to manageby consensus and give everyone a chance to contribute, but some decisions were mine alone. In a daily environment, there are plenty of other decision-makers above me, so it requires a mix of tact, timing and top-notch work to accomplish my goals for the business section.
In many ways, it’s similar to the differences between running a small business or working for a big corporation — there will always be trade-offs.
You started off in dailies. What are you using now that you learned then?
It helps me remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. If you miss the mark one day, there’s always another paper tomorrow. And if you have a knock-your-socks-off paper, there’s always another paper tomorrow. Remember to keep your perspective and your wits about you.
Why did you decide to make the shift?
In many ways, it was more of a personal challenge that having to choose between companies or news organizations. I had been an editor at a weekly for eight years, and so I wanted to push myself in new ways. I wanted to see how all I’ve learned over the years can translate in a different environment.
After I made the shift, a lot of folks told me they had pegged me as a business journal lifer, but hopefully, I’m too young to be a lifer in anything yet.
Is such a shift easier to do in a market where you have already been a journalist?
It definitely helps, especially in terms of institutional knowledge and relationships with people in the community. Plus, I’ve been watching the local media landscape intently for the past four years, so I understand the strengths and weaknesses of media outlets across town.
What are your goals for the Tennessean’s business coverage?
My goal is to always be in the driver’s seat in terms of business coverage. That means having a staff that is well-sourced and breaking big stories. That gives you the flexibility to go deeper any time you want. If you aren’t well-sourced, you end up being a follower rather than the leader. We want to be the leader — plain and simple.
What did you think of the paper’s business coverage when you were editor of the Nashville Business Journal?
I think much of the emphasis was on developing strong Sunday business cover stories. In terms of breaking business news and delivering scoops, I never got the sense it was a big priority.
What can dailies do in covering business news that weeklies can’t?
Dailies still have tremendous resources at their disposal, and when they want to cover something well, they can do it better than anyone else. The Tennessean’s coverage of the recent meningitis outbreak is a perfect example.
What would you like to see improve in terms of the Tennessean’s coverage?
Aggressive and deep sourcing, and the goal of being competitive on stories that matter. I want the Tennessean to be considered the primary source for business coverage in Nashville. While seeing the big picture and helping explain it all is important, you can’t see the big picture if you’re eating someone else’s dust on everyday business coverage.
What business news beats are unique to Nashville, and what’s your strategy for covering them?
Health care and music. They are two of Nashville’s biggest industries and both are challenging to cover.
When you cover Nashville’s largest health care companies, you are competing with major national publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
With the music business, there’s also plenty of competition. Plus, over the past decade, many of the industry’s top decision-makers have left Nashville for New York and L.A. The talent (both on-stage and off-stage) are still in Nashville, but getting access to the folks making the big calls is getting tougher.
What is your typical day like as business editor?
It’s early, so I’m still learning all the new systems and processes at a larger paper. My goal is to get that down as quickly as possible so most of my attention can be focused on helping our business reporters develop their beats and report the kind of stories they will be proud of.