Tag Archives: Fortune

Ken Otterbourg

Life as a freelance business journalist


Ken Otterbourg left the traditional journalism world of daily newspapers in early 2010 and hasn’t looked back.

For nearly four years, Otterbourg has made a living as a freelance business journalist, publishing his work in national publications such as Fortune, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. His work can be found at www.kenotterbourg.com.

Prior to his freelancing, Otterbourg had been managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, a Media General newspaper in North Carolina, since 2005.

Otterbourg, a native of New York, graduated in 1983 from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He worked as a news assistant at The Wall Street Journal and a reporter at The Register-Citizen in Torrington, Conn., before coming to the Journal in 1986 as a business reporter.

Otterbourg left the Journal in 1988 to take a job at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, but returned to Winston-Salem two years later to report from the General Assembly in Raleigh. He was later promoted to assistant metro editor and became the newspaper’s metro editor in 1996.

In 2002, he was named the Journal’s assistant managing editor for news, and in December 2004, he was promoted to managing editor.

Otterbourg spoke Wednesday morning by email with Talking Biz News about his life as a freelance business journalist. What follows is an edited transcript.

How did you decide to leave the daily newspaper world and go into freelancing?

A little background. I became managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal in 2005, so I was watching the water drain out of the pool for a long time. We were shrinking the staff, cutting the news hole, etc. In addition, many of our most talented journalists were leaving for other publications or other careers. I had always prided myself on being able to make good hires and trade up, and that was no longer the case. So we were not just a smaller staff, but a less capable one.

In 2009, Media General began developing a plan to consolidate the copy-editing and layout of our paper at a satellite location. I thought it was a bad idea that compromised the independence of our newsroom, and when it was clear that I couldn’t win the fight, I realized it was a deal breaker on my values. So I voted with my feet and resigned. That was in January 2010. At the time, freelancing was not on my plate. I wanted to do public-policy work, but Winston-Salem isn’t exactly the public-policy center of the world, so here we are.

How hard was it to build up a list of publications to write for?

It was extremely hard and continues to be so. Editors are very busy people and as a freelancer you have very little negotiating power over the relationship with the folks in charge. It’s frustrating, but that’s the world we live in. That said, if you deliver stories that editors wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, they can be very appreciative and supportive of your work.

What was the hardest part about making the switch to freelancing?

First is the lack of a steady paycheck. I won’t lie. It was nice getting five weeks of vacation and coming back from a trip and finding you had been paid for not being at work. Second is the endless hustle. I have had to learn to sell myself, which is something I’m not naturally wired to do.

How have you kept yourself focused when there is no office to go into every day?

I’ve always been a pretty disciplined person and understand that work is called work for a reason. I try to plan out each day with what I want to accomplish, whether writing, research or just cogitating an approach to something. Having met deadlines for 25 years helps. Usually, I am toggling between projects.

There’s the stereotype of the freelancer typing away in his pajamas, and while I get dressed every day, I don’t always shave. Within the framework of going to work every day, I also try to take advantage of my freedom. You can get a lot done without the distractions of a conventional office. I’ll take the dog for a walk to clear my head, and I often write on weekends or at nights. I probably work the same amount as I did when I was managing editor, but it is different work spread over a different flow.

Otterbourg and AlcoaYou’ve been writing regularly for Fortune. How did that relationship develop?

I went to college with Andy Serwer, and we’ve stayed in touch. I’m not saying this because he’s the managing editor there, but he has a great sense of story. After I left the paper, I was doing a couple of consulting projects and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and I sent him an email suggesting he have someone write a story about the controversy in North Carolina regarding Alcoa and its dams on the Yadkin River. He asked me if I wanted to do it.

I know that sounds fishy, but it was not my intent to get back into journalism. I was still a little burned out. Anyway, I did the story, and they liked it, and for me it was a lot of fun to be a reporter again after all those years in the management grind. So I’ve kept at it with them. The editor I work with most often is a guy named Tim Smith. I call him the reporter whisperer. He can be alternately cryptic and blunt, but his editing skills are really pretty stunning, and he’s been a big advocate of my work.

And you’ve also written for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. How did you get those?

One of my former reporters, Valerie Bauerlein, is a reporter at the Journal. I’m really proud of her. I knew she was a star way back when. She reached out to me and put me in touch with their editors for a couple of short-term assignments. One of those was covering part of the trial of Sen. John Edwards. At that trial, I met a couple of folks from the Times and then contacted  them during the controversy over the Duke-Progress merger. I knew they were interested in the story but might need a more efficient solution than putting a staffer on a plane to Raleigh.

Are you pitching ideas more now, or are these publications coming to you with ideas in the region?

Both. I don’t think you ever stop pitching — which is a good thing — but it is gratifying when editors recognize your value. My last piece for Fortune was on the TVA, and they assigned it to me because I had written for them about other energy issues and also about the barge industry, which supplies a lot of the TVA power plants with coal. So often it comes full circle.

Have you turned down anything that you felt uncomfortable doing?

No. Usually when I turn something down, it’s not for ethical reasons but more that the money/topic balance is out of whack. For example, I write for Business North Carolina magazine. It’s a really well-edited regional business publication in an era when most of its peers have fallen by the wayside. They don’t pay all that well, but I do stories for them because the assignments are good and I believe in their mission. If your name is on the story, you want it to be something you’re proud of.

What about non-journalism writing? You’re doing some work for some non-profits, right?

I work for a company called Capital Development Services, which is based in Winston-Salem. They help nonprofits raise money, and I do case studies for them. It isn’t journalism, but you use a lot of the same muscles, and I enjoy learning about these organizations and their challenges. I’ve also done grant writing, report writing and contract editing. One key to freelancing is to try to diversify your income stream and create a bit of stability in an unpredictable world.

Do you ever see yourself getting back into a full-time journalism job where you went into a newsroom?

I loved the energy of a newsroom and many of the most important moments of my life were spent gathered around a table or a computer trying to hash out projects and stories, often on deadline. So, it’s not out of the question, but it’s not top of my mind. That said, I would never want to return so I could be the guy in the newsroom telling everybody about how great and noble everything was back in the day. That would be totally obnoxious, and I would hate that guy.

What do you like the most about freelancing?

I’ve been very fortunate on my assignments. I’ve gotten to travel to some incredible parts of the country and spend time with interesting people doing outrageous things. That’s a privilege, and when I am working on a story I try to keep that front and center, that someone is paying me to write and ask questions and think. I don’t want to let them down.

What’s been fun for me is to learn/relearn the craft of narrative writing. All long-form journalism, but particularly financial journalism, has gotten very difficult because of the Web. It’s very rare that an article is completely revelatory. So the challenge is to tell a story and to tell it well.

What do you like the least?

The unpredictability. You are only as good as your next assignment.





Biz journalist: Let us attend IPO road show meetings


Dan Primack of Fortune argues that business journalists should be allowed to attend a company’s road show meetings with potential investors in its initial public offering.

Primack writes, “To be clear, I’m not accusing Twitter or any other company of surreptitiously breaking the rules. I’m accusing them all of participating in business-as-usual, which is de facto breaking the rules.

“My solution: Let reporters attend the roadshow meetings.

“If a company isn’t saying anything it should be, then what exactly is the harm? The benefit would be twofold: (1) Ensure that such shadiness is not occurring, and (b) Expanding the reach of the company’s message, including to investors who weren’t lucky enough (or in the right city) to get a chicken and tea invite.

“If you don’t want to let reporters ask questions, fine. Just like most companies prevent them from doing so during quarterly earnings calls. But you’d never see a publicly-traded company prevent reporters from listening to such calls. You know, because it’s publicly-traded. Since that’s the same intent here, it seems that banning media is a needlessly secretive vestige of a company that isn’t entirely prepared to enter the public realm.

“So let us in. Not because it helps us out. But because it’s the right thing to do by your future investors. All of them, not just the chosen few.”

Read more here.


Fortune hires AME, tech editors, photographers and writers


Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer sent out the following staff announcement on Thursday afternoon:

I am delighted to tell you about a great influx of new talent coming to Fortune—some already here, some on their way, but all recently hired. It’s a nice, long list of impressive people, so happy reading!

CLIFF LEAF, Assistant Managing Editor

Cliff of course is returning to Fortune. A winner of the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, the NIHCM’s Health Care Journalism Award, and a two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, Cliff was until recently a guest editor for The New York Times op-ed page and Sunday Review. Previously, he was executive editor at The Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney magazine and, prior to that, executive editor at Fortune, where he also wrote a number of prominent feature articles. It was after one such writing assignment, a 2004 Fortune cover story on the war on cancer, that Cliff began working to change the way the global cancer fight is funded and pursued, pushing for ways to speed up progress against the disease—an effort that led (9 years later) to a well-received book, The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer—and How to Win It, published by Simon & Schuster this summer. A keynote or featured speaker at some 30 scientific conferences around the world, Cliff has presented testimony to the President’s Cancer Panel three times and delivered “Grand Rounds” at the National Cancer Institute, the only journalist ever to be given that honor. He also served for three years on the national board of directors for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer charity. Here at Time Inc., Cliff won a Luce Award for public service and the Andrew Heiskell Award for community service. A graduate of Williams College, Cliff later received a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Alicia Slimmer, who is currently shooting her first feature film, and their wonderful daughter Sofia.

MEGAN McCARTHY, Senior Editor, Fortune.com

Megan McCarthy will join us November 4 and help oversee tech coverage along with incoming tech editor Andrew Nusca. She’ll also help manage the staff and the day-to-day news flow on Fortune.com. With her extensive background in digital content and publishing, Megan will play a big role in helping to shape the new digital platforms for Fortune. She joins us from Reuters, where she was on the Reuters Digital team and did everything from editing tech stories to managing the homepage of Reuters.com. Previously she was a news editor at the New York Observer, the founding editor of Mediagazer, the first human editor at Techmeme, and a writer at Wired.com and Valleywag. You can follow her on Twitter at @Megan. 

ANDREW NUSCA, Senior Editor

Andrew will join Fortune on November 11 and will be responsible for daily technology coverage on Fortune.com and the technology section in each magazine. Andrew joins us from CBS Interactive, where he spent the last five years as a writer-editor for ZDNet and the editor of SmartPlanet, a site about innovation. Before CBSi, Andrew interned at Money, Men’s Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily News. He, his wife and their Boston Terrier, Nemo currently live in Philadelphia, but they’ll be making their way back to New York City in a few weeks.

CLAIRE ZILLMAN, Writer, Fortune.com

Claire Zillman joined several weeks ago as a writer on the management and leadership beat. Previously she had been a staff reporter at American Lawyer magazine, where she wrote daily stories online and contributed regularly to the monthly print magazine (including 6 cover stories!). She got her BA in newspaper journalism and history from Syracuse, where she graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors. Claire, a native of the Chicago area, is an active runner, a novice skier, and an experienced camper. She lives in Williamsburg. 

JEN WIECZNER, Writer-Reporter

Jen, last name pronounced (vee-ETCH-ner), returns to magazines after covering health care for MarketWatch and The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (recently biking between insurance signup centers across New York City to observe health exchange enrollment firsthand), as well as less conventional health topics including e-cigarettes, medical marijuana and the drawbacks of “treadmill desks.” Previously, Jen reported for SmartMoney magazine on luxury spending (yes, you can be buried in a solid gold coffin) and oddball investing ideas, from oyster farming to horse-racing, until SmartMoney published its final issue last summer. Manning the Bloomberg terminal and writing for the magazine during the day, at night, Jen covered more than 100 New York high society fundraisers and parties for The Wall Street Journal, interviewing Bill Ackman, Cory Booker, Alan “Ace” Greenberg, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger, Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Lin, among others. Lately, Jen has also interviewed Russell Simmons and billionaire T. Boone Pickens for WSJ.Money, the newspaper’s new quarterly magazine. Raised in Boston, Jen studied journalism at Northwestern, interning at New York magazine, Fast Company, Boston Magazine and Marie Claire. She lives in Brooklyn and enjoys biking, yoga and playing soccer.

JACLYN LARASO, Photo Editor, Fortune.com 

Jaclyn spent the last year as the photo editor at Parenting.com and prior to that she worked as an assistant photo editor at XO Group, which publishes The Knot, The Nest, and The Bump brands. She had earlier experience in the photo departments at Elle magazine and Men’s Vogue. Please send all dot-com photo requests to her. She grew up in Levittown, Long Island and is a diehard Yankees fan.

NEIL HARRIS, Associate Photo Editor

Neil Harris joined Fortune on September 23rd as an associate photo editor.  He comes to us from Time, where he had been since 2010.  Prior, Neil was the photo editor at CNNMoney.com, and a photography adjunct at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism program.  He has a BA in Linguistics from Columbia University, and is a graduate of the International Center of Photography and Photojournalism program.  He lives in Beacon, NY wife his wife, Kelly and his cat, Pearl.

Please join me in welcoming these folks, along with Nemo and Pearl.


Biz magazines underperform industry in third quarter


The 14 business magazines followed by the Publishers Information Bureau underperformed the magazine industry in the third quarter in terms of advertising revenue and advertising pages.

The business magazines recorded ad revenue of $279.3 million, a decline of 1.7 percent, in the third quarter. The ad pages fell 3.2 percent in the third quarter to 2,570.76.

In comparison, the overall magazine industry reported a 4.0 percent gain in ad revenue for the quarter and a 1.8 percent decline in ad pages.

The best performer among the business titles during the quarter was Barron’s, which had a 33.8 percent increase in ad revenue to $15.7 million and a 29.2 percent increase in ad pages to 296.02.

Another strong performer for the quarter was Inc. magazine, which posted a 23.9 percent increase in ad revenue to $14.8 million and a 22 percent increase in ad pages to 177.9

Among the big three business magazines — Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and Fortune — Forbes posted the best performance in the quarter. It had a 2.9 percent increase in ad revenue to $50.5 million and a 1.1 percent decrease in ad pages to 321.1.

In comparison, Businessweek posted a 2 percent increase in ad revenue to $44.4 million and a 1.3 percent decrease in ad pages to 287.84, while Fortune posted a 12.5 percent decline in ad revenue to $46.4 million and a 17.5 percent drop in ad pages to 306.46.

The worst performing business title in the quarter was, once again, Black Enterprise, which reported a 65.3 percent decline in ad revenue to $2.2 million and a 65 percent decline in ad pages to 46.63.

See all of the data here.

Fortune cover

Fortune seeking deputy tech editor


Fortune is looking for a technology editor to help direct its award-winning coverage for its website, tablet and print magazine.

The editor will oversee staff and freelance contributors who write a range of breaking news and analysis pieces on the biggest companies and topics in the tech industry. Candidates should have excellent communication and organizational skills, and a strong ability to track, plan for, and help shape coverage around major tech news.

The job is about 70 percent digital, 30 percent print, so it’s important that candidates have experience as a daily web editor.

The editor will be in charge of posting 4-5 stories a day online, and assigning and editing the tech section in each issue.

This person will also have a hand in shaping Fortune’s evolving web site and mobile products.

To apply, go here.

Matt Vella

Time magazine names Vella biz editor


Matt Vella, a technology editor at Fortune magazine, will be joining Time magazine as the senior editor responsible for business coverage across all platforms, a spokeswoman confirmed to Talking Biz News.

Vella has been with Fortune since July 2011, editing its technology section and leading daily tech, innovation and autos coverage on Fortune.com.

Before Fortune, Vella was a news and finance editor for AOL.com and The Huffington Post. He also spent a year at Out magazine, where he led a redesign of its website.

Vella worked at BusinessWeek from 2007 to 2009 as a reporter in the innovation and design section, Before that, he worked briefly for The Wall Street Journal’s online operation and as a reporter writing features and spot news for BusinessWeek.com.

Vella graduated from Oberline College in 2003 with a degree in politics.

Tim Leong

Fortune hires design director from Wired


Fortune creative director Brandon Kavulla sent out the following staff announcement on Tuesday:

I’m very pleased to announce that Tim Leong is joining us as FORTUNE’s new Design Director, where he will help oversee and direct the visual and creative representation of the FORTUNE brand across all platforms.

Tim comes to FORTUNE from Wired, where he was the Director of Digital Design. He is a multi-talented guy who worked on all aspects of the Wired brand with an emphasis his last two years on the digital extensions, including all tablet editions, coordinating motion and programming, e-books, e-features as well as working directly with the website. Tim was also a part of Wired‘s conferences, working with me on motion graphics/film and overall identity. Prior to Wired, Tim was the Design Director at Complex, where he led the visual team on both the print edition and the website. Additionally, Chronicle books just released Tim’s first book of info graphics today. Here is a write up and interview in the NY Post: http://bit.ly/18YEPEM

 I asked Tim to give me his bio and it’s equal parts impressive and funny:

 Tim Leong is an award-winning art director and designer and third-person biography writer. He was previously the Director of Digital Design at WIRED Magazine where he designed features and oversaw the design and interactives of the digital editions. He was the Design Director at Complex Magazine. During Tim’s run at Complex, Kanye West said: “I really think Complex is taking the cover game to another level; these are all history in the making” — And that has to count for something, right? Before that he spent three years at Men’s Health. In 2005 he founded the Eisner-award losing Comic Foundry Magazine, which folded a few years later. Tim is currently on the Board of the Society of Publication Designers. His first book, Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe is out today from Chronicle Books.

Tim is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and will be moving back to NYC with his fiancé Rachel. He starts at FORTUNE on August 5. Please join me and Andy in welcoming him.


Biz magazines underperformed industry in second quarter


The 13 business magazines underperformed the rest of the industry in the second three months of 2013, according to data from the Publishers Information Bureau analyzed by Talking Biz News.

While the industry reported a small gain in ad dollars and a 4.5 percent drop in ad pages for the second quarter, the business magazines posted a 5.2 percent decline in ad dollars and an 11 percent decline in ad pages.

The biggest loser was Black Enterprise, which reported a 74.3 percent decline in ad dollars to $2.1 million and a 73.9 percent drop in ad pages to 44.84.

The best performing business glossy in the second quarter was Inc., which reported a 9.9 percent increase in ad dollars to $17.1 million and a 7.7 percent increase in ad pages to 204.02.

Among the big three business titles — Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and Fortune — Fortune was the only one to post a gain in the second quarter. Its ad revenue rose 6.0 percent to $57.5 million, while its ad pages fell less than 1 percent.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported a 3.1 percent decline in ad revenue to $53.3 million and a 6.4 percent decline in ad pages to 346.87, while Forbes posted an 8.6 percent drop in ad revenue to $73.1 million and a 14.5 percent decline in ad pages to 458.19.

The only other business magazines to post gains in the quarter were Bloomberg Markets and Wired.

Bloomberg Markets posted a 7.3 percent increase in ad dollars to $8.5 million and a 2.6 percent rise in ad pages to 171.51, while Wired posted a 6.1 percent increase in ad dollars to $28.8 million and a 2.5 percent decline in ad pages to 230.29.

Overall, the 13 business titles reported ad revenue of $338.1 million in the second quarter and ad pages of 3022.52.

All of the magazine industry data can be found here.

John J. Curran

Fortune colleagues remember John Curran


There are some nice quotes from Fortune journalists Carol Loomis and Bethany McLean about their former colleague, John Curran, who died last week at the age of 59, in the obituary on WestportNow.com.

Here they are:

Carol Loomis of Fortune, the longest serving employee in the history of Time Inc. and a highly awarded financial journalist, recalls of Curran: “I had the double pleasure of working with John when he was a brand-new, smart, hard-working reporter, and then seeing him rise to editing, where I particularly remember his putting a revised, improved beginning on one of my derivatives stories that might actually have encouraged somebody to read it.”

Author Bethany McLean, who, as a Fortune journalist, gained fame by first exposing the financial underpinnings of Enron as a shell game, recalled Curran’s influence at the beginnings of her career.

“I’ll never forget going to John in my very early days at Fortune and telling him that I didn’t think I should be a journalist, because I didn’t like making those tough phone calls that some stories require. He said, ‘Bethany, most of us don’t like making them. You don’t have to like it. All that matters is whether you do it or not. ‘  I swear, I think about that all the time in life as well as my work.”

Read more here. Curran was working at Bloomberg News when he died.


Bloomberg News editor Curran dies at 59


John J. Curran, a Bloomberg News editor who previously was a longtime journalist at Fortune and editor of Mutual Funds magazine, has died. He was 59.

Charles Stevens of Bloomberg writes, “In a career spanning more than three decades in New York, Curran wrote and edited stories on investing, banking, Wall Street and regulation. He also reported and oversaw coverage about international economics. In 1988, while at Fortune, a Time Inc. publication, he received an Overseas Press Club award for his reporting on Japan.

“In 2001, Curran received a Time Inc. Luce Award for commissioning and publishing a story on the threat of global terrorism reaching the U.S. — six months before the Sept. 11 attack that year on the World Trade Center in New York.

“‘John was the consummate dedicated professional who never took the cheap route to a conclusion or a story,’ John Huey, a colleague and former Time Inc. editor-in-chief, said in an e-mail. ‘He had the toughness and mindset of a prosecutor, but to him everyone really was innocent until proven guilty. And he infused that ethic into several generations of journalists who worked for him.’

“Curran, who began his journalism career at the Wall Street Transcript, spent the bulk of his working life at Fortune, starting in 1978. As an executive editor, he ran the magazine’s investing coverage and was responsible for producing its special guides to investing and retirement.”

Read more here.