Stephen Adler’s Ten Things

The Business Week editor talks about life in the magazine world

“I’m very scared of Dean Starkman,” admitted BusinessWeek editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, when asked how his magazine fared in covering the financial crisis during a talk at the Columbia Journalism School last night. Adler projected mock trepidation about an upcoming Starkman article in CJR that assess the business media’s coverage of the financial industry. BusinessWeek got the story on the toxic mortgages, but didn’t pay enough attention, he said.

In his speech, Adler explained how he came to head BusinessWeek, via The Wall Street Journal, American Lawyer, by way of Tallahassee Democrat, where Harvard roomie Jim Cramer got him the job. Adler offered ten things that magazine journalism programs don’t tell their students:

1. Your career will probably depend on luck.

2. Few journalists write really well, so you have an advantage if you can, especially as editing resources shrink.

3. Despite the current hard times, students have an advantage over professionals because they have tech skills, and aren’t entrenched in the hierarchy.

4. Attitude counts more than ever.

5. You’ve got to get known, because editors tend to hire people they already know. (Note, this is when Adler mentioned that he’s interviewed “children of board members of companies they cover” for jobs.)

6. Be essential, not discretionary.

7. Advertisers have much more power than ever, and that’s an enormous problem.

8. An editor-in-chief spends less than half his time doing anything even remotely journalistic.

9. Analog dollars make digital pennies, but online may save the industry.

10. The skills of a journalist have value, even if it’s not in journalism. (Especially helpful to hear when Adler predicted that journalists’ salaries will likely take a downward turn.)

Update: The full audio is available here.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.