I’m in Washington, D.C., for the next two days attending the Society for American Business Editors & Writers 50th anniversary conference. I was lucky enough to win a $1,000 scholarship from the Goldschmidt Foundation to attend the event.
My alarm went off at 4 a.m. on Thursday morning to catch my flight. I arrived in time to catch a session about using economic data available through the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics to break local stories. I’ll be returning with a few gems to put into practice at the BDN.
That was followed by some dire predictions from David Stockman, director of the country’s Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan. He called U.S. fiscal policy a “doomsday machine” that will “hit the wall in the next few years.” He was joned by David Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office and current CEO of Comeback America Initiative, who tempered the predictions with hope that the country is resilient and will get through this period of fiscal uncertainty.
Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, also showed up to give a talk about his work to keep AOL relevant. At on one point, he was asked how he would grow AOL’s brand back to its glory days when the perception is that only old people use the company’s services. He quickly shot back: “You mean people with money?” He predicted that the AOL brand will resonate with consumers again within the next decade.
AOL also owns the Huffington Post and TechCrunch, and Armstrong ventured a guess that his company was the single largest employer of journalists on the web.
Armostrong also spoke about Patch, AOL’s hyper-local journalism experiment. Patch is a digital news website focused on a local community. There are no “Patch towns,” as Armstrong refers to them, in Maine yet. But he did say AOL is expanding Patch, so we could see one in Portland or Bangor at some point in the future.
I was very surprised when the “Bangor paper” came up during the conversation about local news! It was mentioned in a question from Jonathan Blum, a journalist who writes for TheStreet.com, about the power of local newspapers. Blum is apparently writing an article about Maine’s very own Lincoln County News, which is probably one of the country’s few remaining broadsheet paper. Unfortunately, Blum said the Lincoln County News in its communities kicked the Portland paper and the “Bangor paper” in the butt. I’m sure Blum never expected the business editor of the “Bangor paper” to be in the audience. We had a good laugh about it later in the day when I introduced myself … of course, after I set him straight on which paper kicks butt. Blum’s point was well taken, however, which is that local community news is still of extreme importance and that papers such as the Bangor Daily News — and Lincoln County News — can still thrive by focusing on that hyper-local content.
Armstrong also confirmed that the company does have a beer cart on Thursdays. Not a bad recruitment technique.
Other sessions on Thursday involved using social media, which didn’t provide much insight that most journalists don’t already know, and a speech by Janet Yellen, the Fed’s vice chair, and one of the favorite’s to replace Bernanke as Fed chair. She would be the Fed’s first chairwoman.
All in all the conference is an excellent opportunity to delve into issues of interest to business reporters and bring back insight and story ideas to put into practice on the BDN’s business page, both digital and print.