April 23, 2024
A Fresh Take

Editor's Page

A Fresh Take

Amy Keller | 2/29/2024

I was recently a guest speaker in a new course called “Fresh Take Business” at the University of Florida journalism school. The course is an off shoot of an existing class called “Fresh Take Florida,” which has operated as a kind of student journalist news service and provides students with clips they’ve used to get jobs. While students in the original course write largely on topics related to the Legislature and state government, the business spinoff focuses them on business and real estate reporting and the skills of analyzing balance sheets and performance metrics of Florida’s public companies.

The course is good news for Florida. In an era of smaller newsrooms and rampant misinformation, skilled business journalists still have an important role to play — not only in chronicling the fortunes of companies and leaders, but also in identifying trends and making complex economic issues understandable.

I found the students smart, inquisitive and committed to good journalism and learning. Zarin Ismail says she’s “trying out business journalism” because it applies to just about everything and impacts everyone. She recognizes that business journalists can bridge communication gaps by cutting through jargon as they share information. “I want to make it more accessible,” she says. Several students talked about how they’re using data to drive projects. Others wanted to know how reporters find stories and how we cope personally and stay on task when the subject matter is draining or hits too close to home. One student asked me a question about what motivates me: “Where do you find inspiration?” she asked.

It was a good question to consider as I assume the role as FLORIDA TREND'S’ executive editor — the sixth in the magazine’s 65-year history.

I chose journalism for several reasons. I liked to write, and a high school English teacher convinced me I wasn’t bad at it. I also was drawn to the sleuthing nature of the job — the process of digging into a subject, gathering the facts and connecting the dots. My parents, both voracious consumers of newspapers and magazines, supported my dream of working in the media. It was a noble profession, in their eyes, and at the time it was a stable industry — nothing like the airlines, which had taken our family on a turbulent financial ride and left my father jobless during my freshman year of college.

I went on to work at the Washington Business Journal and later at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper where I spent 11 years covering campaign finance, political consultants and the occasional congressional scandal.

The industry turned out to be much less stable than we anticipated, but I think I chose well. I still like writing and have gotten better at it over the years. Much of the credit for that goes to Mark Howard, FLORIDA TREND'S’ longtime (and now retired) executive editor, who is as much a teacher as he was a journalist — and a patient one at that. As for connecting the dots, it’s still a delight, and TREND has provided a teriffic environment for practicing good journalism.

The kind of long-form journalism TREND does allows for in-depth exploration of topics, providing analysis and context along with good storytelling. We start by looking for stories that our readers — business leaders, policymakers and anyone else who wants to understand the dynamics our diverse and growing state — won’t find anywhere else. Our team members do their homework, conducting extensive research and finding the right sources to illuminate a topic. Some of our editors are subject matter experts themselves, having covered Florida’s key industry sectors for decades. Our art department works its magic, finding just the right mix of photos and graphics to bring each story to life. TREND remains one of the few publications that employs a fact-checker to verify the information in our articles before we publish them.

While this approach has won TREND many awards over the years, I’ve always considered the best judges of our work to be our readers. Many have been subscribers for decades, and many still read each issue cover to cover. I know we’re doing our job well not only when they tell us they loved a story, but also when they praise it for being fair and accurate. And some days, that’s motivation enough.

The UF students in the business class are entering a different world of journalism than I did three decades ago. A phone, a tape recorder and a facsimile machine were just about the only tools I had during my first reporting internships.

Newsgathering is a lot easier today thanks to smartphones, search engines and the plethora of online databases. But technology cuts both ways. The next generation of journalists has its own challenges, not the least of which is “generative” artificial intelligence — robots, in effect, writing stories. And they’ll have to reckon with the continued spread of misinformation via social media, a growing societal mistrust of the media and the choice of many to consume only information that fits their existing preferences.

Based on what I saw in the class, I think they’re up to the job. And at a time when we’re often fed such a gloomy view of the future, they give me reason to hope there will always be a demand for good journalism and smart journalists committed to fair, honest reporting. I’m committed to working as hard as I can to see that they have a future in the field and that FLORIDA TREND'S remains a vital part of Florida’s journalistic landscape.

— Amy Keller, Executive Editor akeller@floridatrend.com

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