Women Behind the News: Bloomberg News Executive Editor Susan Goldberg talks with reporter Alexis Leondis about the lessons of covering local government.
Susan Goldberg was a 20-year-old news intern at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1980 when the paper's managing editor offered her a full-time reporting job. She jumped at the chance, putting off a final year of college to go to work reporting on education, City Hall and writing general news stories.
Now, as Bloomberg News' executive editor of federal, state and local governments based in Washington DC, Goldberg says her interest in civic affairs hasn't flagged. "These are the bread-and-butter issues that touch everybody, literally, where they live," she says. "The stories really need to be told."'
She's helped tell them all over the country. After two years in Seattle, Goldberg moved to the Detroit Free Press in Michigan, where she grew up. She became the first woman the Free Press sent to its bureau in Lansing, the state capital, and finished her Bachelor of Arts at Michigan State University at the same time.
She then moved to the San Jose Mercury News, in San Jose, California, and was serving as city editor when the paper did its Pulitzer prize-winning coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. She next joined USA Today in Washington, and, after 10 years, returned to San Jose as managing editor and then editor. In 2007, she moved on to head The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. Goldberg joined Bloomberg in 2010 and leads more than 150 reporters and editors who produce content for Bloomberg's terminal, magazines, television and websites. She's president of the American Society of News Editors, which focuses on leadership development in journalism.
Goldberg spoke with colleague Alexis Leondis about her career and plans for Bloomberg's government coverage. Leondis joined Bloomberg as an administrative assistant in 2006 in New York. She now covers investing, including asset managers BlackRock Inc. and Pacific Investment Management Co. She studied International Relations at Brown University and holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University.
Leondis won the Newswomen's Club of New York prize for best new reporter of 2010.
LEONDIS: Throughout your career, you've always worked in state and local news. What attracts you to it?
GOLDBERG: It's whether your street is paved; it's whether your garbage is picked up. It's how your representative is doing at conveying your interests and whether he or she is doing a good job of helping you and protecting you. You can really see how everyday people's lives can be bettered or worsened by the actions of state and local governments. And when you see a government that is corrupt or not doing its job, or very arrogant lawmakers, those things really matter to people. Shining a light on their activities will inform and empower readers and can make change for the better. This is our watchdog role at work, and it is our highest calling.
LEONDIS: How has Bloomberg's coverage of state and local government evolved under your leadership?
GOLDBERG: Bloomberg did a great job of covering municipal bonds -- better than anybody. But I think what we've been able to do is expand that classic coverage of municipal bonds and make it much broader.
So we're talking about how policies and politics intersect with finance. One of the best stories in the last two years is how the financial problems of the country have come home to roost on state and local governments.
We've covered the cuts in women's healthcare, the cuts in education, the rise of Republican governors nationwide and the choices they're making versus their predecessors. We've also looked at how state pension funds are underfunded. Those are all issues that are making a big difference.
LEONDIS: Is it hard to get readers, especially more financially-oriented ones, to pay attention?
GOLDBERG: It's our responsibility to make sure stories are resonating with clients by helping people understand the connection between policy and financial results. We had a recent story about the growing number of California cities having trouble paying the bills. One of the pressures on these cities is a result of the boom time decisions made in the late 1990s to vastly increase pension payments, particularly to public safety workers. And now we're the seeing results of those decisions. We're making those stories come to life.
LEONDIS: What changes do you envision at Bloomberg under your leadership over the next couple of years?
GOLDBERG: I'd like to expand to more states. We're not as well represented in the southern part of the U.S. as we should be. I would like to fill in the Carolinas, particularly. I'd love to do even more in the west. We've got nine people out there and I'd like to have more.
As far as federal government coverage goes, I'd like to build on the terrific work being done here already, pushing for more exclusives and enterprise. We've got the biggest bureau in Washington -- with resources including BGov, BNA and Bloomberg News. It's a tremendous opportunity to grow this coverage for Bloomberg readers.
LEONDIS: What's the story or series of stories you've worked on that stand out most for you during your career?
GOLDBERG: It was four years ago this summer that the FBI raided the homes and offices of two of the most powerful Democratic officials in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is. Just yesterday, one of those officials was sentenced to 28 years in prison for all of the things he has done wrong. What I am really, really proud of is that we were exposing some of that corruption before the FBI raid. I'm proud of our coverage and what my successor continued doing to further expose corruption there. I believe that our coverage was one of the factors in voters deciding to overturn a 200-year system of government with a new system that is, in fact, doing a better job.
LEONDIS: Can you talk about some of the projects that are happening on the state and local government teams at Bloomberg?
GOLDBERG: We're holding local officials to be accountable, exposing problems with pension funds and the impacts on real people. Right now, we're doing a series of stories looking at state salaries, so we've gotten data of every state worker from the 12 biggest states. We're looking at how states are spending taxpayer money and we've uncovered some incredible things. Nobody has ever really done this before and one of the things I love about Bloomberg is that we have the resources. This is work we're doing that can inform the public and policymakers and can really make a difference.
LEONDIS: What's the best tactic for a woman who wants to move into news management right now? What's your advice?
GOLDBERG: Make sure people know what you want to do. Be a squeaky wheel and don't assume people will come to you with the next management opportunity. If you want to be an editor, you have to understand that everyone needs something different -- some need handholding, some need coaching and some need help only at the end of the process. You have to show that you're an approachable person, so people feel like they can come to you.
For some people, leaving reporting is hard. For me, it wasn't as hard because even though I loved reporting, I wanted to be able to touch more stories and make a bigger difference for positive change in the community.
Photos by: Lori Hoffman, Bloomberg
Wednesday, August 15, 2012