Where Are the People? A Call For More People Coverage In Business Publications

By Jim Sulecki

Is there a belief that business media is a serious domain not particularly suitable for back stories … human drama … personality?

I sure hope not. For it’s people who make up the communities we sometimes abstractly call “businesses” and “industries.”

Oh, there’s always a place to cover new products, and new technologies, and emerging trends, and good business cases, and major company moves and news. But even these can be well-embellished with compelling people pictures, dynamic quotes, personal stories … “color.”

Yet many of the business publications I look at have yards and yards of expositional text and infographics and concept covers and computer-generated illustrations and beauty shots—along with thumbnail headshots of industry leaders and perfunctory name / title / company attributions.

Where is the personality? Where are the people?

Let’s start with covers. If you’re relying to a large extent on concept covers … stop. The irony of journalism today is that it’s never been easier or cheaper to get really good photography: High-quality cameras now cost a song, relatively speaking, and jpegs can arrive in your email inbox in minutes from freelance photographers compared to the days it used to take to ship and develop film. Yet it’s also, alas, much easier now just to ask the graphic designer to fire up Adobe Illustrator and crank out another concept cover. But what’s lost along the way is an opportunity to tell a good human story through the facial creases of a weathered industry veteran or the palpably bright face of a promising up-and-comer.

Shoot for a solid 2:1 ratio of people-to-concept covers. More of your readers will relate, especially if you pick cover subjects who are well-known and well-respected, and they’ll intuitively sense that your publication “gets it.”

And what about the age-old Q&A? Email, again, potentially makes these journalistic staples so much easier. Consider conducting rolling email interviews, possibly across several weeks, with questions that often aren’t asked: How did you get into this business? What did you study in school? Who was your mentor? What is your most memorable story? Where have you traveled? What has been the high point of your career? The low point?

And dig into your archives. If you’re fortunate enough to edit a publication that goes back 30 or 40 years or more, scan old photos of industry leaders past and run them in your publication under a regular “from the archives” flag. I guarantee your readers will get a nice chuckle out of the old clothes, hairstyles, and eyeglasses as well as the out-of-date equipment and offices and facilities that are inevitably in the background. But today’s readers also will feel a link, a kinship, a continuity with the people who toiled in the very same livelihood a generation or two before.

When I was a lad, frustrated with the unpredictability and occasional illogic of the human race, my mother would remind me in a measured tone: “Jim. Life is people.”

It is indeed.

And business is people, too.

Photo of Jim Sulecki
Jim Sulecki

Jim Sulecki is Corporate Content Director at Meister Media Worldwide, an organization of more than a dozen print / online / event media properties serving U.S. and global audiences in agriculture and horticulture. He also authors the media- and editorial-focused blog “The Content of Our Souls” and covers media on Twitter. In previous roles he worked in emedia, in publishing management, and as a working writer and editor. In 2009 he was named “Top Innovator in Business Publishing: Online Executives” by BtoB Media Business.”

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