Dan Primack

365. Don’t be intimidated by the rich and powerful

It might not have been the career he envisioned, but Dan Primack has been covering business for decades.

Even if he’d known from a young age he wanted to go into journalism, and even if his uncle was a columnist at the Boston Herald, Primack stumbled into financial and business journalism.

“I followed a girl to New York and needed a job,” he says. “I found a print newsletter in the trade world. It was boring but it paid the rent.”

After that came stints at Reuters and Bloomberg and finally, after 20 years covering business and start-ups, he’s joined one and now works as the business editor at Axios.

Business reporting might sound daunting to someone who’s covered something more traditional, like education or politics, as there’s a whole language built into covering finance and trade and the stock market and corporate practices, but Primack says it’s essentially the same kind of practice, just with different areas of nuance.

“It’s fairly similar to political reporting or sports reporting,” he says. “There’s winners and losers and a story as to why it happened. I remember the first story I wrote about Facebook, when it was The Facebook. It was only accessible to a couple of colleges. I’ve been able to see the evolution, not just in terms of dollars but in terms of being world-changing.”

Reporters shouldn’t feel overly intimidated when calling up an executive at a Fortune 100 company, for example, because the old cliché is true: Those executives still put their pants on one leg at a time.

“You have to remember what you’re there for,” he says. “You’re there to get a story for your readers. Whether someone’s very rich or very powerful or not, they want their point of view heard. They want someone to listen to them. You can kind of create relationships for them. It goes both ways: You get information out of them and they feel you’re willing to give them a fair hearing.”

He does feel like one of his first jobs out of college helped bring him into the business world, however.

“The reason I got the first business reporting job, I was just a press secretary on a congressional campaign in Massachusetts and the candidate was extraordinarily wealthy,” he says. “I was a decent writer and thought I’d be a decent reporter, but I think it’s more they liked the idea that I’d just worked with a rich person” and wasn’t as intimidated by someone with wealth and power as someone fresh out of school might be.  

Dan Primack has covered the business world for about 20 years, reporting on big players in the industry as well as startups. He joins producer Michael O’Connell to explain why the cliché about rich people putting their pants on one leg at a time is an important one for reporters to remember when covering major players in big business.

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