Q&A: Jamie McGee discusses how she stumbled into business journalism — and why she stayed there

By Carlee Francis, Studio M staff //

Jamie McGee, 35, is a journalist for The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee, where she write about all things business. She specifies in entrepreneurship, technology and economic development. She has previously written for other publications, such as Bloomberg News in New York and The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

How did you get started in journalism?

I got a degree at UNC at Chapel Hill, and thought I wanted to do broadcast journalism. I switched to print because of conversations with professors where I felt like it was a better fit. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but there was kind of a print snobbery where you could go deeper with stories and so I thought that sounded cooler. I don’t think that’s true at all, but that’s why I did what I did. Then I started working at the school newspaper and then worked for a local paper as a semi-intern and then got a job.

(Photo courtesy Jamie McGee)

What publications have you worked for since then and which have been your favorite?

I worked for the Chapel Hill Herald when I was in college; The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina; Bloomberg News in New York; Nashville Business Journal; and The Tennessean. I probably learned the most about business reporting from Bloomberg, but my favorite jobs have been at The Post and Courier and The Tennessean.

Why have those been your favorite?

They’re more general. Bloomberg I learned a lot about business, but it was so niche. I covered currency for a short period of time, and I covered insurance for about a year and you really get in the weeds on all these subjects, but my attention span only goes so deep for some of those topics. I like writing for a more general audience, and now I get to choose my stories and write about stuff that interest me and that I think relate to every day people and not just savvy investors, so I enjoy that more.

Why do you enjoy writing about business?

I write about business because I stumbled into it. it never really interested me that much, but I just thought it was one of those things you should know how to do. In 2009, the only job openings were in business reporting, so I tried to sell that because I had taken some courses in it. Now I really like it because so much of what we’re talking about nationally and locally goes back to people’s financial situation and the economy. I feel like these stories are important and you can write them in a way that make it accessible to everybody. I think it matters.

How do you typically ensure accuracy within your work?

I record everything. I tried to double check everything. I wake up in the middle of the night with a fact that I’m like, “Uh, I hope I got that right.” It drives me crazy. I misquoted somebody at Bloomberg because I didn’t go back to my recording and it was awful. It was during the financial crisis and I made a company look really bad because I left out some keywords. Since then I’ve tried to be especially careful because I didn’t realize just how much a few words really alter the context of what someone is saying.

Does social media play an important role in your job? If so, which platforms have you found most useful?

It does, Twitter and Facebook both, in terms of building an audience. I should probably do more with both of those. It helps with finding sources every now and then. In terms of building credibility, when people follow you and then you reach out to them you have just a little bit more, they know you just a little bit more. I think the challenge is letting my personality show through, I’m still maybe to wary about that. The people who do it well are able to let their guard down a little bit. In breaking news there’s a lot more, like Facebook live and Snapchat, which I don’t think is as applicable for business readers.

Do you have any tips for writing multiple stories had a time?

 I think sometimes we get really caught up with, “This has to be the best story I’ve ever written,” and sometimes it does, but not always, so figuring out which stories you want to prioritize the most. These are just minor things, but when you are strategizing your day, putting out calls and such and while you’re waiting for calls, work on other stories. Staying organized and always keeping a running notebook of story ideas and try and chip away at them as you can.

What is one of your favorite stories that you have published and why?

My favorite story is maybe two years ago now, I went to Haiti and wrote about economic development there and it was a story that I got a lot of time with and my editors helped out with a lot, they helped make it better. I felt like it was relevant to readers here and underscored some of the economic challenges there and some real ways to approach it. It was an amazing experience but I think we ended up with a good story, too.

What is your favorite part about being a journalist?

Getting to meet interesting people everyday, talking about things that interest me and bringing attention to stuff people might not always be aware of. Just getting to hear people’s stories, it’s a pretty big honor, I feel like, all the time. Having the license to ask anyone any question is awesome.

What advice would you give a young journalist today?

To not be scared of trying whatever comes around. I had really high standards when I started, like, “I want the perfect job,” and I got lucky with jobs, but I feel like so many people who are so good at what they do started in the most random setting and really learned a ton. You can learn a ton at really any publication you start out at. And not being scared to ask stupid questions. When you’re young, this was me at least, when writing about financial mumbo-jumbo, I was scared to sound stupid, but you are stupid, you don’t know anything and that’s OK.

Carlee Francis is a junior at Middle Tennessee State University studying Visual Communications with a minor in Marketing.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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