Three decades of storytelling

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Richard Foster hosted a popular true-crime podcast.

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret: Many of us journalists aren’t the best at math.

Don’t get me wrong: We love the concepts behind math and science as well as trumpeting the accomplishments of STEM professionals, but the majority of media folks I’ve known find math to be an alien language. We’re much more comfortable within the confines of history and literature.

I struggled mightily with algebra in middle school and high school. However, when I look back on my achievements from college, I’m just as proud of the fact that I earned A’s in physics and statistics as I am of my early journalistic deeds.

Despite all the effort I expended into attaining those little academic miracles, I do remember thinking to myself at the time, “When am I ever going to use statistics in real life?”

Fast-forward six months.

In fall 1992, after writing freelance articles and interning on the state desk at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I began a yearlong internship as a staff writer for the RTD’s business section.

My first assignment? An article heavy on statistics and number-crunching. Many more followed.

The young editor who assigned that story to me was Robert Powell, one of the finest and brightest media professionals with whom I’ve had the privilege of working.

Twenty-seven years later (yes I actually checked this on a calculator), Robert is retiring as editor of Virginia Business and with his endorsement, I’m taking over as his successor. Fortunately, he’s staying on for a while in a part-time advisory capacity during the transition so I can benefit from his invaluable institutional memory and expertise.

During his almost 15-year tenure at the helm of Virginia Business, Robert built the magazine into a must-read state publication for executives, decision-makers and anyone who needs intelligence about Virginia’s business trends and trendsetters.

As I inherit editorial leadership here, I know that I must be not just a good steward for this publication but also a lodestar for carrying it into our exponentially changing world of the 2020s and beyond.

A key part of this strategy for me will be expanding Virginia Business’ digital presence and original reporting. However, cyberspace is only a medium for communication. What should be paramount is telling good stories and accurately and knowledgably reflecting the entire community we cover, keeping in mind the importance of geographic, sector, racial and gender diversity.

My nearly 30-year career in journalism and communications has been varied and interesting, including freelancing as a regular monthly contributing writer to Virginia Business for the past 13 years. Starting out in daily newspapers, I later wrote for Style Weekly magazine and was the founding editor of Richmond.com (now the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s website) before serving five years as executive editor of Richmond magazine. As a reporter and editor, I have covered everything from political campaigns to a wildcat labor strike to Virginia’s execution of a Mexican citizen convicted of a murder-for-hire.

My first book, a true-crime biography of the 1950s pin-up queen Bettie Page, was adapted into the 2005 HBO film “The Notorious Bettie Page.” More recently, I produced and hosted the 2018 podcast “Southern Nightmare” (and penned its eponymous companion book). It focuses on Virginia’s South Side Strangler serial killer case, which marked the first time in U.S. history a murderer was convicted on the basis of DNA evidence.

The common thread in all of my journalistic efforts has been my desire as a storyteller to create compelling content that engages my audience.

Business is how the majority of us spend eight to 12 hours (or more) of our weekdays and often our weekends. It occupies much of our brainpower and it’s the vehicle for achieving our dreams and financial security. It’s nothing less than the lifeblood of our society.

Yet due to shrinking local newsrooms — and, frankly, sometimes lack of interest — business coverage is frequently relegated to lesser positions of importance or even limited to wire copy reports of national news.

Virginia Business is the only publication that takes a statewide approach to the commonwealth’s business news. That grants us a far-reaching perspective and awareness that provides a great benefit to our readers, whether they know us from our print magazine, email newsletters, web coverage, sponsored events or all of the above.

As I grow into the role of leading Virginia Business, I look forward to meeting more of you, our readers and business leaders, particularly at our Meet the Editors events, the next of which will be held in Danville on Sept. 24.  If you can’t meet us at one of these regular statewide networking opportunities, please feel free to get in touch with me in the meantime at rfoster@virginiabusiness.com.

I’m eager to hear — and tell — your stories.

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