Carol Kleiman Q&A

Carol Kleiman recently retired as a nationally syndicated business columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Her pioneering prize-winning column Women at Work ran from 1967 to 1998.

In 1993, Kleiman was one of 100 women honored with a sculpture in Chicago's Loop. A contributing editor to Ms. magazine, she won the American Women in Radio and Television's award for her editorial commentary on the national TV show “Nightly Business Report” in 1994 and was named outstanding columnist by the National Women's Political Caucus.

Kleiman has been on “The Today Show” and “Oprah.” She did a twice-weekly jobs segment called “The Career Coach” on CLTV news. In 1999, the Employment Management Association honored her reporting on the human resources field and she won the Excellence in Media Reporting award from Chicago NOW.

She is the author of “Getting A Job: Your Shortcut to Success,” (CliffNotes, 2000). “The Career Coach: Carol Kleiman's Inside Tips to Getting and Keeping the Job You Want,” (Dearborn Press, 1994) was excerpted by The Reader's Digest December, 1995, and was published in paperback in 1996 (Berkley Press). Her best-selling, prize-winning book, “The 100 Best Jobs for the 1990s & Beyond” (Dearborn, 1992), also was published by Berkley Press.

Her newest book is “Winning the Job Game: The new rules for getting and keeping the job you want” (John Wiley & Sons, 2002). Her other books: “You Can Teach Your Child Tennis,” “Women's Networks,” “Killer Tennis” and “Speaking of Sex: Mothers and Daughters,” written with her journalist daughter Catharine Kleiman Bell. She is a contributor to “The Encyclopedia of World Zoos,” edited by her daughter.

Kleiman has been honored by the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Chicago Nurses Association, Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, Mexican-American Business and Professional Women, Girl Scouts of America, Oakton Community College and Chicago YWCA. She was the first “Today's Chicago Woman of the Year” and won the Midwest Women's Center 1995 Woman of Achievement.

Among her awards: a Peter Lisagor for business journalism, the Illinois Associated Press, Illinois United Press International and the U. of Missouri Penney Awards. Glamour and Mirabella magazines have honored her. Newsweek called her “Ann Landers of the job world,” and the New York Times described her as “undisputed godmother of workplace reporting.”

Kleiman, a cum laude journalism graduate of Temple University, says she “earned” an MBA from raising three children alone and a Ph.D. from working at the Tribune for more than three decades.

Kleiman recently discussed her career with University of North Carolina professor Chris Roush. What follows is an edited transcript.

Q: Why were you interested in journalism at a young age when there were few female journalists to look up to in the late 1950s and early 1960s?

A:I had always written and was first published in the Philadelphia Bulletin's Heigh De Ho section at age five. From then on, I wrote for publication, mostly newspapers and magazines, such as the Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentlemen, Ladies’ Home Journal, Readers Digest, Christian Science Monitor. It was mostly humorous poems and short sayings. Nothing big.

Q: You mentioned in your farewell column that Working Woman initially ran in the features section. When did you, or someone else, first realize that what you were writing was more business oriented and should be in that part of the paper?

A: In the early 1980s, my book, “Women's Networks,” was reviewed in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Tribune business editors saw it and said, “Look, there's a woman in the features section with a pen in her hand. Let's bring her into the business section: We need women readers." It worked.

Q: How difficult was it initially to write about business issues for you?

A: If you mean employment issues, it wasn’t hard at all. If you're a good reporter and know how to ask questions and figure out whom to ask, it's just another assignment. But as a columnist, I really cared about employment issues and employees.

Q: How did you learn about business and what the issues were in the workplace?

A: I read everything. I asked questions. I made trusted sources and lived the issues myself.

Q: Did you have any mentors, and how did they help you?

A: No. I was on my own. Some colleagues were helpful. But I for one always reached out to new hires or new people to the business staff and welcomed them and tried to mentor them. I also mentored a lot of people outside of my own department and outside of the Tribune. It was a very rewarding experience, and I had a lot of wonderful friendships.

Q: How much of an audience was there initially for what you were writing about?

A: Women and minorities were always there but invisible. I brought them into the Tribune's readership and coverage, much to the benefit of the Tribune.

Q: When did you start to feel comfortable enough to provide your own advice in the column without having to ask others?

A:I never asked anybody else. As a single parent, you know you are the only one to answer questions and you also know the answers. This applied to my columns, too.

Q: What was the impetus to start writing the other two columns -- Jobs and Letters?

A: The Career columnist left, and they asked me to add that column. I changed the name to Jobs. Letters came more recently, about six years ago. Someone else was doing them and was replaced. I was the replacement. But writing three columns a week meant I could no longer do the breaking news stories on labor issues and employment numbers. That part of the coverage was turned over to other people, though I still occasionally did front page stories and some breaking news. Mostly, I helped the others with the stories by giving them sources and telling them to use my name to get through.

Q: Do you think the media does a better job, or a worse job, of covering workplace issues today than when you started? Why?

A: Much better today because they're being covered. I was the only one doing it for years. The Tribune was alone in covering these important matters for far too long.

Q: Where did you get most of your ideas for your column, and how did you develop them?

A: I came up with all my own ideas by observing and being involved in what I was writing about it. As I said, I lived it.

Q: In your opinion, why don't many major metropolitan newspapers have a workplace reporter, or columnist, when the majority of their readers work?

A: There are no direct ads connected with this area. But that may change.

Q: What do you see happening to business journalism, or workplace reporting, in the future?

A: I see it growing in importance as Baby Boomers age and want to know what to do with their money.

Q: Reporting about labor unions and their interests has waned in the past 40 years. Do you think that should be covered more by workplace reporters, or should papers have labor reporters as well?

A: Every paper should have labor reporters. Unions have given us all the good things we have, such as overtime, pensions, health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, though I do expect the current anti-labor administration to try to continue to cut back on these necessities.

Q: What advice would you give a student interested in going into the business journalism field today?

A: Learn your basics, find something you are passionate about and write about it.