I’m working on two articles, which is quite typical for me. One is offering advice to consumers buying a used car for a major national blog, and the other is about the hottest design and architecture trends for homeowners for The National Association of Realtors’ website. I love these types of stories since they connect me with tastemakers or help my help readers, and I always get to learn something new!
Tell us about your dream assignment.
I’ve focused on many different subjects and my favorites are design and family business so I have to do two: getting in to see Bill and Melinda Gates’ humongous house for the design story, which I’d love to do for The New York Times, and what it’s really like—especially the kitchen; and the other would be interviewing a family business I haven’t been able to meet—perhaps, the Mars candy family or the Trumps and really find out the dynamics of the familial relationships and business (I’d love to do those stories for the Times’ business section as a Sunday feature).
Describe the wackiest story you’ve written.
I’d have to say my wackiest story was interviewing twin brothers who were 60 at the time and suing their 90-year-old dad for what they rightfully believed was their share of his real estate business. I did this with my colleague Meg Crane and it’s part of our first family business book, Corporate Bloodlines, which profiled 14 family businesses and why they succeeded or failed. In that case, the father died before the case went to trial.
What is your PR pet peeve?
My PR pet peeve is that some PR folks want me to do an article on a client when the business has no connection with anything I’m doing because they want ink. They lose credibility!
Top trend in the industry you’re currently covering or are interested in?
Several, since I focus on different industries. But in real estate there’s so much interest in downsizing; in design, more interest in green though nobody wants to pay more for sustainability even though there’s often a big payback.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I still love my field though it’s harder due to the changes of fewer newspapers and magazines. I started off 40 years ago writing at a national shelter magazine using a typewriter—House & Garden’s special Guides publications at Conde Nast; segued to daily journalism at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which I loved since there was nothing better than being told—get us the story in 1 hour or so; and then starting my freelance writing business, which is going into its 25th year. Highlights have been snaring an interview with Tipper Gore when Al was vice president for the Chicago Tribune; doing a big feature on the antiques at the White House and State Department with the late curator Clement Conger and doing another big feature on the crafts of Oaxaca, Mexico—both for House & Garden’s Guides; and being a guest expert on an Oprah segment about remodeling disasters. Recently, I got to do a design feature on David Landis’ house, which will be featured in a national publication, Small Room Decorating, because of his wonderful designer, Claudia Juestel. All in all, my work life has been fun; I’ve learned so much—including what makes a good golf course and I’m not a golfer; and I’ve made great friends through work. I hope to keep writing forever! I’ve just started a blog on my website, “Why That Much,” which I’m doing with Chicago designer Tom Segal. We’re looking at why the creme de la creme costs so much—first example, Sub-Zero refrigerators; next Calcutta Gold marble countertops. You can read them at www.barbaraballinger.com.
Barbara Ballinger is a professional journalist who has written for newspapers, magazines, corporations and websites across the country, including: The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, House Beautiful, Travel & Leisure, the Robb Report, Realtor®, the American Bar Association Journal, Crain’s Chicago Business and Developer magazine. Visit Barbara online at www.barbaraballinger.com.
Questions or comments? Please post in the comment section below or send an email to Barbara at [email protected].