Burlingham visited Community Impact Newspaper headquarters Jan. 23 to speak with CEO John Garrett and company staff as part of CI's “Coffee With Impact” series, which features local entrepreneurs, high-level sources and inspirational professionals.
“The thing that I love about business is that it’s honest,” Burlingham said. “People vote with their dollars.”
Burlingham cut his teeth as a reporter for the New Left political magazine Ramparts, for which he eventually served as managing editor.
During this time, Burlingham said many viewed journalists as “heroes.”
After working for The Boston Globe and freelancing for magazines such as Harper’s, Esquire and Mother Jones, Burlingham joined Fidelity Investments.
“I didn’t know the difference between a stock and a bond,” Burlingham said of the move.
While at Fidelity, he was introduced to the business world, which he began covering in earnest after joining a local Boston startup Inc. Magazine in the early 1980s.
It was there that Burlingham covered the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to one focused on services—the so-called New Economy.
“We knew that something big was going on, and we were there to chronicle it,” Burlingham said of the magazine’s early days.
At Inc., Burlingham profiled entrepreneurs and small business owners with the goal of educating readers with similar ambitions.
Creating trust with his sources was critical to his success as a reporter and, later, as the author of five books about business, including “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.”
“If you’re going to bring somebody alive [in a story], you have to know everything that’s going on,” Burlingham said, including the hard stuff.
His commitment to finding out the whole truth has served Burlingham well with readers.
“You have no control over the journalistic atmosphere,” he said.
Instead, reporters must focus on their own work and reputations, a task he said is made harder in a media environment where distrust is rampant.
“We as journalists—our job is to tell the truth to our audience,” Burlingham said, noting that he admires courageous journalists who “report things people don’t want to hear.”
For both journalists and business owners, Burlingham has the same advice: “Life is too short to spend your time doing something that doesn’t have a higher purpose.”