Value Added: Reporter Shows There's Life, and Work, After Journalism

Former reporter Greg Vistica started Washington Media Group in 2003 and has built it into a successful media and investigative outfit.
Former reporter Greg Vistica started Washington Media Group in 2003 and has built it into a successful media and investigative outfit. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Thomas Heath
Monday, September 14, 2009

Listen up, journalists, especially you on the print side worried about your job.

I'm writing this week about Gregory Vistica, a former Washington Post colleague (I didn't know him when he was here) who has remade himself into a successful entrepreneur.

Vistica, 55, in the last six years has built a 10-employee public relations firm called Washington Media Group, which has more than 20 clients on retainer, may gross $7 million this year and earns him (and his wife) a household income in the low six figures.

His company enables him to monetize 25 years of journalism experience and (the part I like) has allowed him to stuff a big chunk of the firm's profits into a richly funded defined-benefit pension that should serve him well in retirement.

It's been a life-changer for a guy who spent the first half of his career quizzing government officials, private businesses and institutions about what they did wrong.

"Until somebody has to meet a payroll, they can't appreciate the private sector," Vistica said. "Having to get up every morning and ensuring your company continues to do well . . . those issues weigh heavily on everybody who owns a business."

Vistica is not the kind of guy you think of when you think of driven, charismatic entrepreneurs. He is serious and plodding, occasionally dull, with a healthy dose of skepticism built over decades as an investigative reporter. His résumé includes stints at The Post, 60 Minutes II, Newsweek and at the New York Times Magazine, where he reported on a Vietnam mission by former senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska that resulted in the deaths of 26 civilians. He almost won a Pulitzer Prize for that story.

So how did the entrepreneurial bug bite him?

The phone rang in his Potomac home one day in 2003. It was a former source who had retired from a high position in the military to join a private equity firm. He heard Vistica had left The Post and asked if he would put his reportorial skills to work investigating a competitor that was taking business from an energy start-up the firm owned.

"It was Reporting 101," Vistica said. "We advised the company on what the competitor was doing, which involved producing a product that wasn't what they said it was. I know reporters and TV producers around the country, so I talked to a producer and let him know what was going on. He did a four-part TV series and the state environmental regulators clamped down."

What happened next is what happens with many of the small service businesses I have written about: Word spread about him among similar enterprises. He got a call from a Silicon Valley investment firm that had run into problems. His name came across my screen during my coverage of the private equity sector, when I heard he was doing work for the Blackstone Group out of New York and the Carlyle Group, based in Washington.

I asked him how he knew what to charge clients.

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