Writing is much more than putting words on paper: it's about creating an engaging piece that informs, educates and inspires an audience. So, it seems natural that Valerie Miller is accomplished at all three. In fact, she has won many awards for her investigative journalism skills. The most recent award she received was The Michael Graham Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. The Living Pages sat down with the former Las Vegas Sun reporter to find out more about the state of Las Vegas Businesses, her commitment to excellence, and what she likes to do for fun.
Why did you decide to become a Journalist?
I always wanted to do something that I felt made a difference. But, at first I kind of fell into journalism. Initially, I was an undeclared major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I had considered majoring in psychology. Then my father encouraged me to switch to communications, which included the journalism department. I was always very skilled at writing class papers and essays while in college, at UNLV and the College of Southern Nevada. So, some of my professors encouraged me to pursue writing professionally. One of those was then an assistant city editor at the Las Vegas Sun. I started out freelancing for that paper, and later interned at the Sun.
You have won many awards for your journalism skills, why do you think that is?
I am really appreciative that others have recognized my work with those awards. I think that is, at least partially, because I really enjoy and care about what I do. And I believe that comes through in my work. When I write a story, or cover a topic, I want to make the article something people will want to read. I try to take even topics that some may consider boring, and make them a compelling read. Also, when it is a major issue, such as the housing crisis or a person's plight, I will spend a lot of time researching the story. That allows the readers to feel like they truly understand the complex issues involved.
You recently won the Michael Graham Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, what was going through your mind when you won?
I was very happy, and excited to be named the recipient of the Michael Graham Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. I was actually very surprised to receive the letter notifying me that I had won. I thought that was so cool! I had been through some challenging times during the previous year, and I think that made the award more special. It was very rewarding to have others recognize your work. Also, the awards ceremony, which was put on by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Vegas PBS, was a very special time for me, and my family and friends.
Why did you decide to focus on writing about Las Vegas businesses?
I first interned and freelanced at the Las Vegas Sun while I was still in college, and I covered a lot of development issues while attending Henderson City Council and Henderson Planning Commission meetings. I didn't think of it as business reporting as much at the time, but my stories would often run in the Sun's business pages. After my internship ended, I went on to work full-time for the Las Vegas Business Press, which later merged with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and its business section. Now, I often cover Las Vegas trials for Bloomberg News. Business news affects everyone, whether they realize it or not.
Do you think the Las Vegas economy will ever bounce back?
I am a journalist, not an economist. I'll put that disclaimer out there, first. But, that said, I think Las Vegas will have an economic recovery, as we are slowly seeing now. Unfortunately, though, I foresee the economy only bouncing back to a certain degree. I don't see the boom times returning anytime soon. Maybe we will see something that resembles "the good ole days" over the next decade, or later, in Las Vegas. But I really don't think we will completely go back to our pre-Great Recession state. And part of that is probably due to the psychological factors, as well as economic realities. Businesses, and our life's blood –tourists — are getting used to spending less money. Average wages are down around the country, and have dropped even further in Las Vegas. Some economists are saying that unemployment is now becoming a "structural problem" in the U.S. Nevertheless, I think the good news is that we will continue to see gradual improvement in the local economy. Housing, too, is again affordable, and some experts believe we have hit the bottom of the housing market.
What advice can you give Las Vegas business owners who are struggling to save their business?
"Hang in there" is a cliché, but it is true. Business owners should not give up hope that they can wait out the hard times. If I were in their place, I would try to focus heavily on providing value, and good customer service. I have seen a lot of businesses fail because they wouldn't -- or simply couldn't – reduce prices and/or change their business model. They refused to change, even though their customer base no longer had the disposable incomes, and were unemployed, etc. In cases where cutting prices is impossible, I would still put an emphasis on providing great customer service. Customers have a lot of options and less money to spread around now, so try your best to make a visit to your store one they will want to repeat. In addition, I would strongly advise businesses to market themselves. Downturns are when companies need to get their names, and messages, out the most. But marketing is often the first thing business owners cut in a recession. Finally, whenever possible, businesses should seek to find niche markets, and maybe that will mean reinventing themselves.
What motivates you to continue writing about Las Vegas Businesses?
Las Vegas is just such a fascinating and compelling place to cover business news, initially that was primarily because of city's booming tourism and gaming industries. Unfortunately, the economic downturn now has made Las Vegas Ground Zero for the foreclosure crisis, which is also a great source for business news. I never get tired of telling someone's story. It may be how their business is facing closure due to unforeseen events, such as massive construction projects in front of their stores, or because of the overall downturn. I also enjoy reporting on how the little guy – or gal – has found the next great start-up idea. The most rewarding thing is when you can bring attention to an issue and bring about change.
Who inspires you the most?
It's difficult to pick just one or two people. The people who have inspired me the most are generally those who I have known personally, rather than celebrities or other public figures. My parents inspired me by the example they set for me. Also, I have been inspired by those people who have given of their time, and talent, to mentor me in journalism.
What's your biggest mission in life?
I don't know if I would consider what I do as a mission or not. But I really love reporting the news and telling stories that make a difference. I like being able to have a role in affecting change. It is very gratifying, especially, if you can do something that might right something that is amiss.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself reporting, and possibly editing. But it remains to be seen whether that will be in Las Vegas or some other part of the country. I would like to stay in Southern Nevada for at least the near-term. My future may also involve doing some communication consulting for companies, which I enjoy.
What do you love most about living in Las Vegas?
I am very used to being in a 24-hour town now. I am originally from Chicago, and while that is a big city, too, it is not 24/7 like Las Vegas. When I go back to the Windy City for visits, I realize how much I like being able to do things at almost any hour. Also, I like the excitement of having all the entertainment in Las Vegas.
What are some fun facts about you?
I used to do a radio music show in Las Vegas, "Music Magic." So, I got to DJ for a number of years, part-time, while I was reporting business news by day. That was very cool. I am also an avid Chicago Cubs baseball fan, as we lived right down the street from Wrigley Field when I was born. Besides going to Chicago to watch the Cubs play, I have traveled to Mesa, Arizona a few times to catch Cubs spring training. I really enjoyed making that pilgrimage.
Where can our readers find out more information about you?
I am currently working on putting up my own web site. But until then, people can go to my LinkedIn page at LinkedIn.com. Also they can follow me on Twitter at @ValerieMiller4, or on my Facebook page: facebook.com/valerie.miller.3720. I post articles and updates on all three sites. Also, people can email me directly at
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