25 Feb Advice to aspiring journalists from the pros
I asked a group of my Facebook friends to offer advice to aspiring journalists in my classes this semester on how to find good stories. The concept happened to flow nicely into our textbook reading and practicals sessions.
Here’s what they had to say:
Rebecca Baker Get the hell out of the newsroom
Gail Martineau Form relationships with secretaries and administrative assistants!
Be nice to everyone because you never know when they might have information that will help you. And because you should just be a nice person.
Liza Burby Listen to what your friends, colleagues, favorite shop owners are talking about because there are stories to mine in what is important to them.
David Joachim Learn how to sort through and make sense of public databases. There are tons of stories in that data but precious few people know what to do with it. If you are one of the few, you will have a huge advantage.
Alfonso Castillo Show up. Sometimes meetings, events that figure to be uneventful end up being quite the opposite.
Henry Powderly I second the data argument. So much public data is available, fueling an unlimited amount of stories if you are good at spotting the outliers.
Nicole Brems Go to meetings and events. Not only take notes of the content but also people’s reactions. There have been plenty of things that seemed like non-stories to me and then hearing the reactions of others there I realized it was actually a big story. Also- …See More
Danny Schrafel Embrace the idea that every story matters to somebody, and even if you couldn’t care less, find something to get excited about. (that idea got me through lots of sports stories. Lol)
Jim Merritt Read.
Jaci Clement My journalism adviser insisted I read the NYT everyday, upside down. It was training for reading what was on peoples’ desks for when you were sitting across from them, doing an interview. I still use that skill. And that’s also why a good media relations rep will never allow a client to agree to be interviewed inside his/her office.
Lyn Dobrin Be curious about the world and talk to everyone. There are stories lurking everywherel
Jon Friedman Curiosity, courage, work ethic, ‘tude, fearlessness, self confidence and not self consciousness, common sense, eagerness to stand apart from the pack. Enjoying the whole process.
Jon Friedman Have a swagger!!
Kyle Niederpruem Listen, observe, take note … and don’t judge. An open mind clears the way to the truth.
Daniel Wagner Read and talk to people. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone FIRST.
Tania Lopez Go outside of your safety zone. What I mean by this is go outside of what you are familiar with. This NYC Queens girl learned so much living in the Midwest. I loved it. I was terrified at first but now I’m so glad I made the move. You never know what you will learn taking the road less traveled. Remember it’s not about you. It’s about the story. Be courageous, have integrity and always remember to stay humble. Many an editor, source and publicist will try to use your ego against you. Don’t fall for it and stay focused on being a compassionate and ethical journalist.
Jon Friedman Also, what Tania said about leaving your comfort zone.
Joseph P. Shaw Talk to everyone. Without a notebook open.
Carl Corry Please elaborate
Joseph P. Shaw Notebooks intimidate people. When you’re looking for stories, just talk to people–no notes. You can always pop it open for an impromptu interview if you need to have one. But better to develop your skills to just converse with people about anything–sports, the weather–and bring it around to local topics that might be newsy.
Also: Talk to EVERYONE, including the “crazy people” who everyone says are not worth your time. You just never know.
Timothy Bolger Find the gravedigger. And if you’re unfamiliar with this Jimmy Breslin anecdote, go look it up
Randi Marshall Shut up. Stop talking and start listening. Ask open ended questions and then be quiet and let the source talk – even if it means a long uncomfortable silence (sometimes those are the best kinds). Don’t be afraid to ask seemingly simple questions – don’t ever pretend you understand something that you don’t, because you’ll have to be the one to explain it. It’s okay to say you don’t understand. Always ask another question after you think you’re done. And yes, pay attention to data. Interviewing data, as I call it, is something that you MUST know how to do. And give yourself time and space to think.
Pam Robinson There’s a good chance your newsroom colleagues are not representative of your community. Seek out others with different viewpoints. And I love all these answers–they’re all correct. Talk, but more important, listen to everyone. YOu don’t have to write everything they want; there is such a thing as right and wrong, or people whose stories are better than others but you absolutely never know where a story is going to go. Don’t create a narrative out of where you think the story will go, because if you do, you’ll miss the real story or stories. GET OUT OF THE NEWSROOM.
Pam Robinson And you represent your readers. You’ve gotten the chance to hobnob with your community’s leaders. Use it to serve your readers and remember where you came from.
Arielle Dollinger Talk to everyone, and listen to everything. Walk around a village’s Main Street and look for flyers and signs. Go to town board meetings. Keep in touch with people you’ve interviewed because they may lead you to another story.
When everyone is looking one direction, it can pay to look another. Some stories take time to gel, and most stories turn out to be different than what you may expect when you’re starting out. Also, DO pick up the phone and leave your desk. GO and be where the stories are.
Laurie Bloom Thanks for sharing, Carl. Happy to have inspired you – will share these nuggets with my PR students as well. Might be fun to have to have A PR/JRN student collaborative project. We should put our heads together. I bet we could come up with a great learning experience (and a cool one!) interested?
Carl Corry All for it, so long as we don’t make their heads explode!
Laurie Bloom C’mon exploding heads is a must! If you can’t handle it – these are not the career choices for you, kids! ; )
Write a reply…
Adina Genn Stay up to date on the topics that interest you in every way possible – news, online groups, civic and professional groups…that way when you spot a story, you have ready sources, and know where to find the data
Jaci Clement Upside down, upside down is key
Jane Primerano But, they also need to learn how to read sloppy handwriting upside down. . . .
Write a reply…
Scott A. Brinton From “Everything I Need To Know About Journalism I Learned From Superman,” by Tom Henderson: “In a way, Superman is like a reporter. His name and face are constantly in the news, but it isn’t about the spotlight. It’s about truth and justice. Like the best reporters, he takes responsibility for his actions and always considers the consequences.” — Clark Kent
Carl Corry Superman got me into the business.
Write a reply…
Scott A. Brinton And from Lois Lane: “You’ve still got the power of the press, Clark. It’s also more powerfulthan a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet and able to change the course of mighty rivers. If it wasn’t – if it couldn’t help people – I wouldn’t be here. And neither would you.”
Jane Primerano I’m not sure I could add a single thing to this great list. Just emphasize talk to everyone, everyone, everyone. Including children and dogs. . . .
Matthew T. Hall I would say that they should be well versed in how to use social media to FIND sources and stories, to not think of it as a way to PUSH stories OUT but as a two-way conversation that allows reporters to quickly find out what people are saying about anything and to join that conversation and to ask questions. (Your question, Carl, is a perfect example of this.) But I’d also stress that face-to-face contact (over coffee or beer or lunch) is always going to be valuable. I would say curiosity, fearlessness and a willingness to embrace change are maybe the three most important things a budding journalist can have. I would say that knowing how to find answers is more important than knowing the answers, and I would say that sometimes you’re not going to know the quote-unquote answers because they are nuanced, or gray, or conflicting, or varied, or subjective, and that you’ll have to have a good BS meter to determine where the truth of things lies. I would finally say thanks to these students for thinking of joining this industry that needs all the help it can get — and that it’s still the best job in the world. Follow the money, yes of course this is true. Follow your instincts, that’s just as important for young journalists to learn.
Mitchell Freedman They should learn what interests their audience and what is important to the people they serve. You should certainly do all you can to find things out, but telling a good story requires a teller and a listener.
Wasim Ahmad I always said that the best stories were never in the magic box in front of you (the computer). Get out and go for a drive, but with your eyes open and really looking. I’ve found some of the best stories this way, the random drive. Borrowing a similar page from what one of my Syracuse professors did for students in London, I would make students pick a subway or train line, and go to the end of it and find a story. Sometimes I picked for them, which made it real interesting.
I also randomly talk to a lot of people – and I find that you have something in common with each and every person out there, it’s just a matter of having enough conversation to get there, which leads to lots of interesting stories. I’ve butt into coffee shop conversations just because I heard something in common with myself that caught my ear, and it took me to some stories.
Finally, localize! Whenever a student was hard up for an idea, I pulled up the NYT or CNN websites and pointed at a story and forced them to think of ways to make it relevant to a Long Island audience.
I hope that helps, Carl!
Joye Brown To all of the above, I would add Check The Clips. These days, context matters and we provide far too little of it. Also, report enough to write with authority and with purpose. Do what you must to bring the reader and viewer along. Word by word. Image by image. Craft your work until it worthy of their time. The best reporters are more than stenographers. The absolute best can, through their work, make l demands on their audience. To See. Smell. Feel. Get happy. Be pissed. Learn this. Creep here. Run there. Ignore that. Finally, respect your subject and your audience. And remember, we often meet people on the best and worst days of their lives. And most often it is the latter. In times of triumph and despair, people gift us the honor of seeing the world through their eyes. They let us walk through their brains. Delve the depths of their emotions. Honor that. And remember, stories are EVERYWHERE. If you take time enough to seek and nurture them.
Laura Schofer Remember that no question is a stupid question.