Okay, I know I said there would be no more posts about NASH, but this one is going to be a little different. Today, I wanted to focus more on the specific tidbits that I took away from the conference, and that I consider to be useful for anyone aspiring to become a journalist. These tips come directly from the mouths of people who have walked knee deep in the field, and know just what to do to keep their heads above water.
Journalism Tips from NASH
1. Give media a good name
One of the biggest problems in journalism today is that the media’s reputation in the eyes of the public is … well, it’s not a good one. You could say that the media-public relationship is dealing with some trust issues at the moment, making it very difficult to develop a rapport with necessary sources. The key is to be able to convince them that we are good people who want nothing more than to get the facts and get them right.
2. Keep in touch
Once you work with your source, it’s always a good idea to keep in touch with them. Building up contacts is crucial in journalism, knowing people who have their own connections in the world that could get you the stories and the facts for those stories quickly and as they happen. Also, they have done you a favour; the least you can do is keep in touch so that you can repay them for their willingness to contribute to something that could potentially have the power to change something – hopefully for the better.
3. Don’t plan out your interview
It might seem like a good idea to write out all of your questions beforehand, but chances are you are only going to use maybe one of them throughout the entire interview. The idea is to not treat it like a Q & A, but more like a conversation. Both people should feel comfortable and relaxed, and the details for the story should just be able to flow out. It’s not a journalists job to interrogate; the more you push for information, the more reluctant your source will be to give it to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a few outlined points to keep the conversation on track, but sometimes the juiciest tidbits come out when you listen, and then ask the right questions.
4. Memory draft
After an interview, a good habit to develop is to write out your article almost immediately, entirely from memory to show what stuck. This ensures that the most important details come out, since those will be the ones that you remember the most clearly. This is also a good practice for when you write journalistic reviews, so that the readers can get a clear idea of what your impression was of a certain place, movie, book, etc. Then afterwards, you can go through and insert the rest of the information where necessary.
5. “Make it objective, yet individualized“
The job of a journalist is to be completely objective in their writing, but that does not meant that their writing style cannot be personalized. People will only remember you if they can recognize the way you write, otherwise you’re just the same as any other writer. It’s like when you write an essay, which is supposed to be arguing a thesis based upon empirical facts; you’re not supposed to get emotional or opinionated, but you do need to make it clear that you will not move from the stance you have taken. How you present your side of the story, your selection of information and where that information comes from, can reveal a lot about the kind of writer you are.
6. Put yourself out there
I mean this in the least dirty way possible, of course. Basically, no matter how many times your stuff doesn’t get accepted, just keep sending it out there. Sometimes they just already have enough people covering a certain story, or there is not enough room in that issue for your piece. If your keep sending your pieces out there, eventually someone will take notice and you’ll start to see your name in print. Persistence is key.
7. Don’t be boring
This mostly applies people who write opinion pieces, but I suppose it’s a good philosophy to live by with any kind of writing. People don’t want to read something boring. A read should be hooked by the very first line, and then not want to stop reading until the very last line. You are essentially telling them a story, one that real people are involved in, and one that can have real world implications. It needs to be riveting, without jeopardizing the quality of the story. This leads us to the next point
8. Don’t make stuff up
There is no need to pull a Margaret Wente to get a good story. Get your facts straight, get your data right, and make sure that and identical version of what you have written does not exist. Plagiarism is a writers sin, and it can get a whole lot more than just a simple verbal scolding. Be aware that other people will be reading what you have written, and they are not oblivious to the things that they read. If it has been done before, someone will notice.
9. Get on the band wagon
The things that people want to read about are the things that everyone is talking about. You have to know what the big issues are, and be sure to address them when they are still a ‘hot topic’. People don’t want to read about something today that happened three weeks ago. By that point, most people will either have little interest or won’t remember. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep addressing the issue, but it’s best to keep it as close to the time of the event as possible.
10. Keep you chin up
For everything and anything in life, keep your chin up and keep moving forward. You won’t become a big shot right away, and it may take a while before you land yourself that dream job. Just take it one step at a time, get involved wherever you can, and know that everyone who is where they are, right now, was at one time or another in the exact same spot you are. It’s hard to picture that, of course, but everyone has to start off small.
The following journalists provided this useful information at the NASH ’75 Conference:
Kate Heartfield (Ottawa Citizen)
Chris Jones (Esquire)
Kate Beaton (webcomic artist)
I hope you find this tips to be useful; I know I do. Until next time, happy reading!