You Know You’re a Journalist When …

My friend Michelle was apparently recruited to help out and give advice to a professor from someone in the field and passed my name along.

It’s weird thinking that three years ago, she and I were both sitting in class whining about exams and looking forward to the future. She’s now doing great things in Louisiana and I miraculously got my job at the Daily News.

I thought it might be neat to put my answers to the questions for all you future journalists out there. Here you go:

What should students be doing while still in school to prepare themselves for a career in journalism?
Learn to be curious.

Journalists are innately curious, but learn to question everything and look for the story every where. If anything sparks your interest ask about it, don’t just pass it by. Having that curiosity early on will help in the field, coming up with stories and knowing everything there is to know about everything, which is always the goal.

Posters, odd folks, weird food stands: anything that makes you turn your head is probably a story. The things that make you think are the things that people want to read about.

What are the best pieces of advice you have received or given about producing quality journalism?

It’s really easy to look up a number or two in the phone book and get enough sources for the story. Honestly, a lot of editors would prefer it because it takes less time. But good journalism and good writing means getting out of the office and talking with people in person, seeing their reactions, watching tears fall from their eyes or a smile light up their face.

Good writing is more than relying on quotes, its putting the reader right there, in the moment, and letting them experience the moments that you have taken in.

What has been a particularly memorable moment for you as a journalist? A few lessons learned?

I remember when I first started working at the daily paper I was the Saturday reporter, which consisted of doing everything for the web, taking calls, writing up reports — everything. This particular Saturday I somehow found myself doing two live stories along with all my other duties and I was not pleased.

My first interview was with a woman who survived the Rwanda genocide. It is still my favorite interview I’ve ever done. She had a story like none other, showed grace and was doing awesome things for her cause. And I went in with a negative attitude.

My next stop was the opening of a community park. I thought this was pointless and not worth my time. When I went out there, I spoke with parents and children who said the park once housed needles, drug deals and trash. Now it was what one child called a “kingdom.”

That park meant so much to the community that the coverage was well worth my time.

Had I allowed my anger to get the best of me, or refused to do one of those stories I would have missed out. So, new reporters, do it. If at first it seems unworthy, suck it up and go anyway.

The things that seem too simple and meaningless could turn out to be a 9-year-old’s new kingdom.

What advice would you offer students about how to succeed journalistically in our increasingly digital cosmos?

In the changing era of newspapers, what my paper has noticed is that local is where it’s at. People want to know what’s in their backyards; they want to see their neighbors, children and friends in the paper. They don’t care so much about what’s happening in government, what criminal activity is taking place or what’s happening nationally.

Of course, the biggest focus is making money and getting page views. The solution at my paper was to take photos, make videos and get out in the community.

Slice of Life stories are what makes a paper sale. They are the stories we have found our readers diving into first.

You know you’re a journalist when …

… you’re telling morbid jokes to outsiders without any second thought.
… you get excited when there’s a murder.
… you get praised for being mean to authority figures.
… you’re threatened to be arrested, sued or harmed in any way and it doesn’t phase you.
… you write down everything you hear, unconsciously.
… no one can read your hand writing anymore … even you.
… you keep an extra set of clothes in your car, just in case.
… notebooks take over your home, car and office space.
… you sit in a room of loud people and tune them all out. It’s just the newsroom.
… the sound of firetrucks and ambulances are music to your ear.
… you know how to commit a crime without getting caught.
… you can cite misdemeanors, felonies and the penalties for each.
… you can’t stop asking people questions and grilling them, even when it’s your mom.
… the prospect of going to court is exciting.
… you never use exclamation points. You only get three in a lifetime, can’t be wasteful.
… you no longer trust anyone. Ever.

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One response to “You Know You’re a Journalist When …

  1. Yay! I just read this – glad he contacted you!

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