Monday, March 10, 2008

Good ideas in journalism

I'm speaking to a journalism class tomorrow. That's always a train wreck, so I decided to prepare for a change. And I went through a little file I've kept for years called "good ideas in journalism."

For what it's worth, and with not near enough explanation, this is how I try to go about my job:
Accuracy. Fairness. Objectivity. Timeliness. Context.

You are not in the business of making friends and winning influence. Writing about other people should make you feel terrible quite often.

Go see people in person.

Ask the same question of different people. You may have to ask them more than once

A swamp of facts is only useful if you answer the question on everybody's lips.

It's not always about details. Make sure you understand the core of a thing so you can explain it to your friends with complete accuracy.

Ask yourself: Am I comfortable with this being written in a history book?

Put little trust in facts. Re-examine their veracity from time to time.

Pretty much at least one fact per noun, verb and adjective. Think: What do I know, and how do I know it. Ask your sources how they know things.

Get as close as you can.
- The photographer's creed

If you're sitting there with nothing to do, call some people and find out what they want to talk about. Or go see them. Or go look at some public documents. Or buildings. Or watch an intersection work.

File open records requests routinely. You don't have to suspect something.

Don't be overly impressed with power. Or yourself.

There's a thin line between authoritative reporting and editorializing.

Be smart, listen and study. Be difficult to lie to.

No matter how high you get, remember what it's like on the lower levels.

The last 5 percent between 95 percent and 100 percent is the hardest.
- Brian Melton

We're not in the business of keeping secrets.
- Bernie O'Donnell

It is said that great artists steal. This ain't art.

Use a page in your notebook for texture: Sounds, sights, smells. Things that aren't quotes.
- I can't remember whose idea this was

Experiment and technique are fine. But the reader has to come with you.

This job is not about being a great writer.

You want to be criticized by idiots on both sides.

Dimly lit is good. Illuminated by a single bulb is better.

If you don't think you've got a public service job, get another one.

2 comments:

Steve said...

"This job is not about being a great writer." True, but I've read so many news stories containing complicated features that I've had to go back and read again to be able to figure out. For a journalist, the last 2% is writing a readable story that guides the uninformed reader through the tangle of facts. Part 1 of the recent annexation story (which you wrote) is a great example. Without a readable story, the other 98% goes in the recycling bin.

Steve Wilson

VictoratGaImproper said...

What have y'all got against great writers?

How did the journalism student lecture go?

Did you sense that they would prefer that you were on a television screen or youtube rather than in their classroom?

Give us a list of all the questions they asked, or were they too self conscious to question senior journalistic authority figures?

Was the class at Macon State?

How many dozed off during your presenation?