How to be a grown-up journalist: news reporting

origin_2567469865Former Fleet Street journalist Rhiannon Daniel shares her tips on how to use traditional reporting skills to get your content into the main news media…

In this series of four pieces – they never call them ‘articles – I’ll introduce the major stuff you’ll need to know if you want to sell work into the traditional news and magazine media.

Writing for newspapers and magazines – offline or online – isn’t like any other kind of writing. It requires a wide skillset.

News gathering, editorial decisions, writing skills and editing

So you want to write for the news media? [Read more…]

The secret spits of a student journalist…

A guest post by Tim Worden

The secret spits of a student journalis

Tim Worden, Journalism Senior at
Cal State Fullerton university, California

I spotted our photographer in the crowd. He was sprinting. I ran, following him to the crime scene, a car crash at the doorstep of the Cal State Fullerton campus.

A helicopter blazed overhead, a dozen police cars surrounded the scene and officers with M16s were setting up a perimeter. Five robbery suspects had fled onto campus to hide, and at least one was armed.

About five reporters from the newspaper were watching, myself included. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper, the Daily Titan at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California, asked me to go back to the newsroom to post tweets and write a short article to be posted online about the situation.

The night wore on as the entire campus was put into full lockdown. Our reporters phoned in to give updates, stuff like two snipers just crossed the street and the SWAT team was clearing the third floor of the building where the armed suspect was allegedly hiding, as I sent about 40 tweets. It became the hit story of the Los Angeles-area evening news and our website got 50,000 views that night.

But this was a fluke.

With the exception of that night, our website does not get many views and the newspaper’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are hardly used, except to occasionally put an advertisement out.

Covering the police lockdown taught me one thing: Our newspaper needs to have a stronger online presence.

The Daily Titan, an eight-page student-run newspaper for Cal State Fullerton, a 36,000-student school, is known as a good college newspaper. I agree. But Cal State Fullerton’s journalism program is just OK.

The essence of journalism is in a flux as the Internet has elevated the focus of technology and websites for newspapers. Study after study has found people are getting their news online, and college students are leading the pack. More newspapers are instituting a digital-first perspective to the newsroom, meaning they will put a finished article online before it goes to print. Social media makes journalism personal as readers can join a conversation with a newspaper.

But Cal State Fullerton’s journalism program is still focusing on an increasingly outdated model. A journalism student at the school is actually getting a major in “communications.” The program is divided between a print and broadcast track. The print track, for example, only requires one broadcast journalism class.

The department may consolidate the print and broadcast journalism programs as early as this year, but so far that rumor has not been confirmed.

Lower-division journalism classes suck

Among journalism majors, there is a consensus that the lower-division journalism classes suck. The classes are: Comm 101, writing for the mass media; Comm 201, reporting for the mass media (print); and Comm 202, reporting for the mass media (broadcast). The tree classes give students little to no actual reporting experience.

Fortunately, the upper-division classes are better. There are classes like editing and design, opinion writing and magazine writing and production. The capstone journalism class is Comm 471, news media production, where a student becomes a staff writer for the school newspaper and is expected to write two articles per week.

Many students get to this class, supposedly the culmination of a journalism bachelor’s degree, completely unprepared. When I took the class in spring 212 I was hesitant—scared, even—to write real news stories and cover my beat of state news.

I learned almost all I know about journalism from my on-the-job experience writing for the newspaper.

As the semester progressed, I became more confident in my writing abilities and learned how to report on local government. I wrote two big stories about the city mayor, interviewing her for 20 minutes for the first and attending a formal speech she gave for the second.

I moved up to copy editor for the newspaper, my current job, something that propelled my writing ability to professional quality. As copy editor, I make sure everything is perfect: grammar, spelling, people’s names and facts. Critically looking at my peers’ writing taught me how to improve my own writing. Many beginning journalism majors lack this foundation and their writing shows it.

One of the editors this semester told us that it is our job, as student editors, to teach and mentor our peers. At the final staff meeting at the end of the semester, he reminded us of our success as students—most of us 20 to 22—to write professional-quality stories. In fact, our goal is to write a newspaper that rivals the New York or Los Angeles times.

“You guys are so good because you taught each other. Your teachers didn’t have a damn thing to do with it,” he said.

You can learn a lot studying journalism in the United States. But most of what you learn comes from your peers and on-the-job experience. I have two recommendations for young journalists:

  1. Read and write. Read as much as you can and write as much as you can. And edit as much as you can.
  2. Get experience. Get involved with your college newspaper before you think you are ready. The experience will teach you as you go. And a real-world internship is essential.
  3. Pretend like you’re a professional journalist. Because the more you imagine it, the more you will realize that you are a professional journalist, just without the name recognition or fancy credentials.

Back to the lockdown event on campus, the editors have noted the value of using social media and the website for the newspaper. Changes are being made, I am told, for the newspaper to adapt to a digital world.

Tim Worden is a senior journalism major at Cal State Fullerton in Southern California. He is a copy editor on the school newspaper, The Daily Titan, and starts an internship with a local newspaper in February. He hopes to become a copy editor and magazine writer. © Tim Worden 2013

Now: spit this and write right

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

 

 

Blogging vs professional reporting: journaling vs journalism?

A while back I put up a post on Facebook suggesting that maybe blogging and journalism are approaching something of a head-to-head online, considering the way that all our news and features media seem to be merging. The reactions I got were quite stark.

One US TV journalist said the key differences between the two are the fact that journalists have deadlines and editors to contend with – major issues bloggers don’t share, and that’s true, for sure. Someone else sent me a private message saying the two disciplines had nothing whatsoever to do with each other and I should be ashamed of myself for even suggesting there may be a conflict here.

When you strip the whole blogging story down to its underwear, you can see where the journos are coming from in their somewhat dismissive attitude towards bloggers. Blogging started out as an online platform for “journaling,” which is light years away from journalism.

Journaling: not the same as keeping a diary, but not reporting either

I won’t refer you to any onward links here although there are several on Google, but essentially the difference between keeping a diary and journaling is this: a diary is purely a record of your events – a journal is a record of your events along with your comments and views about those events.

This is where blogging started and as we all know it has evolved dramatically, which is where the dividing line between it and journalism begins to dissolve slightly. Many blogs today – deliberately or accidentally – cross over the invisible line into what perhaps we should call “alternative online journalism.” But should bloggers begin to think of themselves as journalists? Hmmm…

How do the journalists feel?

When you ask a journalist how they regard bloggers their answers have a tendency to be negative. However you can’t be surprised to find that traditional, professional journalism appears to be threatened not just by bloggers, but by the entire freedom of the internet which gallops over many disciplines like young horses having just broken out of a field.

Obviously when you consider news reporting, there’s no contest. But it’s in the area of features and particularly journalistic opinion pieces where the potential conflict may lie. Journalists have spent years studying and serving apprenticeships so they can report and comment in a professional way about the topics they cover. But in recent years, along comes the internet and opens up a huge new forum in which anybody can report on events and express opinions … unfettered by editorial policy, deadlines, or – let’s face it – ethical considerations.

A number of journalistic organisations like this one are uneasy about this and you can’t blame them.

Could journaling and journalism share a future?

This is something that worries me, and I’m sure worries many journalists. Although I have spent many years writing in the utterly commercial sector I was trained originally as a journalist (served my apprenticeship on a UK local newspaper.) And when I write posts like this, I try as far as I can to be fair and represent – or at least point out – all points of view.

But this is blogging. Where could it lead us? Should it attempt to swamp good old-fashioned traditional journalism? Or should we all work towards maintaining a respectful division between the two?

You might like to take a look at “A Blogger’s Code of Ethics” from CyberJournalist.net (a very useful and up-to-date resource dealing with just these issues.) It attempts to a) suggest how bloggers should approach their responsibility to their readers and b) differentiate themselves from professional journalists .

I’m very interested to know how you feel about this one, so please, share your views!

Whatever you write, do it right:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How to become a woman journalist – 100 years ago

origin_2567469865“The profession of journalism has an irresistible fascination for most women who are at all proficient with the pen; it is a profession, however, which is not so easily accessible as other callings.”

“There is an element of uncertainty about it also which should be well considered before deciding to adopt journalism as a career. In the newspaper world this uncertainty is particularly evident.”

“Papers change hands, new proprietors bring in new editors, new editors engage new staffs, and the members of the old staff , however efficient and conscientious they may be in their work, are thrown out of employment.”

In my possession I have a wonderful volume called “The Woman’s Book: contains everything a woman ought to know” written by multiple authors and first published by TC and EC Jack in 1911. Incredibly, you can still buy copies – some in collectible condition – on Amazon UK, and as I write this there is even one available on Amazon USA for a mere USD $160!

The edition of book I have is from 1918 and was given to my grandmother in 1920 when she was a very young bride. She then passed it on to my mother in 1948. Sadly the book is no longer in good condition but is still readable. And its contents are fascinating for a number of reasons.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the then-emergence of women in the workplace, and in the book’s chapter about “Literary and Secretarial Work” the profession of “Journalism” is listed as a front runner. Here are some excerpts from the text which I’m sure you’ll find as amusing as I did; pro journalists, 2011, take note…

Things haven’t changed much in 100 years…

“The really clever journalist and writer, however, can always find a demand for her work; but in all professions the mediocre worker of only average ability preponderates. It is to the mediocre worker that this warning is given. If she manages by good fortune or influence to acquire a position in a newspaper office she may jog along comfortably enough until one day a staff upheaval comes, in the way of a change of editorship or some other similar contingency. Once she is thrown out of employment in this manner she will find it difficult to get another position of a similar nature, and a journalist always finds it difficult to settle down to less interesting work, so strong is the fascination of “Fleet Street” for those who have once been within its precincts.”

The end of the world, or a new dawn?

“Many women journalists, however, have followed this profession with brilliant success. They have set the stamp of individuality upon their work. They have specialised upon certain subjects and become known as authorities upon those subjects. For the work of these women there is always a demand, and the large income made by those favoured few is enough to hold out dazzling prospects to the beginner who is anxious to follow in their footsteps.”

Some more home truths which still apply today

“There are many things to consider before finally deciding to adopt journalism as a career. First and foremost it is important to realise the fact that a good writer does not necessarily make a good journalist. Other things are required in journalism besides fluency with the pen. The journalist must possess what is rightly known as the ‘journalistic instinct’ if she is to pursue her career with any measure of success. She must have a keen sense of ‘news’ and ‘news’ subjects.”

“For instance, she must have the power of realising the news value of the different subjects dealt with in her morning paper, with the faculty of being in her mind to quickly summarise and analyse their comparative possibilities from the point of view of public interest.”

“The efficient journalist can tell to a nicety what news is worth ‘following up,’ what subjects the public would like to hear more about. She appreciates the fact that good news stories and subjects for interesting articles lurk in most unexpected corners – a chance sentence in the speech of a well-known public man, a remark uttered by a well-known judge, a declaration by a well-known scientist, all may be rich in news possibilities, and to miss them might be to miss the opportunity of a good article or good news story.”

Are you a journalist, or would you like to be one? Please share your views about that here…especially considering that so many of the points made about journalism 100 years ago are still true today. (Or are they?)

Now, let’s make sure your writing is bang up to date…

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English
“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

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