"Being trusted with someone’s story is a special opportunity."
I was in a newsroom in Indiana when a particularly astute young reporter made that observation.
It's so true. And it fits alongside what I used to tell another newsroom I worked in: 30,000 residents are trusting the 20 of us to tell them what is going on, tell their stories, to keep them safe, to keep them informed.
Sometimes the simplest concepts or phrases can really drive the point home. I jotted down her thought.
I've been keeping these little newspaper jottings for years; things I have heard from my mentors, peers or others in journalism. They are all first-hand nuggets, from folks I know (or little truisms I have stumbled into myself, and been able to express to others). No book learning here -- my list probably accounts for a combined five worth of experience.
Every so often, I have published parts of this list in the newspaper. It's a good reminder for me, and for our staff and for all of you, too. It's important that you know how we do our work at the newspaper.
Today, I continue that tradition at the Detroit Lakes Tribune:
- Never pass a mistake on to the next person. Never pass up a chance to make something right, or make something better.
- Our job is simple: Find stuff out. Tell people about it.
- Use clear language. Use Minnesota language.
- "Because he said" is not a good reason for publishing wrong information. It's our job to check what "he said."
- Great advice for newspaper employees: Make it your mission to rely on the newspaper in your daily life. How can you anticipate what readers want to know if you are not a reader yourself?
- When you go home and tell your family or friends about your day, what's the first thing you tell them? If that wasn't what your story was about, that's a problem.
- Dress for the weather you have, not the weather you wish you had.
- It never hurts to make one more phone call.
Be interested! It's not our job, as journalists, to be bored or tired of covering an issue or event. We must maintain our enthusiasm on behalf of our readers.
- "We’re the newspaper ... we're supposed to be clued in." (A particularly stunning, "ah-ha!" comment from a summer intern some years ago.
- Think like a reader. Anticipate their questions. Answer their questions.
"Acknowledge the nothing." Sometimes we need to tell people what we don't know. (Great advice from an assistant editor; it told me a lot as his supervisor.)
“Two’s a coincidence. Three’s a trend."
What did you do to make a difference for your community today? For just one reader?
If you don’t believe in it, why are you writing it?
Real people aren't in this office. We have to go find them. (Related: News never, ever happens inside this office. Go get it.)
How valuable do you want to make yourself? To your company and your newsroom, yes. But what about your community? What did you do today to make yourself essential to your readers?
And the last, most important lesson:
- Always get the name of the dog. Always find out if the horses died in the accident. If mom gave birth in the backseat of a car, we want the make, model, color and what was playing on the radio.
Contact Detroit Lakes Tribune Editor J.J. Perry at 218-844-1466, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @jjperry on Twitter.