So, you wanna’ be a reporter . . .

By Don Rush

I know to some this may be a scary proposition, but yup, sometimes I get to “teach” younger people. Through working at this newspaper for (GULP) over 34 years, I have been able to help folks hone their newspapering skills — reportin’, writin’, ad designin’ and page layout.
Every once in a while and outta’ the blue, I get contacted by a young person asking about the business. Just last week I received the following question, via an email.
“Greetings, my name is Aryana, I’m interested in pursuing a career in journalism, and have a few questions about the details of that line of work.”
I feel it’s an honor to be asked questions like this, so it only took me about three point two nano seconds to respond to her. And, I thought, with all the social media “reporting” going on these days and what passes as reporting by so-called professionals, it might make a nice column to share my answers with all of you readers. So, without further eloquence . . .

This reporters desk is well, under investigation!

1) How did you become interested in this kind of work? Since the 3rd grade I wanted to be a writer . . . as I entered high school, I knew I wanted to make money on doing what I wanted to do . . . being a reporter fit the bill.
2) What personal qualities does a person need to be successful in this occupation? Curious. Honest. Open mind. Non-partisan. A good listener. Having a love of history, American history.
3) What are some of the more satisfying features of this work? Helping people; fighting corruption; being a watchdog for the people. Meeting new people. Learning new things.
4) What disadvantages are there in this type of position? None.
5) What are some things I can do now to prepare for this kind of work? Learn as much history of America, Europe, beginning of civilization and of all religions, political science, psychology, learn to write to a 6th grade level. Big words are for people trying to impress others. A good journalist isn’t trying to impress — it’s to communicate effectively. Take a poetry class or two to understand rhythm and cadence.
6) In what special skills or procedures should I be proficient? Listening, retention, communication, writing. Take written notes, rely on your brain not a recording device. (Recording devices sometimes fail, batteries die, things get erased or recorded over. Excercise your brain.)
7) What opportunities are there for advancement? Tons.
8) What is your daily routine in this position? Talking, face to face with people; asking questions; scanning social media for local news ideas. Talking to people face to face. (As you can see, face to face is important.)
9) What is the most valuable skill this career has taught you? Every one has a story; everybody is dealing with something. Be empathetic. Do not be part of the tribe and stay out of echo chambers if you really want to find what is happening.
10) Approximately, how many hours do you work a week? 40-ish
11) What is your education background? BA Journalism/Marketing — heavy emphasis on writing and history.
12) What advice do you have for aspiring journalists? Don’t be like everyone else. Don’t pick a side and report to bolster that side at the detriment of the “other” side. Think for yourself. Self introspection is a good quality. Meet all deadlines EARLY.
* * *
Like I said, I answered Aryana very quickly, however in my haste to answer I left out some of the most important, basic stuff a journalist needs to know. So, on Monday morning around 7:30, I shot her another email that went something like this:
“Oh, and I forgot to add . . .. Who, What, When, Where, How answer these questions and most importantly WHY in your reporting. Never assume someone knows what you’re reporting about.”
* * *
I’ve discovered young reporters (and me too when I was greener) often times will assume readers know about an issue we’re reporting on, and we’ll leave important information out of a story because we have written about it in the past. It’s then incumbent on the editor, acting on behalf of the reader, to ask the writer to re-write, with this caveat, “Never assume they read last week’s edition.”
When done reading a story, a reader should not have more questions than before they started reading! There you go, you are now on the road to being a journalist.
Next week, readers respond to Dandelions.
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