6 things I’ve learned in my first 6 months as a reporter

It’s been six months since I’ve started my first “real” job as a digital reporter at my hometown newspaper, the Kearney Hub.

Six months! Where does the time go? I’ve learned a lot in that time–things about myself, the world world and the profession/industry of small-town journalism.

Here are my six biggest takeaways from the journalism side of things.

  1. Every journo has a great story (or seven).
    Whether it’s a story they broke or a funny detail from an interview, a group of reporters has seen it all. I love listening to veteran journalists talk about their careers, from things such as covering the county fair to murder cases.

    It’s also interesting to see who they have interviewed, from lawmakers to celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Ellen DeGeneres. (So far, the most famous person I’ve interviewed is Justin Moore. And the Lincoln kid who got stuck in a claw machine. I met him and his grandfather at the scene of a playground fire in Omaha. The interview didn’t make it in the story, but the kid was pretty cute.)

  2. In addition to reporting, I work on the digital side of things. This ranges from web management to taking videos to implementing the social media plan. Here’s the thing about social media–it’s a lot harder than it seems. I thought my past experiences managing social media campaigns prepared me for this, but I was wrong.

    It takes a lot of time and a lot of creativity/wordsmithing. It takes some of the fun out of social media. My Tweetdeck and Facebook pages are up all day at work, and at the end of the day, I never want to look at Facebook again. But not Twitter–I’m addicted to Twitter.

  3. “Regular” people are very interesting. Oftentimes, they aren’t “regular” at all. I’ve met some phenomenal individuals–selfless athletes, a generous seamstress, a gregarious breast cancer survivor–and written stories about their lives. The process fascinates me. It’s bizarre to sit down with a person you’ve never met and have this emotional experience where they tell you their hopes and dreams and the intimate details of their life. Then, when the interview is over, you will say goodbye and probably never talk again. It’s very strange.
  4. There are a lot of good writers in the world. Look at a newspaper, be it the Hub, the Omaha World-Herald or the New York Times–the pages are filled with superb reporting and writing. But good writers are not necessarily great communicators. This surprised me. I first experienced this as an intern, but figured it was because I wasn’t a full-fledged employee. Actually, it’s like that everywhere, in every field–sometimes communication breaks down. Who knew?
  5. I imagine that being a reporter is like working in sales: it takes a lot of initiative. You have to call people on the phone (something my fellow millennials despise) or, if you are ignored, show up at their place of business. Aren’t there? Maybe you have to leave a note and business card in their mailbox.

    You have to pitch your idea to a source, get them to agree, and then have them tell you all the details of their life. Sometimes, individuals or businesses will turn you down, declining to participate. (That always baffles me.) Some stories are magical. They grab your attention and spill out of your brain so quickly your fingers can’t keep up. Others aren’t so captivating, but still need to be shared.
    (One difference between sales and daily reporting–there is no commission.)

  6. I like making people feel emotions. I get a strange satisfaction when I learn that people were moved by something I wrote. If you aren’t in the news business, chances are a reporter is invisible to you. So when I read internet comments such as “(subject of the story), you made me cry,” I feel like I’ve doubly won–I’ve told the story in an unobtrusive way and I elicited a response from a reader. There’s nothing quite like it.

Bonus thing I’ve learned: Everyone should want to be a reporter. It’s awesome.

Bonus skill I’ve learned: How to type while holding a pen.

Are you a reporter/journalist/work in the media biz? What did you learn in your first six months on the job?

Not in the business? What did you learn when starting out in your job?

 

Constant Curating

My father called me yesterday evening to tell me about something he head on “Fresh Air.” Radio Personality Terry Gross interviewed David Gilbert about his new novel, “& Sons.” Gilbert made a comment that resonated with my father–that in today’s world of social media and constant communication, we are living “curated lives.”

What does Gilbert mean by this? Internet users are continually managing and  reinventing themselves in the public eye. I find this to be true. In case you aren’t convinced, let’s do a case study: AmBran edition. Continue reading

Social media “news:” May the 4th edition

Dog in yoda costume
This picture, via the Twitter account @ministryofsound, is one of the many pictures on social media celebrating “May the 4th” be with you, or National Star Wars day.

What qualifies something as “news?” In my journalism classes, I have learned that newsworthiness can be determined by a number of factors: timeliness, proximity, human interest, prominence, etc. Enter in social media. Can events and occurrences on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like be newsworthy? Yes. Just look at Twitter hacks.

On April 23, the Associated Press‘ account (@AP) was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army. The account sent out a report that there was an explosion at the White House and President Obama was injured. The tweet, a mere week after the Boston Marathon Bombings, sent the stock market into a tailspin for five minutes. The Dow Jones plummeted 150 points and the price of crude oil fell. The account was suspended immediately and the information corrected, causing the market to regain almost all of its losses. The event made national news and intensified a conversation about the benefits of a two-step authentication system.

Today, E Online (@eonline) was hacked in similar fashion, spewing fake tweets about Justin Bieber‘s alleged coming out and Angelina Jolie’s admission that Jordan was to blame for political strife in Syria. Is this news? Yes. Hacking accounts, disrupting service to followers, fear about malware— all of this screams newsworthiness to me.

However, there are some social media stories that are definitely not news. Look at this one from the Toronto Sun, titled “Star Wars Day celebrated on social media.” Today is May 4, and various Star Wars memes and jokes about “May the fourth be with you” have been peppering my Twitter and Facebook feeds all day. The story (in Storify form, interestingly enough) explains the joke and then provides many examples. I would argue that this is unnecessary. True, it would have been easy to pull together. Even more true, it could be a slow news day and a pop culture reporter was looking for something to post before deadline. However, I see it like this: there are two types of people in this world. Those with a social media presence and those without. Those with a social media presence would see these “May the 4th” posts. They do not need a news story to alert them to this trend. Those without a social media presence would not know these posts even existed; they would not care that these posts existed. They do not need a news story to alert them to this trend.

In my opinion, these types of stories make social media seem trivial and useless to people who don’t already know its immense value. Perhaps I am just of the “hipster mentality:” it is only cool until you talk about it, label it cool and spread it to the masses.

What do you think? Am I taking this too seriously? Have you seen any “dumb” social media news stories lately?

(On a side note, I recently got Vine. I am seeing some very interesting uses of it, such as the CDC and Department of Health & Human Services. More to come on this.)