What Editors Wish Young Journalists Knew, Part III

heidi smith lr 2x3This is the final installment in a series in which editors reveal what they tell the less experienced journalists in their charge. For public relations professionals who don't have the benefit of newsroom experience, this series will open your eyes.

I've saved the most philosophical offering for last. It's a short-form op/ed that should be required reading in every J-school.

From the Editor: If I could tell new reporters, or people thinking of becoming reporters, one thing, it would be this: It is not a career, or even a temporary pursuit, for people who don't truly believe in the worth of giving the people the information they need. If this sounds too melodramatic to them, if they think it's just a job, then they should do something else.

It's a license to be curious and ask people questions about whatever interests them to ask, but the power that grants that license is the interest or need of the reader – or listener or viewer. If that requires asking tough questions that can be uncomfortable for both interviewer and subject, they still need to be asked.

If the interests of the reader require the reporter to learn data analysis, to knock on doors and face strangers or interview powerful -- or just scary and weird -- people, then that is the time the reporter must put in.

The people's interest is the truth, and the truth is never served by being unfair. Humans have biases, and so there is no such thing as an unbiased reporter. But reporters must always strive to be fair. This requires keeping an open mind and being aware of our biases, to guard against unfairness and untruths.

Serving the people's interest also means being respectful of their time. This requires clear, intelligent work, whether it be writing, images or video. Work that aims only to inflate the egos of the person producing it is a waste of the people's time. This is not to say the work cannot be beautiful. Beauty is never a waste of time.

The importance and gravity of the reporter's work was more a given when producing the words or images required great effort and infrastructure, when they were inscribed in hot metal and locked in great machines to be distributed. But today's facile forms of communication do not make it less true.

Read previous installments: Part I | Part II

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