More advice for (young) journalists
Paul Bradshaw’s list got me thinking. (See my post from Tuesday.) The list was so good, it kept cycling back through my mind over the next two days after I first read it. Here are the associated ideas that came along.
1. If you focus on tools and button-pushing, you de-emphasize the journalism.
I’m in the middle of trying to teach photojournalism to a group of print-trained journalism students. They all have different cameras, mostly digital point-and-shoots. Many of them have never used Photoshop before. Because we need to cover a lot in the course, we have only about four weeks for photojournalism.
Thank heaven for Kenneth Kobré’s textbook, because it gives the students a lot of great journalistic photos to study and puts the emphasis on the acts of journalism, not the technical skills. I add a quick-and-easy “how to” for basic Photoshop, and I leave it to them to figure out how to get better images out of their cameras. I laid a “rule of thirds” grid over 18 pictures by David Alan Harvey (taken from this Magnum video), and that was their instruction in composition.
What’s most important, though, is trying to lead them into thinking like journalists (in this case, specifically like photojournalists). That’s all about ethics, accuracy, story value, and stepping up at the right time, in the right place. Getting the picture — like getting the story — is not really about the tools.
2. Talk to strangers.
Paul’s advice to “make contacts” and “do things and talk to people” will resonate with many journalism educators — and maybe some editors too. Why are so many students’ stories so boring? It is not because educators (or editors) have seen it all before. No. It’s because some students (and some journalists) stick to what they already know. They don’t circulate enough. They don’t talk to strangers.
Come on, you’re not a little child anymore. You cannot be afraid of strangers if you want to be a journalist. Get over it.
Yanick Rice Lamb gave some wonderful advice about this in a column at the SPJ site: “You have to circulate to percolate.” When you first glance at her column, you might think it’s only about diversity issues. Wrong. It’s about the whole idea of becoming a good journalist.
3. Why does this story matter?
First you’ve got to know what the story is about. The classic example for new journalists is the speech story. Is your story about the speaker coming and giving a speech? Or is your story about the content of the speech? Simple, but most students get it wrong the first time they cover a speech.
Then answer the qustion: Why would anyone, anywhere, care about THIS story? If you can’t think of a good reason, then why the heck are you wasting your time on it?
Equally important: Just because you don’t care doesn’t mean no one else cares. Figure out WHO would care and WHY. Then you’ll know why the story matters — and only then will you know how to write it.
More ideas: Bryan Murley added seven good tips of his own to Paul’s list.