5 Things Journalists Should Know:
From Young Journalist To Another
As a journalism student, there is a lot of pressure to learn the core values of the profession and master all its forms.
I’ve been learning and training for the field for nearly three years and I find myself asking more questions now than ever. It would be very ignorant of me to not ask the people around me who make a huge contribution to the profession of journalism.
I went ahead with my curiosity and drew out a list of five important aspects young journalists should really pay attention to, today.
1. Journalists should be inquisitive and driven by a caring curiosity rather than the desire to be well known
Former executive producer for the CBC, Joy Crysdale who also worked for the CTV, is now a book author and an award winning professor at Humber College and University of Guelph-Humber.
She says the technology has changed over the decades and therefore the demands have changed. “But the qualities of a good journalist are most likely still as important as they were thirty years ago,” said Crysdale.
Besides accurate facts and clear writing, Crysdale who spent 32 years at CBC and 5 years at CTV, says, journalists should be driven by curiosity and caring rather than desire to be famous. If a journalist wants to become successful, he or she must be comfortable in all aspects of the profession. From sound to video to writing, journalists need to embody all forms. However, good writing, above all is the most important because all the forms of journalism require journalists to have good writing skills.
2. Have a real interest in the subject & moral obligation to the profession. Metro News blogger who is an expert on Toronto’s politics and a Humber College Politics professor, Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) says today’s journalists need to have a real interest in what they are writing about.
Elliott who is known for spunky writing and infographics in his older blog, says journalists need to have a desire to digg beyond the surface for facts other journalists won’t. Besides the the real interest in the work that you do, Elliot says, facts are a hard central core of everything we do. “If you don’t get the facts right, you’re screwed,” said Elliott.
Other than facts, journalists today, should possess some qualities of their fellow members. However, with the changing profession, should today’s journalists posses all the qualities and what qualities should be changed? Both Crysdale and Elliott are working journalists. Though their current fields are different, they’ve been surrounded by other professionals in the field to know what qualities should good journalists embody.
Crysdale says they should be trustworthy and remember the ‘moral obligations’ of journalism. That too goes for bosses. The example of Amanda Lang’ conflict of interest with RBC is one of few Crysdale mentioned.
“They must’ve known the rules of journalism but don’t seem to follow them,” said Crysdale.
Today, rarely you get assigned daily stories says Elliott. That’s why, “you need to have a natural interest in a subject even if it’s a niche subject, write the hell out of it and make your own space,”said Elliott. Afterall, that’s how he scored a spot with the Metro News. He wrote the hell out of coverage on Rob Ford before he became a mayor (in his own blog) and now he is a weekly regular at the City Hall.
3. Don’t be afraid to try new things
Elliott says he has huge amount of respect for journalists who use data journalism. We should incorporate the access to government data into a visualization feature for our stories. Crysdale says journalists should be creative and curious, which is something you cannot teach.
Journalism program Coordinator at Humber Lakeshore, Dan Rowe Ph.D., says data journalism helps to produce authoritative pieces. He says, data journalism has always been important but because of the technological tools available today, journalists are expected to have those set of skills. “Besides being inquisitive, journalists need to be creative. It is more important now than in the past. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to try new things,” said Rowe.
Digital advisor to the editor at The Boston Globe and former digital director for the Global News in Toronto, David Skok, visited Ryerson University for the Atkinson Lecture last year in March, according to J-Source. In the lecture, Skok said that ‘we need to understand how audience consume news so we can structure our newsrooms.’ He said journalists need to incorporate their platform with visualization. For example, he said ‘if you like print journalism, add some video content. If you like broadcast journalism, learn how to build a good timeline.’ And finally,he adds, bring all those platforms together, such as data journalism, coding and reporting.
4. Build your own path
What young journalists should derive from, Elliot says, is a herd like mentality. “If you’re standing in a room with 20 journalists, you probably should be somewhere else.” said Elliott. As a blogger, Elliott often witnesses scrums at the City Hall.
“It’s also important to think about politics not from the sense of who is leading the polls, though that stuff is always gonna be generally important but there’s gonna be tons of people covering that,” said Rowe.
This ties back to finding that topic that really interests you. Though being in a scrum is always a good practice to dodge the bullet and find new ways of covering the same topic as others. One of my professors, Carey French, told us in class to cover stories and interconnect them. For example, if you like health, find the business aspect to it and write that.
So how do you know if you’re on the right path of journalism? As a teacher for twelve years, Crysdale says the students she sees are promising for the industry are ones who are truly passionate and well-informed about a cause or an issue. Such as a particular human right issue or an environmental issue. “Caring is an important part of journalism,” said Crysdale.
5. Take accuracy further & Educate your audience.
With daily and weekly, deadlines, journalists feel the pressure of a constant turnover and ensuring those deadlines are met. With 24-hour news channels, the scramble to produce content ‘does disservice to accuracy,’ says Crysdale.
She says that a young inexperienced journalist who may not have the job security can sometimes be put into situations to say the latest news that they heard and that often can lead to huge mistakes.
Another aspect journalists should derive from is the notion that truth is always in the middle when writing a story. Elliott says that too many journalists use one quote that argues for their topic and one quote that argues against it. “In most cases, that’s a disservice to the reader.”
Especially, Elliott says, on issues like climate change or vaccinations, leaving the reader with an impression these issues both have equal weight is dangerous.
What young journalists should cover more, Elliott says, are complicated things. “Journalists are suppose to help people understand and make people care.” said Elliott. He says, journalists sometimes ignore stories with technical aspects because they think the readers won’t understand.
Crysdale says there is fine line between gossip and journalism. She says, in the case of Rob Ford, the news was sensational but it wasn’t gossip because the former mayor, in charge of our city was at the same time smoking crack.
However, she says, “If people are digging for information about politicians that doesn’t matter on how they do their job, then, that’s gossip.”
Crysdale says what people are finding out about is how politics are important to the environment. I mentioned the fact I am subscribed to political RSS feeds to Crysdale and how I wish I would’ve done so earlier. In response, she said, if journalists are informed about these interconnections then so will my readers.
“I think, a younger generation don’t seem to understand how important politics are,” said Crysdale. She says she is aware of the coverage on politics but people really need to understand how much power politicians have.
Rowe says politics deal with everything that we talk about. He says some of the stuff that can get lost in the coverage of politics are the policies that politicians put in place. “We have to ask ourselves, how are these policies going to affect people and not just politicians,” said Rowe.
There is an endless advice on just about everything if you Google it. But, you need to get out there, Rowe and just about every journalist you speak to will tell you to get out there and talk to people.
I was filming a video of professor and journalist Paula Todd (@paula_todd), when one videographer told me you need to repeat something 10,000 times to be an expert. However according to BBC, the 10,000 rule is just about average. So get out there and use that math.