A few weeks ago I had the honor of speaking with a group of high school writing/journalism students. This week one of the young people sent me an "on-line interview"; it's part of another c lass she's taking. Maybe my answers will make a good blog entry...
- What responsibility or responsibilities does the editor/reporter/writer have to his or her reading public?......... I think my number one responsibility is to write the truth. In the past I've written extensively regarding how I feel about truth, and it's summed up by the following idea: My writing is seriously influenced by my understanding that the truth is often a bigger picture than mere facts. That, in my opinion, is key to being a "journalist" rather than a "reporter." There's the facts, then there's the story behind the facts... and, once you go through that door - that's when it gets interesting! I'm also responsible for doing a careful job with my research, and to make sure I really do know what I'm talking about. Then I need to respect the reading public - I need to understand who they are and what is important to them and remember that I am a part of this community too. (Rebekah and Andrew in Siena. I wonder what's the story here?)
- What do you consider to be the three most important elements of a successful newspaper article? Please explain your three choices..... First, the story has to say something about the world. What that world is depends on the reach of the publication. Local... regional... stat-wide... national... the article must offer some insight into the world the reader lives in. Secondly, it must be well-written. I can't stress this enough. Not just interesting subject matter, but a command of prose that draws the reader in and feeds the need for good writing/great storytelling etc. Third, and these are just what comes off the top of my head - a story has to GRAB the reader in the very first paragraph. We're a sound-bite society, people have no patience and little stomach for wading through a lot to find the meat - so grab their interest up front.
- How do you determine which information is newsworthy enough for publication?......... I had a long conversation about that with one of my editors just yesterday. Everyone has a different take on what is worth publishing, but ultimately it's the editor's call. As a writer, you have to understand what the editor wants and then deliver that without compromising your own style and integrity. It's a difficult balance. My weekly Op-Ed column, for example, that has been running in several Tribune locals for nine years, is all of a sudden on the chopping block. Now it's - "I'm not interested in running that..." Bottom line, it's newsworthy if the editor says its newsworthy!!!
- What are the main criteria used for determining which Letters to the Editor the paper publishes on a daily basis? I don't have any hard information on this one, but I suspect it must be timely, relevant to what's been in the paper, concise and to the point, and polite in tone.
- What are your favorite types of stories to cover?....... People. I love talking with the people who make this community tick. Preachers, business leaders, personalities, teachers and principals... I believe everyone has a story, and I enjoy spending an hour or so gathering those stories - in person - so I can share them with my readers.
- Why did you decide to go into journalism?..... I've always enjoyed writing, I've always been more opinionated than most people, and I've always had a deep commitment to thinking things through and writing helps with that. Consequently, when it was time to stop being a classroom teacher, my wife said "You've always wanted to write, why don't you give it a try...?" So I've been hustling free-lance work ever since.