Five Things I Wish I’d Known before Working in Journalism
Last April, I applied for and received the position of news section editor for my university’s newspaper. It’s been quite the adventure, to say the least. Here are five things I wish I’d known before I agreed to take the job.
1. Details, details, details, aka the copyeditors might want to throw things at you on occasion.
Who really cares about AP style, anyway? Turns out copyeditors do.
I have a copyediting job at another publication, actually, so I do recognize the importance of style guides, even if they seem to work better as doorstoppers sometimes.
No matter your opinions on journalistic style conventions, you need to follow them, even if, like me, you happen to love the Oxford comma. Copyeditors work just as hard as you do; they’re part of your publication team. Do a little to make their lives easier, even if it means you need to spend 10 more minutes editing your articles before turning them in.
2. You will have to write stories at the last minute sometimes. Just don’t be late on purpose.
Because of some problems my writers were having getting in touch with interviewees, I once had to interview two sources and write a story within a few hours in order to have enough stories in my section of the paper. It took a lot of flexibility and perseverance on my part, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit frazzled (to say the least) by the time I got the article turned in.
I’ve had to write about Tuesday morning events for a Wednesday publication.
Last-minute work under pressure is just the nature of the news section. And that’s fine, as long as everyone understands that you will be late because of the timing of whatever you’re writing about. Just don’t turn everything in at the last minute each week on purpose, or the copyeditors (and layout designers) might actually start throwing things at you. Probably AP stylebooks.
3. You’re going to get frustrated with your fellow writers and editors at times.
You might tell a writer to construct an article one way and get a piece that goes in the opposite direction. You might hear from another writer the day after deadline that she couldn’t get in touch with her interviewees and didn’t try to ask for your help earlier.
Your editor-in-chief might then start lecturing you about not turning in your writers’ stories on time.
Everyone on staff will get stressed out at times. Everyone will mess up in some way or another, and those mistakes will affect you, too. You’ll have to clean up some messes you didn’t make. It won’t be fun.
At the end of the day, though, you’re a team. You navigate the crazy, hectic, adventurous world of reporting and writing and editing together. And when things get hard, even if you’re a little snippy with each other, you won’t want anyone else working at the computer next to you at 3 a.m.
4. Your interviewees will not always be friendly or helpful.
To be blunt, I’ve learned from some not-so-fun experiences that not everyone wants to help you. It’s still your job to talk to them. It’s still your job to get the facts, even when your source isn’t expressing his or her desire to be left alone in the most amicable way.
I have found, however, that if you have a writer planning to interview someone who’s been a bit uncooperative in the past, you need to let him or her know that he or she might receive a chilly response. It’s just common courtesy to make sure everyone walks into their interviews prepared for how they may walk out.
5. People will tell you painful, heavy things that you may not have wanted to know.
I’ve only been a section editor for a month and a half, but I already know more about my school and the wonderful people who work here than I feel comfortable knowing sometimes.
One of my writers and I recently wrote a long article about alleged gender-based pay disparities and discrimination against women at my university.
It was not easy hearing stories from female professors about sexist comments and lower salaries. It was not easy to carry the secrets they told me off-record.
Even so, when interviewees tell you these sensitive stories, it means they respect you and your publication. It means they trust you to make a difference.
Working in journalism will never be easy. Still, every time I prepare for an interview or sit down to write a story, I remember the words of a female professor I spoke to for the gender discrimination story:
“Sometimes, as a young woman, you’re going to have to be brave. And you’re going to have to go after the truth. It’s not easy. But the truth is worth it.”
And indeed it has been.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MOLLY WIERMAN
I’m a rising junior at the University of Dallas double majoring in English and French with a concentration in either applied math or international studies. Clearly, I’m not quite sure what to do with my life yet, but, having spent my childhood in Canada and a semester in Italy, I love traveling. I also love writing about anything that comes to mind and catches my attention.
Location: Irving, TX/Wichita, KS
Originally posted 2015-10-14 10:00:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter