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ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – Tips for making it in journalism

Editor’s Note: I’m a strong believer in the old saying that if it was good enough to publish once, why not publish it again. Therefore I reprise what I’ll call the Armchair Archives feature, previously known as From the Clippings File, and dust off some thoughts from yester year by way of comparison to current day. I wrote and published the following column in The Kamloops (later Daily) News 41 years ago, on April 27, 1977, when I was young smart-ass journalist. For my young readers, a newspaper was a thing made out of paper containing news (hence the term “newspaper”) that used to arrive on people’s doorsteps every morning. The “news” was actually 24 hours old by the time it got there, but we weren’t in such a rush back then.

IT HAS BECOME almost a tradition (this will be the second year in a row) for me to dedicate a column to the outgoing journalism class at Cariboo College.

Generally, I try to give them some words of inspiration and advice as they go out into the world of journalism.

Of course, other than what I read in journalism journals, my view of the profession is necessarily narrow.

And since one should always stick to what one knows, I offer for the Communications Media class of ’77 some insights into journalism in Kamloops, electronic and print.

Since they may be entering (in fact some already have) journalistic employment locally, there are several points that should be kept in mind if you want to make it as a newsperson in Kamloops:

  • Dress properly. Never show up for a meeting or press conference wearing a three-piece suit of even anything resembling pressed pants. Conform to blue jeans, purple shirt half untucked, brown suede Adidas and hair unfashionably long and unkempt. This differs from the CBC uniforms you acquire later on in your upwardly mobile career only in that you will add a war surplus canvas bush jacket. This get-up convinces your sources that, rather than simply being slovenly, you are stricken by poverty, and they will take pity and give you inside information so that you can impress your employer with good stories and he’ll give you a raise so you can at least invest in a trip to the laundromat to wash your socks.
  • Do not play fair. That only gets you in trouble with your editor. Always take quotes out of context and inflame them into something big.
  • Never attempt to get more than one side to a controversy at a time. That way, you stretch an issue over several days, because the person who’s being blasted in one day’s edition will demand to be allowed to return the fire in the next day’s paper. Then the first guy can come back the third day, and it could go on for a couple of weeks before it dies an unnatural death.
  • When you don’t have a good local story to play as the page 1 lead item, take anything you’ve got and run an eight-column, two-line, all-caps 120-point head with two-line deck and three-column, 10-point introduction. That will fake people into thinking the article (which may be about the price of buffalo chips in Tibet) is really important.
  • Try never to mention the name of other local media. If you get scooped on something and have to admit it, refer to “earlier news reports” or if you must get more specific, “a report in another Kamloops newspaper.” And always try to get somebody to refute whatever it was that was carried in the other medium. If you must actually mention the other newspaper or radio station by name, do so with a tinge of disgust. Write a column stating how trite and trashy the coverage of the opposition medium has been. Take an “everybody knew that all along and we didn’t wish to lower ourselves by reporting it” approach.
  • If you are having trouble getting the facts about a subject nobody wants to talk about, call up all the sources you can think of and play games with them. Pretend you have already been filled in on all the intricate details by another source, and are just seeking re-action. With a little luck, your source will be faked right out of his shorts and spill his guts.
  • Try the same technique with reports from other media late at night in the pub. Let drop a line like, “What do you think of the assistant comptroller’s personal secretary absconding with the funds for the new senior citizen’s housing project?” One of two things will happen: he’ll assume you know all about it, too, and in the spirit of comradery of the profession, engage in spirited conversation punctuated by expressions of righteous indignation; or, not wanting to appear ignorant about such an obvious story, mutter, “yeh, that was something” and wait 10 minutes before casually returning to the subject and trying to squeeze something out of you. Never pull this tactic prior to 11 p.m. or seven rounds of suds, whichever comes first.
  • Don’t wait for people to react to bad news. Go after them. Ask, “What do you think of the mayor’s proposal to paint the City Council chambers fluorescent red?” “Well, gee, I dunno…” “I guess you’re pretty outraged about it, eh?” “Well, yeah, I suppose….” (City alderman Ned Swizzlestick said today he was “outraged” at a proposal to paint the City Council chambers fluorescent red….)
  • Finally, remember that you can never be wrong. You are the voice of the people, defender of the right to know, and your words have sacred status. Accept criticism for what it is: sour grapes. Never apologize. Remember, being a journalist is never having the guts to say you’re sorry.

mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca

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About Mel Rothenburger (6107 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – Tips for making it in journalism

  1. Love it.

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