Ask Questions, Get Answers

You know the phrase, ‘Ask and you shall receive’?  No other advice rings truer for young journalists who are itching to get out in the business.

It’s the classic professors’ ploy: “Questions? Anybody have questions?” The professor implores, as he paces the floor. More often than not, the room answers with squeaky shoe-shuffling. Students, especially prideful college students, are reluctant to admit what they don’t know.

But journalists are the curious ones of the bunch–the ones that ask questions to strangers over the phone; the ones that seek out sources, data, and numbers on the Internet.  So why are we still afraid to ask questions, when we’re practically spoon-fed opportunities to do so?

The journalism profession is hands down a learn-on-the-job kind of trade–don’t expect a morning lecture to earn you the keys to the kingdom of ledes.  There’s only so much knowledge a reporter can gain from reading a textbook before she just has to pick up the phone herself.

And as inexperienced, young journalists coming into college–feeling free, confident, and sometimes a little cocky–we need all the help we can get.

My advice for journalists-in-training is to always ask questions.  Even when you’re sitting in an Anthropology lecture on Gender and Ethnicity, challenge yourself to ask the professor–a well-learned scholar, no doubt–a question about his or her experiences pertaining to the topic at hand.  I bet you’ll walk away from the lecture feeling more engaged and more likely to remember the material for an exam (yes, journalists still need to pass exams).

But don’t just ask questions in the classroom.

Find other journalists working in the field and kindly ask for their advice.  Even better, find a journalist (or two) already doing what it is you aspire to do, and ask them how they got there. Chances are, you’ll receive some smart, succinct advice and a new ally in this competitive field.

Journalists already love talking to strangers, and what journalist wouldn’t enjoy an email or two to give his own advice, for a change?

Trust me: The professionals out there? They were college journalists once, too–surviving on coffee and late night snacks while trying to write that perfect nut graf.  Stay one step ahead, and keep asking questions. Pretty soon, you’ll have yourself some answers.

Bethany N. Bella is a multimedia journalist studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bnbjourno or browse her work at bethanybella.com.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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