Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Lessons over coffee

Sitting down with a fellow journalist over a cup of coffee will benefit not just you, but your audience. (Photo: Pixabay)

At first, stepping through the side entrance located in a busy mall located in the Minneapolis Skyway, life appears to come to a screeching halt. In the middle of a Saturday morning, as a multitude of conferences, exhibitions and other events were taking place across the city, and the line of people stretched to near the door, there was still an element of life pausing.

It happened at a Starbucks in the City Center, during a pause in my sojourn to a journalism conference at a downtown hotel. I had seen the pausing element there before a few months earlier, on a weekday morning. It may have been before 9 on a Tuesday, but you wouldn’t have noticed that from many of those there.

It is this pausing element, in this Starbucks in the midst of a busy downtown, that has allowed this place to stand out in my mind, and is a symbolic reminder of one aspect of self-care – broadly not discussed very much in this industry – that needs to be practiced.

In journalism circa 2018, the daily news cycle takes the form of 4-5 stories breaking at the same time. News of layoffs are happening at just about the same time as a deadline prepares to breathe down one’s neck. For many journalists, be they early in their careers or have been working in the industry for decades, there have been many days where journalism circa 2018 can appear a bit much.

Yet, the focus remains on the work at hand. We bury ourselves in work, be it the freelancer whose work ethic is dependent on whether its feast or famine, the staff reporter competing against other outlets to break the very story that their community will be talking about the next day, or the editors ensuring every t is crossed and every i is dotted, making things work with all the tasks building up.

We bury ourselves in work and go about it, day in and day out. We bury ourselves in this work and don’t come up to the surface to breathe, for if we do, we fear that someone else will get that story, or that content demand may not be met, and that will come at a cost – the job.

The work may be getting done, but the way in which we do the work is doing more harm than good. We wonder what the point of all it is – if journalism was the right thing we were supposed to do for the rest of our lives.

The way we work in what is one of the most important professions in the world is harming not only ourselves, but also our audience, and it’s got to change.

One thing that can be done is simple – get a cup of coffee and sit down with a colleague, be it in your own organization or at another organization. Find out what they’re thinking, how they approach the changing landscape and their ideas on what it means to tell a story in the constant sea of noise.

Sitting down to have these conversations, be it at the Starbucks in the City Center, a coffee shop near the newsroom, or anywhere, is worth doing. A second pair of eyes to help consider what journalism means can change your outlook, reinvigorate your craft with new ideas, and ultimately, serve your audience better than you were before. It’s not only cathartic, but a necessity.

In the end, it is better for your audience, and yourself, to pause, to reflect, and to consider what it means to be a journalist in this digital age – and your industry colleagues can help you do that.

So take a few minutes out of your day to sit down with someone, cup of coffee in hand, and have a conversation. For those minutes, the news can wait.

Editor’s note: This piece was amended at 6:22pm CT for clarity.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

What’s your story?

Take time to develop your craft, for when a journalist is at their best, their audience is too. (Photo: Pixabay)

It’s Tuesday, the 8th, at just after 10 in the morning. At my desk, I prepare to make some phone calls to Britain for research for a story I’m working on. As I began that period of reading and conversations which spanned the next couple of hours, what I thought was a concrete story idea ended up having the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written all over it.

What was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” became “It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas.”

Yet, this wasn’t the only story that I had struggled with. I had been generally struggling to find the best story possible, in an age where content is king, and the desire to be first outranks the desire to be right and authentic.

We enter this industry not for the fame or the fortune, but with the goal that the stories that we tell will inform, educate and engage. We are fascinated by the role that journalism can have in our society, through the words that accompany it, irrespective of platform. We desire contribute in the hope that the work we do can be for the common good.

The drive and instinctive skills of a storyteller are things that never leave you. They are replicated in that idea you have for that piece you want to publish or that segment you want to broadcast. The world has its stories, and you want to tell them. As Dhruti Shah, the BBC journalist (who is a journalist that inspires me), put it over on the International Community blog: “You just never know when a story is going to unfold in front of you.”

There is potential in this age of the internet and social media for this storytelling to make a difference, but with that potential comes the other side – the increased competition not just for the story, but also the ability to tell stories that can have an impact.

Those feelings are summed up in the nagging questions at the back of your mind: “Are the stories I’m telling the best ones that I can tell? Is my work truly my best?”

Earlier this year, I wrote a column for SPJ’s Quill magazine on how the internet can help journalists get perspective on their careers, whether you’re an up and coming reporter or a professional trying to figure out your next steps. The same rule applies for storytelling, and the internet provides potential for you to gain that quintessential insight.

Here are some tips on how to best seek that advice to be the best storyteller you can be.

  • Engage with journalists who inspire you. You may work at different organizations or focus on different platforms, but the goals you have as journalists when all is said and done remain the same.
  • Ask for a conversation. If an email address or other contact details are listed, use those to arrange a conversation. If you’re on Twitter, send a simple tweet asking if they could follow you so you could direct message them about a conversation? Then, take it offline.
  • Tap into your own network. Whether its a friend or colleague, have a cup of coffee and a chat. Insights from within your own newsroom or outlet can even help get your creative juices flowing.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question. Sometimes the simplest questions can be the most helpful.
  • Stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the future, and as a reminder – there is no such thing as a stupid question.

You may feel uneasy at first, but the time you take will without question be worthwhile in helping you be a better journalist and storyteller.

After all, when you are at your best, your audience will be at their best, too.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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

Some cross border election advice

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place today, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November's elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place in a couple of weeks, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November’s elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

In a couple of weeks, in Iowa and New Hampshire, delegates from both the Democrats and the Republicans will begin the process that will formally confirm the nominees for both parties for the President of the United States, ahead of elections in November. That will culminate in July with both party conferences.

Along with the delegates will be plenty of reporters trying to make sense of this, what it means for specific candidates, and the whole of politics in the United States as a whole. Reporters will not only be looking after their specific platforms (be it print, web or broadcast) as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks.

The feeling is similar to that of the Canadian election, which took place last October and began in August after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper approached the country’s governor general, David Johnston, to call for the election. That election saw Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party (and the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) be given a majority in the House of Commons, taking the party from third place in polls to the top office in Canadian politics, based on the narrative that Canadians were ready for change after nearly a decade of leadership.

But at the helm of coverage (and indeed Trudeau’s strategy) was social media, and it was essential the night of the vote. Jessica Murphy, a freelance journalist based in the country’s capital, Ottawa, was at Trudeau headquarters the night of the vote, covering it for the British newspaper The Guardian.

In a telephone interview, Murphy said Trudeau’s election was profound, and that his personalities had contrasted with that of Harper, and his personality showed on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram.

“Canadians have known Trudeau for years,” Murphy said. “He was always known as a public figure. Trudeau could harness social media and his energy to talk to more of the population.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Murphy said social media had grown between 2011 and 2015, the timespan of the recent elections in the country.

“Social media grew up,” Murphy said. “If you’re covering it you can see it was a part of their strategy. Candidates were rolling that into the overall election strategy instead of a side note. Social media is essential in today’s communications.”

Murphy had made plans the night before the vote, and was producing content from photos to contributions to The Guardian’s live blog, in addition to posts on social media, tracking the results of the ridings and calls. It leads to a piece of advice she could give to her American counterparts who will be covering the election process.

Murphy first suggests to take lots of photos, saying they work well on Twitter and get the feeling of the room. The other advice Murphy suggests is to look up from the phone, and get the feel of the room by talking to people. What people say would help describe the environment.

“[You’re doing] the necessary social work as a journalist but [it] ensures you’re doing work as a journalist,” Murphy said.

Ultimately, Murphy says, its down to balance, something most journalists are still trying to get use to considering the constant evolution of technology. She says social media can be overused or underused, and its about the balance of maintaining that presence as well as adding the color and extra content to describe the room that won’t make it on to the traditional platform.

“It’s great but it can be all consuming and the echochamber,” Murphy said. “You can’t have the nose in the phone. You need to look around — its just about remembering to do both. Its a matter of balance. We are all still learning.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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

Editor’s note: This post was amended at 11:22am CT to reflect an error in the dates of the caucuses. This was amended now due to a technical error preventing an amendment earlier today.

Dear journalism student: Don’t worry, be happy

The School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, one of many schools that will welcome back students in the coming weeks. Photo - mojourcomm / Wikimedia Commons (CC)

The School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, one of many schools that will welcome back students in the coming weeks.
Photo – mojourcomm / Wikimedia Commons (CC)

It is an important question – a question where the opinion you get will be different every time it is asked, a question that has been asked a lot recently. But most of all, it is a question that may not be easy to answer at first, but allows a great debate and eye as to where this industry will go.

Where is journalism going?

It is a debate worth having, in an age where solutions to this particular question are being played out every day to address current topics, from the future of newspapers in the face of new directions in advertising, the future of news on television and radio, to the rise of the web and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter that have created new thinking on not just the language of journalism, but also the consumption of journalism, and the expectations the people we serve have of us in this tech savvy age.

Today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, wrote a post on her blog on the subject, based on her observations of that paper and that of her previous employer, The Buffalo News in New York state. Sullivan refers to an article by Phil Fairbanks of the News, in which the mayor had been seen as perhaps running a play to pay scheme with regard to real estate developers and their politics. Fairbanks had been looking into this, and kept asking the questions readers wanted to know about those in city government.

It is a similarity struck at the Times, where questions are asked of leaders in Washington and around the world, to try to give the readers the full story, and in an age of cutbacks on reporters, news organizations, and indeed observers of the industry like Sullivan, have been inquiring what this means for the state of reporting, and moreover, how the decline in reporting can be circumvented for the digital age, in order for it to be guaranteed to thrive.

Her post comes as the Tribune Company spins off its newspapers, including its flagship papers in Chicago and Los Angeles, and news that newsroom staff has declined approximately 30 percent since 2003, according to data from the American Society of News Editors cited by Sullivan.

The fiscal circumstances that have unfolded, not just within the past week but within the last few years, led to some pessimism on the outlook of the industry, from those in it, to those students completing degrees in the many colleges and universities across the country who are studying it (myself included).

As I prepared to finish my degree a few months ago, I asked myself questions about where journalism lies in the new digital culture of ours, and if indeed I would be able to land feet first in the industry without stumbling over. It was a worry I had, a worry, I will admit, I still have somewhat. But I realized I needn’t fear.

To paraphrase the quote from Mark Twain: “The reports of journalism’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”

In the next few weeks, schools will be back in session, and many a journalism student who will look to finish their degree and make a mark on the industry, will likely consider their future, and what it will be like, wondering, perhaps with worry, if a job can be secured at the end of the fourth year.

Journalism, in this new age of technology, has been presented with many opportunities, in the face of many risks. Journalism students will need to do more to stand out and make themselves known, instead of sitting still and thinking about that party Saturday night, from work on other web sites to networking, including on Twitter and LinkedIn.

However, and as Sullivan wrote in her post, there will always be journalism and a need for journalists, whatever the means, whether its behind a camera, or behind the computer.

“What matters is the journalism, not the medium,” Sullivan said. “It’s happening before our eyes, and while there’s clearly reason to worry, there’s reason to hope, too.”

It is my hope that those students who head back to school will remember this and remain confident of their efforts and their potential, but also to keep this in mind – the more time you put in, the better off you’ll be.

We will always need journalists. It may not be in the medium or environment you expect to be in, but know that you’ll always be needed, and that’s a promise. Don’t worry, be happy.

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Special Projects Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. The views in this post are his own. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman or email


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