After my internship at The Oklahoman this summer, I truly couldn’t agree more.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to improve this summer until I arrived at the Oklahoman, and my copy came under the scrutiny of the editors here.
My first few stories were under par, and I was worried I had failed the editors’ litmus test. As discouraged as I might have been, they kept their faith in me, and in a few weeks, I was pumping out cleaner copy every day.
One of those stories was the one shown on the right. With the patience of Rick Green, the local desk editor here, I turned what was a mind-numbing numbers story into something truly valuable to the reader.
I should say that I had two goals this summer, and I would have been happy with just one of them being accomplished: Either (A): Get good play on the front page, or (B): Have two stories run on the same day.
I guess I set my goals pretty low, because the staff did more than their share to ensure that I got great stories and that they were well-played on the page. For example, in my first week, I had two front page stories.
One was on FEMA’s response to Oklahoma’s tornado damage. The other was this one.
Not only that, but in one edition I claimed the front page CP, and then had a second article teased on the front page as well. That broke both goals I wanted to achieve.
Another time, in yesterday’s edition, August 4, I got CP on the Page 1 AND on the Metro front.
I really can’t believe all the good that has come out of this internship for me.
I’ve made some amazing connections with some extraordinary journalists and interns here.
My writing went from typical fresh-out-of-j-school approach, to a more polished, professional style.
I’m still nowhere close to where I want to be as a storyteller. But give me two more years, and I might just be hirable. *Hint, Hint to any newspaper recruiters reading this*.
The more that I think about live storytelling, the more I’m impressed with it.
Every story that I’m engaged with on a daily basis has been finely tweaked, edited, trimmed and polished with days or weeks of attention.
Yet there are people out there who participate in live, oral storytelling, who speak to an audience without notes or facts, and tell a story beautifully.
I’m truly fascinated with these speakers who can deliver compelling, gripping stories in their presentations. It isn’t an easy thing to do; more of an art form than anything else.
I came across this type of storytelling while listening to NPR. I tuned into a new station, and they introduced me to a new program called Moth Radio Hour, an anthology of stories told by speakers to a live audience at a theater hall. I can honestly tell you, I never remember the drive home on the days it broadcasts. My full audible attention was directed towards the speakers. It truly is an experience.
In any case, the program would be extraordinary to see live, a romantic and thoughtful alternative to the movies or a play. Many of these events take place in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. If you are ever in town, be sure to hit up a show. Here’s the Moth Radio Hour’s scheduled events.
One speaker in particular, Edgar Oliver, with his haunting voice and presence, is a must listen. His true story account of his life growing up in Savannah, Georgia, with his sister, who both want desperately to escape the grasps of their paranoid and dementia-ridden mother’s controlling grasps.
This type of ancient storytelling has stood the test of time, and the power of these stories tell me that something about the medium is everlasting, so long as humans are capable of communicating.
While live storytelling isn’t a perfect science, and probably isn’t a recommended way for journalists to get their messages across, I think it ought to deserve an immense amount of respect from any kind of storyteller. Broadcast or print, fiction or non-fiction. These stories are masterful in their own way, and they are in no short supply.
I’ve realized since I started my internship this summer that the priorities of journalism schools may be a little off in what they deem important in today’s information market.
Lets get to it.
Writing is still the most important skill for a print journalist
Unless every journalism student in the country is destined to work at a small, local newspaper all their lives, learning photo and video is still secondary to possessing true writing ability. In medium market newspapers like the Oklahoman, writers don’t shoot photos. Photographers don’t write stories (except only once, but he wanted to). They are still institutionalized to separate the tasks of writing copy and producing visuals.
My journalism school may be sticking to that platform more than others, and now I think I finally get why. Writers still need to focus on providing clear and comprehensive copy. They still need to develop editing skills, and be great self-editors. Learning Soundslides, or correct audio mixing techniques or SEO is important, but will always be complementary skills to solid writing.
If anything has really changed in the newsroom I occupy this summer, it’s that they have had layoffs, but little conversion of desks. Specialists are still better than jack-of-all-trades. Bad news for people like me who have bet on the need for one-man bands.
Some skills that students journalists shouldn’t forget about in the digital age
- Producing clean copy: In a recommendation letter I received from a senior staff writer this summer, she only noted one particular skill that I possessed; turning in clean copy. Now, I don’t know how true that may be, but it points out that reporters and editors are still primarily looking for clean writers. Not active bloggers or tweeters. Those are crucial skills too, but the newsroom veterans and copy editors don’t want to be spending hours editing your articles because you were distracted with socializing and blogging.
- Being People People: No matter how lost in indirect communication we may sink our personal lives, reporters still have to knock on doors and meet people in person. No one teaches those skills in journalism school, but student journalists now may forget that is in the job description. Having good conversational skills, earning rapport with your sources and gaining access were all skills a professor last semester impressed upon me. Good words to live by.
- Doing your research: Nothing hurts worse than tweeting and blogging about your next interview with your next great source, but if you don’t focus and get the research done, you won’t be producing all the great pieces your audience will be expecting.
Another disclaimer here: I’m not an expert. I just have a tendency to write about things that strike me and that I learn along my path to becoming a professional journalist.
With that, I think these are some truly fundamental skills that might get pushed to the side by eager journos ready to hit the streets with all their multimedia gear in place and turn on their eight different social media tools to pump out their content.
All the dead grass that surrounds me is a reminder of the dead leaves of fall.
I’ve got a heavy load of school work, real work and newspaper work coming my way when those leaves start falling. Just when the fallen extremities begin to decay, so will my motivation.
At least, that’s how it usually goes.
Not this year. It’s the summer’s version of the New Year’s Resolution, I know, but I am bound to change my complacent habits this fall. I have to.
I’ve put a lot of responsibility on my own shoulders this year, and I’ve got a lot to learn.
I thought I would share with you some of the things I hope to learn about this fall, and give you some kind of expectations on what to anticipate what I’ll be blogging about:
SEO – I thought I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for the Web Director position. After speaking with the Oklahoman’s SEO guys, I realized I only knew the EXTREME basics. I have a tendency to write about things I just learn, so expect many a posts about SEO tips and tricks.
Content Management – I’ll be installing and tweaking a new theme for the Kentucky Kernel Website, kykernel.com, and I know WordPress and I are going to have our bouts together this year.
Opinion writing – I’m taking a column writing class in the fall, and I expect to be conflicted often in that class with journalism vs. opinion. That will probably make me look into the use of social media for opinion writing as opposed to journalism (serious hint hint).
Monetization – I’m bound to become a much better blogger this year, as I decide on ways for our site to gain readership and $$$$$$ (Money, spelled in dollar signs).
What the trick will be for me is relating all this to storytelling. That, my readers, will probably come to extreme surprises to you.
Wish me luck. But more importantly, happy reading!