“I really try to make that connection between the violence, the community, the generations and the impact it has across generations, because every time you have somebody who was killed, someone loves that person. And even if they’re involved in the street life, there’s still someone that loves them and cares about them and there was somebody who really connected to them. And that was somebody’s son or nephew, uncle or cousin. So I really try to show, how does that work?”
I am really freaking out about this.
A year ago, it was, “Sorry for throwin’ up the deuces, but I’m 22.”
I had youth on my side.
Now I’m solidly in adulthood, and I am genuinely anxious. I know how that sounds, but I am freaking out.
“You have to work harder than you think you possibly can. You can’t hold grudges—it’s hard, but you can’t hold grudges. And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, ’cause that’s gonna happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.”
—Ben Affleck’s acceptance speech for Best Picture at the Oscars.
(Cross-posted from my Tumblr, as I try to figure out my online self.)
One of my editors, Linda Hasert, took a buyout a few weeks ago, after 31 years at the Inquirer. I sat down with her last week to grab some last-minute wisdom, asking her to boil down four decades of journalism experience to a handful of tips and tricks.
Her first piece of advice was immediate:
“Respect all departments,” she said. “Respect all qualifications of other people to make suggestions.”
Linda herself had worked in multiple capacities, including spending several years in Features and heading a “Quality of Life” group. As she explained, people jump around in this industry, and someone may very well have more experience than you in doing your job, even if they no longer do it. Plus, she said, people in other positions have important perspectives.
It’s important to be aware of soft deadlines and be in communication with editors. A story may not have to be turned in until 9 p.m., but length, photographs, graphics, &c. are determined long before that final deadline.
“Let editors know that you need new space,” she warned, “especially as you get closer to deadline. … by the end of the night, the whole thing’s like a big jigsaw puzzle and your story is just the final piece.”
(A specific tip for the Inquirer’s CMS, Hermes: try to embed in your mind how wide a column is, because the line counts become inaccurate once the layout’s been set. The only surefire way to check is to copy the story into a junk slug.)
Learning the trade
Linda spent part of her early career taking dictation, she said, at a time when reporters would call the newsroom to dictate copy on the fly, and she was tasked with typing it all out on typewriters. Reporters would often give a sentence and ask her to “make that sound better.” She learned a lot, she said, by getting the experience of being inside veteran reporters’ heads, seeing how they pieced the story together on the go.
In a similar vein, she said, “Listen to seasoned reporters.” Being in a newsroom means that we are literally surrounded by talented reporters we could learn from just by paying closer attention.
She had a similar suggestion for how a beginning journalist should learn the trade:
“Just read a lot,” Linda said. “Read, read, read!”
Take the time to really study the publications you admire, she said, breaking them down to learn from them. As an editor, she really respected The New York Times and Newsweek. She recognized that those two publications had particularly strong editors, she said, not just good reporting.
“When I finish reading a Times story, I don’t have a single question,” she said. “It’s always fully there. There’s no ‘Yeah, but—’”.
There’s no question left for any reader, she said, no matter who they are. That goal becomes harder when space is getting tighter and tighter, and we’re being asked to write ever-shorter. One solution, she said, is to narrow the focus of stories, dealing with very specific issues to keep it grounded.
A story doesn’t have to answer every question on an entire issue, she noted, but it has to answer every question on the issue at hand. Be specific.
Because she hadn’t really covered a beat, Linda said, she didn’t have specific advice on how to find stories on a beat. But because she had led the “Quality of Life” team that focused on how people live their lives, she had ideas for finding those stories that you might not recognize at first.
“It’s the things that strike your fancy, things that catch your eye,” she said. “If you look at something and go, ‘What’s up with that?’ That’s a story.”
These types of stories often don’t seem very newsy at first glance, she said, but anything that gives you pause is worth looking into. “Some of them are right your nose but you never heard about them,” she said, so don’t just throw it out.
In Features, Linda said, she would sit in a room with other writers and they’d hear about something and start laughing about it. They’d then want to move on to what they considered a “real” story, she said, but then she’d pause.
“I’d always say, ‘If we’re laughing about it, it’s a story,’” she said.
Linda is a fantastic line editor, who will take your story apart, in order to reassemble it. That editing process can be scary, but was always worth it in the end. There’s never a story that can’t be improved, and Linda will find a way to improve it.
I remember having a brief—just three paragraphs on a car accident—turned back to me with all sorts of edits. Three paragraphs! Every single thing we turn in should meet our highest standards, she said. She made you defend every word you turned in, and would even stop in the middle of editing to look up a word’s definition, searching for synonyms, checking whether any word could be taken out or replaced.
“Eliminate every superfluous word. Every single one, and that includes briefs,” she said. “Like saying someone was rushed to the hospital. Well, I hope they were, they’re always rushed to the hospital. It doesn’t tell you anything.”
I can’t describe how quickly I learned under her guidance. What better journalism boot camp than actually doing it under the highest expectations? You learn. Fast.
It’s important to recognize the reality of what our Editor, Bill Marimow, has described as “Doing the best job you can under deadline duress.”
But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever be satisfied.
“As an editor, you hate to send in a story that’s just ‘good enough,’” Linda said. “It’s never ‘good enough.’ You want every story you turn in to be the best it can be.”
Chicago is on some next level shit. People not from here can’t imagine.
— Timeflies (@Timeflies) February 16, 2013
Cal is never wrong.
Mtropolis is closed due to lack of funds.No more Tweets.Thanks to those who said kind words.Tom Ferrick
— Metropolis (@Phlmetropolis) February 16, 2013
From its About Us page:
Metropolis is a website dedicated to the notion that the time has come to stop worrying about the future of local journalism and to start creating it.
The need is clear. Local newspapers, TV and radio stations are retreating from in-depth coverage of regional news either due to economic or audience considerations.
The retreat has been gradual, but no one expects it to stop.
The company that publishes Inquirer and Daily News has been sold three times and been in bankruptcy once. The size of the editorial staffs at the papers continues to shrink. The prognosis for metro dailies here and elsewhere is not good. The journalism practiced by these papers is still robust, but the economic model that has sustained it is eroding.
If these traditional sources of news falter or fail what will take their place? Will local TV and radio stations fill the gap by hiring additional reporters to do in-depth stories? Will bloggers, known mostly for commenting off the news, begin to cover it? The odds are against this happening.
Democracy is a form of government that rests upon a single adjective: an informed citizenry. How will citizens be informed if the entities that were their major sources of local civic, government and political information diminish or even disappear?
At Metropolis we have no illusions about our limits – we have a small staff and a modest budget — but we are sure of our mission. We are not in the business of covering breaking news. You won’t read about the latest fire here, or the big crime story, or yesterday’s news conference at City Hall. You can get that elsewhere.
Instead, we will offer in-depth and investigative pieces, plus smart commentary and analysis. Our exclusive focus will be on the Philadelphia region. We will adhere to the best practices of American journalism: independent, fact-based, verified reporting. We will report without fear or favor. Over time, we will bring to you a multitude of voices and perspectives.
With our featured essay, VoxPop, we reach out to people throughout the region to share stories of life’s joys and sorrows — and annoyances. We want to serve as a venue for your essays that relate your personal experiences and insights.
We launch with willingness to experiment and hopes for growth. We surely won’t be the answer to the demise of the traditional media, but we do hope to be an answer. We look forward to being along for the ride into the future.
One great and positive change modern technology has brought to journalism is that it has broken down the walls between the providers and consumers of news. We expect and encourage readers to be engaged in our coverage. We need your story ideas, your comments, your column offerings and your tips.
Underlying the thinking behind Metropolis is that this region has an abundance of smart, engaged people who care about the area and its future, whose definition of citizenship includes more than just voting and griping about the status quo.
Through their unselfish acts, through their volunteer work and their political and civic engagement, they contribute in ways that reverberate far beyond their neighborhoods. Collectively, they serve as the soul and conscience of the Philadelphia region. They are its engines of change.
This website is designed to serve these active and aware citizens, people who have a need to know what is happening in the region that affects them, their families, their neighborhoods and their communities.
This is the mission of Metropolis.