15 tips I would tell brand new journalists

Drat! Looks like somebody found my speech notes to the latest class of journalists coming into the world. All 20 of them.

1. Don’t complain about work conditions. You knew what you were getting into.

2. Above all else, maintain your credibility. You’re not here to be liked, only to be read and respected.

3. Visualize your readers every day — where they work, what worries them, what they talk about. If you don’t connect with them, you’ve failed.

4. Story ideas don’t magically show up on your desk. Look around as you walk to work. Talk to everyone you meet. Question everything. Leave your contact info with everybody, including your Twitter and Facebook info.

5. If don’t know what to write, you haven’t asked the right questions or talked to the enough people.

6. Somebody told me once, “Editors are the pirates who board your story ship.”

7. Pay attention in class, learn from great writers and never stop writing yourself.

8. Most newspapers don’t care about you. You’re there to feed the thresher, tossing stories in as fast as possible to keep it from running over you. Bosses will expect you to work all night, during your pregnancy, upside down or after your house exploded.

9. Spell the name back to your source, even if it’s John Smith. You have no excuse not to get it right. See No. 2.

10. Learn everything about the business. Know how to post to the Internet, the power of SEO, how to take and edit videos, write obituaries, answer calls from coaches, fix the copy machine, paginate, colate and work the soda machine.

11. Your readers have no idea what you do or why you do it. If I were in charge, I would create a Google+ hangout, allowing multiple readers to see a live stream into your newsroom.

12. Facebook and Twitter are gifts from Internet heaven. Appreciate and use them.

13. Show your readers they’re important as your smart phone. Thank them every day. Drive a newspaper to their house if they miss it. Return every message as soon as possible. Smile when you see them in the office.

14. Keep your promises to your sources and don’t make promises you can’t keep.

15. Remember people will always read stories that teach them, inspire them or make them angry or happy. That’s the best hope of job security I can leave you with.

Thanks for coming out. You’ve been a great audience.

Mike Henneke is a former print journalist with more than 23 years of experience. On certain nights, he still dreams of dangling participles and mixing his metaphors.



4 Replies to “15 tips I would tell brand new journalists”

  1. Good post…and it really drives home the point that if you aren’t a glutton for punishment and you don’t thrive on conflict, maybe journalism isn’t the right career track for you.

  2. I agree with these tips, Mike. Being a journalist is not about winning a popularity contest. It’s not for those weak at heart, for those afraid to talk to people from any and all walks of life, or for those wanting to avoid a good work ethic. I would like to add – make your writing interesting. Even hard news, or meeting coverage does not have to be a snore fest. Find what interests you about that particular fact or meeeting subject and use wording to show your interest. Chances are good it will then interest (at least some) of your readers, too.

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