Advice for alternate pathways in journalism: re-entering the workforce after taking a break; transitioning to college teaching

A colleague put me in touch with an award-winning TV journalist who took some time off for eldercare, and is now having a rough time re-entering the profession. Here’s the advice I collected, which includes the wisdom of a former student who’s now a TV producer in Houston, and also draws on other sources I use when I teach career readiness classes for English majors.

Journalists prefer in-person interviews. Emailing questions to strangers and expecting them to write out their answers is not journalism.

An interview means a real-time give-and take, not a list of questions you email. Most people worth interviewing are too busy to write out their answers to help you meet your deadline. If you can’t meet in person, ask if your source will do a videoconference, or even (if they’re the right generation) an old-fashioned phone call. (Gasp!)

Fact Check: No, an NPR story on the Trump supporters’ attempted coup dated January 6, 2021 9:33 AM ET is not a sign of a conspiracy theory

A conspiracy theory featuring a news story that NPR posted early on Jan 6 2021 and then updated after the pro-Trump demonstration turned into an anti-democracy riot was shared widely last year. My meme explaining the concepts of time-stamps and updating a breaking news story didn’t get shared nearly as much. People who already believe journalists regularly lie to make Trump look bad will share viral memes that confirm that belief. They aren’t eager to share “Whoops, sorry I misread that. False alarm!” Source: Fact Check: No, an NPR story on the Trump supporters’ attempted coup dated January 6, 2021…

Time in AP Style: The exact time is rarely important.

Journalism > AP Style If you need to use the exact time in a news story, AP has a specific way to do it. However, according to the AP Stylebook, the exact time of an event is rarely important in a news story. How you use the time in an AP Style story. 8 a.m. (not 8am, eight in the morning, 8 o’clock, 8AM, or 8:00 a.m.) 10:25 p.m. (not 10:25 at night, or 10:25PM) noon or midnight (not 12 a.m.  or 12 p.m. — too confusing) A time like 7 p.m. is enough. Don’t add “at night” or “:00”.…

What Is Newsworthy? (10m animated lecture)

How do journalists determine what events are worth covering? “Dog bites man” is routine, but “man bites dog” is unusual, so it’s more newsworthy. Unusual events are more newsworthy than ordinary events. Important people, and ordinary people who do important/unusual things are more newsworthy than ordinary people who do ordinary things. Events with a significant impact are more newsworthy than events with a trivial impact. Events that affect many people are more newsworthy than events that affect few people. Events that happened nearby are more newsworthy than events that happen far away. A recent event being reported for the first…

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Why do journalists use “allegedly” when they report on obvious crimes captured on video?

Look at this picture. A guy in a uniform obviously has his hands around a kid’s neck. Why would Business Insider use the word “allegedly” to describe what seems like a pretty obvious assault? If you are Young Sesame Chicken, what makes the Business Insider post worth sharing is the contrast between the mealy-mouthed headline and the powerful image. Why don’t journalists just call it abuse? Why soften the report with “allegedly”? Are journalists in league with cops, protecting them from the consequences of their bad-apple violence? Let’s think about this. If for some reason you were a corrupt news…

How Fake News Happens: It’s simple! A governor tweets a Fox News graphic from a story that cites a British tabloid’s misinterpretation of a scholarly study, and a false narrative about Biden banning beef stokes political rage

How dare President Biden be invoked by a British tabloid that rather creatively linked a scholarly study to a plan Biden floated during the Democratic primary. How dare Biden be implicated in a Fox News graphic that falsely lists cutting beef sales by 90% as a requirement of Biden’s “climate requirements.” How dare Biden be targeted by the Texas governor who retweeted the misleading Fox News graphic that amplified the spin that the British tabloid put on a scholarly study. Biden is such a national embarrassment! Why doesn’t he just spend his time rage-tweeting from golf courses, like presidents are…

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Fact Check: No, an NPR story on the Trump supporters’ attempted coup dated January 6, 2021 9:33 AM ET is not a sign of a conspiracy theory

According to the Internet Archive, this is a story NPR posted at 9:33 this morning. As events developed, and the story changed, NPR updated this page — drastically. As you can see, the headline and the picture are different; though the date the page was first created is still there, the page now also includes an “Updated at 3.08pm ET” time stamp. (The blue highlighting is mine.) Conspiracy theorists are cropping out the “Updated” annotation and sharing this image in an attempt to… uh… I’m really not sure what they think they are gaining. Demonstrating how uncritically and eagerly they…

When is the phrase “when asked about…” part of good news writing? Rarely.

A new graphic for an existing handout, which I touched up a bit. When is the phrase “when asked about…” part of good news writing? Rarely. A journalist who uses the phrase “when asked about” (or a similar phrase) is carefully telling the reader, “I’m bending over backwards to make sure you don’t think I’m giving you the wrong idea about this quote, which could be misinterpreted.” Students who are new to journalism often reach for this phrase by default, which draws attention away from the source’s words.

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The phrase “debate begins” in the headlines of multiple stories on coronavirus does not mean sneaky journalists copy-pasted a press release

If you encounter the same story on different news sites, that does not mean you caught sneaky America-hating fake news “journalists” in the act. A meme I recently encountered shows three slightly different coronavirus headlines, all of which use the phrase “debate begins.” Text shared along with the meme suggests the repetition means the story is a copy-pasted press release. I did some simple Googling. You can follow the links below and see for yourself all 3 outlets ran the same article, and credited it to the Associated Press:  NBC News, WCPO (Cincinnati), and Globalnews.ca,. Yes, it is unethical when…

Meme alleging Trump said “Africans Are Lazy, Good at Sex, Theft” is a hoax

I’ve seen this meme shared by several FB friends in the past few days. It’s clearly a hoax. It was created by someone who wasn’t trained as a journalist. The body of the story doesn’t even include the quotes that are mentioned in the headline. (The head says Trump said “Africans are lazy,” but in the body of the article he is talking about “African Americans.” The terms are not interchangeable.) There’s no dateline or byline. The last word in the article is newzimbabwe, but there’s no record of this story being published on newzimbabwe.com. I didn’t find any reference on the newzimbabwe…

No, this photo of people wearing coats standing in front of bare trees was not a fake news media attempt to misrepresent what’s happening in Texas and Arizona in July

It’s distressing and shocking to realize that some people are more willing to spread conspiracy theory shit than it they are to check their sources. Isn’t it the bad guys who are supposed to be spreading lies? I like reading news stories for myself, rather than spreading disinformation on social media. How hard is it to Google for “Refrigerated trucks requested in Texas and Arizona as morgues fill up due to coronavirus deaths,” and click on literally the first search result: That article has a video (that I didn’t watch), a July 15 photo labeled as a refrigerated trailer in…

Stick to facts, but write news your readers will actually want to read.

Students who put a lot of effort into learning the editing guidelines in the AP Stylebook might benefit from the occasional reminder that good news writing requires the creative use of language, a good idea for detail and the ability to make connections between your readers and the news. The sources we interview are real people, and we can’t invent details or speculate about what sources think or how they feel. But we do refer to them as characters, and use details about these characters, gathered from our observation and real-time interviews, to drive the story. While it can be…