In seventh-grade summer school, I chose newspaper as my elective because the alternatives were even less appealing: art, band, swimming, and theater.
Best of all, I got to leave class to “interview” people, when all I’d really do is flirt with the art and theater girls.
That led to my first girlfriend. So for the rest of my life, I elected to stay in journalism – partly to save the world, partly because I sucked at math, but mostly because I wanted to keep meeting women and realized, even back then, I’d need all the help I could get.
(Exactly 20 years later, I met my wife through journalism. She’s not a journalist. A tale for another time.)
As a reporter, editor, designer, and adviser, journalism has taught me lessons much more profound than inverted pyramid, dominant imagery, and AP Style…
Dress nicely, but not nicer than they usually do. Begin by asking a question you know they’d love to answer, whether it’s important to you or not. Don’t be first to fill an awkward silence. Do your research in advance, but never let it show. Put your cell phone on vibrate and don’t look at it until you’re in the bathroom. If they insist on splitting the bill, insist on paying the tip – and let them see you do so generously. Always end with, “If I have any more questions, can I call you?”
Make time to chat even when you don’t want anything from them. Begin each conversation with, “How are you doing today?” Establish eye contact. Don’t interrupt. Listen more than you talk. Save the toughest questions for last. Don’t leave before reading back all the important stuff they told you. And never, ever burn them.
Don’t rewrite, teach how to write. Always get both sides of the story. Remind them to keep opinion separate from fact. Change up their assignments so they don’t get bored. Train them in the latest tech. Regularly critique their work. Enforce deadlines equally for everyone – if you let one of them slide, the others will complain.
Take the proper angle. Better to go too long than too short – it’s easier to cut out repetition than it is to add original content. Multi-source whenever possible. You’ll win more awards for weekenders than for dailies, so dedicate more time and effort to them. Always try to end by bringing it back to the beginning. And if you make a mistake, immediately issue a correction. Or at least a clarification.
When your significant other complains, “You love that goddamn magazine more than you love me,” the proper response is not, “Well, that’s because it’s laid out better than you are.” Even if you’re joking.