Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Reynolds Week: Advice for preparing young reporters

January 12, 2015

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Reynolds Week editors

Journalism professors attending Reynolds Week got plenty of help to shape their syllabuses and offer the latest teaching techniques to their student.

But they wound up the week with conversations with the people who know best about what happens after class: editors and former students.

The first panel, called “What Editors Expect,” feature Kim Quillen, assistant business editor at The Arizona Republic, Tracy Greer, the digital media editor at KJZZ in Phoenix and Ilana Lowery, editor of the Phoenix Business Journal. They offered tips   on what professors can do to better prepare students before they enter the newsroom for the first time. That advice included:

  • “New to you does not mean news…” Young journalists are often excited by new pieces of information they hear and want to turn them into stories. The problem, especially on the business beat where young people often learn new things every day, is that these ideas aren’t always newsworthy. The editors advised professors to make sure young journalists understand they need to find the angle on what makes an idea “news” before they invest their time creating a pitch or pursuing a lead.
  • Young journalists should feel comfortable with numbers and business concepts. This may seem obvious, but for those covering general news or beats that sometimes involve money and business angles, even simple terms and concepts can be intimidating. Don’t let them “run away from the business story.” Help foster their comfort with numbers, business terms and common tools like Excel spreadsheets, even students who don’t necessarily plan on covering money in the future.
  • Even on the business beat, multimedia is incredibly important. While covering money, editors will ask young journalists to take photos, video, audio recordings, make infographics and other forms of multimedia so prevalent in our online world. This is the reality of the business today. Any extra skills a young journalist can bring to the newsroom will be used, especially if editors find themselves temporarily short staffed and need reporters to fill in for other positions.
  • It’s so often common sense, but young people should be reminded of the professional expectations in the newsroom. Especially in covering money, young journalists will be interacting with professionals. It’s not always a problem, but reporters fresh out of school need to know what the expectations will be for how they look and how they act on the job. As one editor put it, “I tell my reporters to dress so they can cover to the Governor’s office in the morning and a fire in the afternoon.” Their actions and attitudes will matter with editors, other reporters and sources. Especially as interns, the limited time they have on the job means any major mistakes will affect their reputation.
  • Young people can bring a lot to a newsroom. Millennials have their own unique perspective on the world, which can be invaluable in developing story ideas, angles and interacting with sources on the beat. Help them develop confidence in their own abilities and ideas. Let them know that they will be intimidated or nervous when they start their first job, but their work will be important to the news organization and to readers. Helping bolster a student’s confidence in talking on the phone, organizing stories and staying persistent while putting a story together will serve them in their early years after entering the workplace.

On the next panel, Cronkite School graduates Molly Lange, a reporter at KYMA News 11 in Yuma, Kristena Hansen, a business reporter KJZZ in Phoenix and Mark Remillard, reporter at KTAR923 in Phoenix, discussed their time as journalism students and what helped prepare them for the real world of a reporter in  “What I Learned – and Wish I’d Learned.”

  • To the surprise of many educators in the room (and to the chagrin of many current students everywhere), the panelists suggested professors give quick deadlines on their assignments. There is a definite adjustment for young reporters on their first “real world” assignments, especially when they are expected to have a finished product in only a few hours. The only way to properly prepare students for this workplace reality is to give them that experience as soon as possible.
  • “Public records, public records, public records.” Each panelist suggested more work with public records in school, from sending in requests to knowing where and what to look for. Having that knowledge would have been invaluable in their first few months on the job. Not only is it important in the day-to-day aspects of reporting, but experience with public records can make or break major stories.
  • Assignments based on current events are incredibly beneficial for students when they enter the workplace, according to the panel. This help students prepare for what they’ll face on their first assignments, and also keeps them up to date on topics and issues that they will work with. Instead of spending extra time researching, these assignments give the knowledge they need to start their work on a story right away.
  • Internships are still crucial for the development of young journalists. This is often where the passion for reporting is flamed and the foundation of their careers will be set. Providing students these opportunities and working with organizations to foster relationships is a must for educators and their universities. It will give students number of clips, recommendations and connections that are useful as they advance in their careers. It’s also where students will understand the impact of their work and learn just how important good journalism is for our society and our world.

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