After 23 years of reporting from such far-flung spots as Rochester, San Francisco and Hong Kong, Amy Wu now covers politics and government at The Californian, a Gannett paper in Salinas, Calif. Wu, who earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, finds that while the media landscape has changed profoundly in the last two decades, new challenges lead to new rewards. This roundup of her tips for navigating a shrinking newsroom is the fifth of a five-part series.
Look for Main Street mergers
Deals apply to Main Street as much as they do Wall Street. First hunt for publicly traded companies (many are headquartered in smaller cities), which are required to report their financials to the SEC, making them easily searchable through the EDGAR database. Pursue private companies, too. Cracking private companies will put your source building skills to the test. When interviewing CEOs, ask if they have plans to merge or acquire. Big deals can have a ripple effect on local communities including layoffs, consolidation or the change of the company’s name or even headquarters.
Refresh your fact-checking
In the fast-paced digital newsroom it’s easy to forget one of the most critical basics in our profession: fact-checking. It becomes a lot easier when your reporting is thorough. When doing interviews, especially on sensitive stories, I bring my Olympus mini-recorder, but also take ferocious notes in case of a technology fail. If interviewing in person, ask the individual to write their name, title and contact information on your notepad, or get their business card. You can’t rely on the company website, which isn’t always up to date or even authentic.
Embrace graphic elements, starting with bullet points, which can be a visual oasis for readers who don’t have the time or patience to plow through text. Videos are a catchy way to capture readers’ attention. With a few tools such as Canva, which lets you add your own graphics, you can create your own mini video of one minute or less. “Briefs are your best friend,” a veteran reporter once told me. Not every piece needs to be a hefty investigative or enterprise piece. Less can be more leaving you energy to pursue bigger projects.
Network like you mean it
If you want to stay in the game, making connections is vital. The easiest way is to pick a conference you really want to attend and make the case to your company. Maybe you can pay for half and they can pay for half; maybe go as a representative and help man an exhibitor booth. But if that doesn’t work and even if you’re working in Smalltown, USA, see what’s available in the nearest cities. Many journalism organizations hold regional conferences or day-long events that require minimal commitments of time and money.
Check and re-check your numbers
Data and numbers are a bedrock of business reporting. You’ll find them in stories from municipal budgets to the revenue for local and regional businesses. Common calculations include percentage changes year on year, and tabulating money allocated compared to the expenditures. Expand your fact checking routine to numbers. A missing or additional zero makes a tremendous difference. The good news is the web is filled with free calculators that can produce percent change results with a click, but it’s even better if you learn the formulas yourself and check and recheck.
The entire five-part series, “Surviving and Thriving in a Shrinking Newsroom,” is now available as a PDF. Download a copy here.