Monthly Archives: November 2011

Advice for future journalists

Advice for future journalists

The political reporters in my newsroom -- I'm center-right (

I was apparently selected to participate in the 2011 National Survey of Journalism & Communication Graduates through the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. I bring this up not because I’m bragging (selection was random) but because the survey made me think a lot about the successes and pitfalls of my education.

I’ve said a couple times in my time since graduation that if I could do it over again, I’d pick a field to be an expert in and then target writing specifically to that area. If I’d discovered my passion for religious studies earlier, for instance, I could have majored in it and more accurately aim to be the next Lisa Miller. I also never explored fields like science, which I’ve always loved, because I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in a lab. But writing about what goes on in labs is a different story.

So at the end of the survey, it asked for me to give advice to future journalism students, and I wanted to do something that got at that core “why am I here?” angle. The results:

“Don’t go into journalism because you like to write. That helps, but I’ve found almost every other aspect of my job to be more important. If you have a passion for the beat you’re covering, a connection with your sources, an eye on your deadline, a hard-on for research, a healthy respect for ‘due diligence’ and a slightly inflated sense of justice, you might be in the right place.”

If I’d heard those words my freshman year at Michigan State University, I definitely wouldn’t have been swayed, because I’m stubborn, goal driven and confident in everything I pursue. But hey, maybe they’ll work as a sorting hat for somebody else.

Getting it right about being wrong

Getting it right about being wrong

Being a reporter, I’m also human (despite what some like to think). That means that every once in a while, I make a mistake. It sucks every time, but there’s different ways to fix it.

In my opinion the news organizations that fix mistakes in a transparent way are the most adept. Newspapers have been running a “corrections” section forever, but on the web that’s not really good enough. Newspapers are on shaky enough ground (right, so you’re supposed to have the paper from yesterday or the day before laying around, then cross-reference it with the corrected part, figure out which paragraph it effects and then wrap your mind around what that means. Have fun trying to get those 8 minutes of your life back.)

Thanks to jollyUK for licensing this under Creative Commons on Flickr.

When it comes to the online world, I’m a big fan of Slate‘s corrections policy. They generally reference a mistake at the bottom story in an editor’s note type of thing, and then link you back to the corrected sentence. I do web work. I know that whole anchor/flag in the text concept is annoying. But as a reader, it’s very nice to not have to figure out where the mistake originally appeared.

The second thing they do right is aggregate their mistakes in one place. In case you need to quickly reference a correction, it’s there. If you’re on the offended/misquoted end, you can furiously refresh your browser on that page until it tells you what’s changed where.

At my news organization, we’ve struggled a little bit with that sort of consistency. One editor pointed out a couple weeks ago that sometimes we run a correction but don’t correct the actual story. We also have what I think is an important line between what we announce as a correction and what we don’t. For instance, if I’m scrolling through a published story and realize a typo’s gotten though, I fix it on the back end and don’t do anything else. It’s different if I get a call from someone pointing out my math is wrong — that warrants an ASAP correction along with a correction run in the next edition.

Sometimes when people are mad about small things (“I wouldn’t quite describe that advocacy organization as progressive like you did in your story…”) it makes the most sense to either stand by your words or, if they have concrete evidence to the contrary, just change it in the story. For me, this applies most often to things that don’t at all change the meaning of a story.

I think what’s really bad is when news organizations correct something essential without mentioning it. It’s very frustrating to send someone an article and then find out that what’s up at that link now is different from what you’d forwarded them. We do a good job avoiding that kind of frustrating run-around.

In any case, I’m proud to say I haven’t had to correct anything in a month or so. I’m not sure if it’s the “bad things happen in threes” logic or what, but it seems to come and go in waves.

I think my biggest personal gaffe was quoting Michigan’s Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as saying one of this collegue’s ideas was “immature” instead of “premature.” This was how it was in my notes and everything, but I should have realized it was extremely out of character as I was typing things up. I just misheard. Every once in a while they’ll still tease me about it at Ag Commission meetings, but I try to keep it and all mistakes in a certain perspective; they’re OK if you put the right kind of band-aid on them.

Furry Friends

Furry Friends

The other morning I woke up and was like “Rain? Shit, I’m skipping class.”

Within a snooze cycle I realized that a) I had no class (pun) and b) I actually didn’t have a class to skip and c) I had a job. You kind of have to go to those.

That brings me to my larger point: rainy days should only be spent cuddling with animals and reading books. I’m sorry, but it’s true. If I lived in a rainy-er place, I’d be a sadder person. So everyone go out right now and buy an animal. Or, just come back to this post next time it rains and look at the adorable animals my friends own.

This guy belongs to Marcus and Brian, and accompanies me running. Note: he poops out at three miles and is scared of bridges.


I haven't met this honey yet, but obviously Stuart looks like cuddliest of fellows. Owned by Jen & Jeff (whose arms are pictured).


I can't lie, I sent this to Amora's owner with a text that said "Good AMORAning!" Mel's kitty. One of two, actually.


THIS ONE'S MINE. Maverick. Adorable.


This is Mickie, Becca's cutie pie. We slept together on a camping trip once, and I knew he was a master cuddler.