Jou Nerdin

Magazine journalism’s two R’s: reporting and reading

October 25, 2013

New Orleans is an exotic city. Glittery reds, greens and yellows litter the streets. Trumpets and saxophones roar from Bourbon Street bars. NOLA13 ID tags hang from the necks of young journalists wandering the streets.

The Associated Collegiate Press and College Media Association‘s 92nd annual National College Media Convention lies in this eccentric Louisiana city. I’ve been having a ball. Besides the bars that don’t ID and the inevitable finger-snapping to jazz music, New Orleans has penetrated my journalistic mind with an abundance of information. It’s awesome.

Two themes have been consistent: reporting and reading both rule.

Digital media is cool and all, but it doesn’t beat reporting skills. A journalist can know the ins and outs of Final Cut Pro and Web code, but if he or she sucks at reporting and gathering the facts, his or her newsroom is kicking that journalist to the curb.

The Lens environmental reporter Bob Marshall led my first session Oct. 24 titled “Rising Waters: How to Cover an Environmental Threat.” He said editors want writers who get the information, get it accurately, get it fast and get it in. Reporting is the only solution to that equation. (Luckily for me, I’ve been told I’m an excellent reporter.)

Effective reporting requires background research (aka doing your homework) and leaving that ego at the door. Especially with environmental reporting, my speciality, reporters must ask questions. Putting science into terms everyone can understand ain’t easy. But journalists must make understanding that information easy. So yeah … reporting. If you suck at reporting, I feel pretty bad for you. Either build some social skills or pick a different track. Google can only get you so far.

However, reporting alone can’t shape an excellent journalist. Reading does, too. Whether someone is reading for fun or because research calls, that reading helps. As Andy Dehnart said today during his session titled “How to Pitch Your Way into Magazines and More,” reading works like osmosis. All those words entering our brains helps similar words exit our brains. Essentially, that means don’t read shitty shit, or you’ll write shitty shit. Read impressive shit, and you’ll write impressive shit.

Reading is significant when a journalist is pitching a story. Read that magazine before you pitch a story to it. Familiarize yourself with its voice and what it’s looking for. Reading one or two articles 20 minutes before writing your pitch doesn’t count, either. When Dehnart began pitching stories, he said he would read an article or two and think it was enough to write for the magazine. Boy, was he wrong. You gotta’ make that magazine your bitch.

But mistakes are OK. Failure is OK. They’re both expected, and they will happen. We’re only human, right? So long as journalists keep in mind Journalism’s Two R’s Rule, writing should come easy. With in-depth notes and a hunger for words, crafty writing is inevitable.

I’ve got the reporting down pat. I have been slacking on leisurely reading, though. Sociology of Development readings take all my time — at least I’m learning about colonization and economic hit men.

Anyway, New Orleans is awesome. I have yet to try beignets and fried alligator.
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