Does your awesome writing matter, if you can’t report?

By SAIRA SUMBAL

I recently had the pleasure of having a brief, but interesting, conversation with an editor from a national online men’s lifestyle magazine.  What was most striking about what she had to say?

Journalism isn’t about writing, it’s about reporting.

Being a terrific writer is central to being an effective journalist (the ABCs of journalism). But if you can’t report or handle the ins and outs that come with reporting such as the scenario below, well, being a reporter might just … be a bit hard.

Ultimate reporter scenario: That moment when you’re on deadline, you have your sources locked down, one source backs out and, in a frenzied craze, you realize that you can no longer report on that topic so you try to exercise your “creative abilities,” and search for a story while realizing that you’re deadline is creeping up on you like the Grinch that stole Christmas.

Utilizing your “creative abilities,” may mean driving around in your car in  search of an idea, or you might like to sit near a lake with a pad of paper constructing what looks like a web diagram. If you’re really on deadline, you don’t even leave your desk. Consuming caffeine and eating one thing excessively may be involved with this.

Part II of this is the part where you (from my opinion) actually do the reporting – you communicate with people. And not just talking, but more importantly, listening to people, whether it’s at an event or in the comfort of the person’s home. Even on deadline.

I know this approach sounds incredibly naïve. Because in the real world it doesn’t really work like this from what I have witnessed and have been told by insiders. I hope that I am wrong. You don’t have time sometimes to really “listen,” to people. Sometimes, all you need is that quote, and in a haste you get it from your source – your sole concern is getting the quote, not so much about what the quote provides for the story.

But if today’s upcoming journalists don’t think outside of the box and at least strive to take our field to another notch…we aren’t doing our job (there, I said it).  We are the next drove of journalists. We can’t just try to maintain the status quo.

So when the editor told me that being a journalist is about reporting, and not writing, I walked away from the UM Career Center reflecting upon what that meant.

Journalism is about being able to communicate with people. Even if you’re asking tough, difficult, questions, you still have to be able to communicate with that person in a genuine but effective manner.

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