Sometimes, I forget that I have been doing this forever.
I decided I wanted to be a journalist while in high school, and I earned a journalism degree in college.
Following college, except for taking a year off and working in retail, I have been in the newspaper business in some form or fashion.
Most of those years, I have been my own boss or I was editor of a newspaper. I only worked with a boss over me in the newsroom for a short time.
What that all means is that I have learned most of what I have learned the hard way – by making mistakes.
When you have no mentors in the workplace, you have to figure out things for yourself. I could make a list of all the things I’ve learned from my errors, but I’m not about to do that!
I think it’s my experience of having to seek out mentors that makes me want to share experiences and encourage young people who show a passion for this business.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m too over-the-top, especially when it comes to new employees. A new person has to learn everything from Associated Press style rules to how to upload content to our website.
And there are so many rules.
I started to think about some of the things that come naturally to me that probably would not be known by someone new in the business, especially if they have not taken journalism classes.
Those “rules” are there to provide reliable, trustworthy news to our readers, but I’d guess most readers don’t know they are there either.
So I thought I would just see what “rules” I can pull out of my overworked brain that might help our readers and give me a chance to do a basic checkup of how we are doing.
First, we can “clean up” and crop photos, but we do not alter them. Ever.
I remember one seminar I attended where we had a lengthy discussion about whether it was appropriate to “fix” a broken curb on the side of a road in a photograph.
For an advertisement, maybe, but not if that curb is a photo of property for sale. For the newsroom, absolutely not.
A newspaper is a record of history, and altering a photo is considered deceitful. We don’t put ourselves in the news.
We don’t write about “me” and “I,” unless it is absolutely necessary (or the editorial page). We don’t take part in conversations nor provide opinions (I break that rule sometimes at EDA meetings, but only if encouraged, usually to assist with marketing, which is something I know something about.) We don’t run pics of our own families at events (yes, we have broken that one).
We don’t release news articles prior to publication (I have a great story about a reporter who chose to break that one and learned why we have the rule, but that’s a long story). We fact check and allow excerpts to be reviewed for accuracy sake, but we do not allow the subjects of our news to give their approval.
We do not give control over the news to our advertisers. Newsroom decisions must not be determined by financial interests (A former boss broke that rule, hence my decision to try retail for a year).
When you say it’s “off the record,” it’s off the record. Even if that means going to jail.
Rules have changed a lot lately, thanks to the instant access that the internet provides. We have to balance truth with speed, but I try to make sure we choose accuracy over being first every time. I admit that grammar has taken a nosedive due to the web, and partial stories are told instead of waiting until the full story is available.
It’s a changing world, but some of the rules that have been in place for decades to keep newspapers trustworthy and reliable still hold true today. We are imperfect, and I don’t pretend to be otherwise. But we do want to “get it right,” and I am always willing to learn.
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