“No matter what your personal belief is, you need to go out there and report the truth- and the truth is out there.” Mark Holmberg was the first to speak at the journalism workshop training I attended a week ago. As somebody who’s used to seeing reporters (or student media leaders) dressed in suits or such attires, his casual appearance struck me a little odd, but, to be honest, befitting. Maybe I’m wrong as I base this off of speculation, but the outfit suited him as he came off to me as a journalist who pursued his stories on the ground rather than from an office. There were others who wore jeans and a t-shirt, but there was something different about Holmberg. One could tell that he was comfortable, that he was in his element. It’s true that his towering figure could’ve possibly contributed to his persona, but there was definitely something about him.
He spoke on agenda-driven reporting and how, even though he was the media, he was sick of it- so much that he didn’t even enjoy turning the news on. “Every issue we’re reporting on, we’re flocking to the loudest person,” he said, implying how we should be doing the opposite. And I agree. Why be repetitive? Why go to an event that’s being broadcast only to return with answers that anyone could’ve found? Why look where everyone else’s already looking?
The workshop was sponsored by the Virginia Press Association. It was a two-day thing, June 22-23, and honestly an opportunity I couldn’t have taken had it not been for their generous scholarship offering that covered both days of training, lodging for one night at a nearby hotel, and lunch both days as well. The training took place at the VPA headquarters in Glen Allen which was just 10 min away from SpringHill Suites.
A lot was covered. A lot was learnt. It was motivational, it was inspirational. When I’m surrounded by journalists, it’s like my adrenaline kicks in. It’s an exciting field to work in and I’m sure a life-changing one. As I come close to starting my senior year of college, my last year, so many thoughts fill my head, so many feelings fill my heart- I realize that this is just the beginning.
These notes are meant more for me than anyone else- just some lessons, some quotes I jotted down that I thought were worth looking back at.
- First thing: fact-check.
- Don’t steel or harden yourself when dealing with stories. Feelings, mainly empathy, are not just important, but necessary for certain stories. “There’s a difference between being emotionally invested and biased.”
- It’s OK to have preferences, but the professionalism in this business comes in when you’ve learnt how to remove personal biases.
- Always On Culture: the thought that it’s a 24 hour day, 7 days a week schedule (a must-have for this profession)
- You don’t have to overextend yourself. Just write what you know and allow your audience to write the next sentence (especially when your sources won’t answer your questions).
- Be firm, fast, truthful, and steadfast.
- Getting yelled at/thrown things at is part of the job.
- Do not copy news releases.
- Redundant sourcing? A no-no.
- Get in the habit of re-reading your stories before you submit them.
- Know in advance how to respond to the question, “What’s in it for me?”
- If somebody’s putting you on speaker phone: Who else is in the room and why? What are the possible implications?
- Rule when reporting minors? Make sure parents are there.
- Get rid of I/is/was – use active voice, visuals, and senses. “Take the reader there.”
- Although it’s become easy to be unfair due to the impulse to rush, it is worse to be wrong than it is to be last.
- It’s never too late to call your editor.
- Truth is not about balance. Balance is not fair, the truth is, and the truth is not always kind.
- Whether you’re covering sports/politics, know the Freedom of Information Act. You’re not required to tell anyone why you want the documents.
- Wrapping up an interview: note down what you saw, what your subject was wearing, all your observations before you forget. Know where they’ll be the next day so you can follow up in case your editor has more questions and you need to call.
- “A lot of the time, you end up running a lot of other things.” Keep an open mind.
Another important point that Holmberg shined a light on was how our unique experiences are what’s going to help us write the stories that we’re meant to. “My only rule is to follow the same route people have used- if there’s a hole under a fence, use that. Won’t help with the police, but..” ya get the gist of it.
I brought back one of my favorite quotes from this workshop: better to ask for forgiveness than permission.