For Aspiring Journalists

“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. 

  1. First thing: fact-check.
  2. 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.”
  3. It’s OK to have preferences, but the professionalism in this business comes in when you’ve learnt how to remove personal biases. 
  4. Always On Culture: the thought that it’s a 24 hour day, 7 days a week schedule (a must-have for this profession)
  5. 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). 
  6. Be firm, fast, truthful, and steadfast. 
  7. Getting yelled at/thrown things at is part of the job. 
  8. Do not copy news releases. 
  9. Redundant sourcing? A no-no.
  10. Get in the habit of re-reading your stories before you submit them. 
  11. Know in advance how to respond to the question, “What’s in it for me?”
  12. If somebody’s putting you on speaker phone: Who else is in the room and why? What are the possible implications? 
  13. Rule when reporting minors? Make sure parents are there. 
  14. Get rid of I/is/was – use active voice, visuals, and senses. “Take the reader there.”
  15. 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. 
  16. It’s never too late to call your editor. 
  17. Truth is not about balance. Balance is not fair, the truth is, and the truth is not always kind. 
  18. Whether you’re covering sports/politics, know the Freedom of Information Act. You’re not required to tell anyone why you want the documents. 
  19. 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. 
  20. “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. 

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Some Inspiration to Keep You Moving

Maybe it’s because I have yet to fully come to terms with everything that’s happened that I continue to speak of the past. It’s crazy, how life works. We’re not getting any younger and life’s not getting any easier. While 2016 was rough for most of us, and I’m not about to delve into why it was for me, there are some quotes and some lessons I picked up along the way that I thought were worth sharing. 

#1 | Show Up

You might be going through a rough time and may want to stay put in bed, in the comfort of your sheets with maybe your cat to cozy up to, but if there’s someplace you rather need to be, just make the effort of showing up, so you don’t have to deal with the option of skipping your class, your meeting, or even a job interview. Don’t let your dreams be dreams. 

#2 | Don’t Be Late 

If you want to leave an impression, don’t even show up on time. One cool professor of mine whose name I could never pronounce (Mr. Esterhuizen) told me this, “If you’re on time, you’re already late.”

#3 | The Right Attitude 

I’m interning with this rad multimedia producer named Paul and as he helped me explore career opportunities, he talked to me about what a difference the right attitude can make. He defined it as being friendly and enthusiastic, and I couldn’t agree more. What does the right attitude look like to you?

#4 | You Never Lose 

This is pretty cliché, but I’m all about seeing bad experiences as lessons. Actually, if you make the same mistake twice, then, yes, it’s a loss- a loss of your precious time and energy, so learn from your mistakes as well as from other people’s. 

#5 | But Love Fearlessly 

There are times the people we love will hurt us, disappoint us, even betray us to the point that we feel disgusted with the idea of ever falling in love again (whatever that looks like). As long as you’re not looking for perfection and keep an open heart & mind, you’ll find happiness. 

Unless of course you’re an independent woman who needs no man. J-Kay.. kind of.. THE POINT IS: love’s worth it. 

#6 | Friends Come and Go 

Except for best friends. They stay. They’re the type of people who will be there for you when you seriously need them to be- P.M. or A.M. They’re the type of people you can pick up where you left off with. They’re the type of people who treat your house as their own, and they’re especially the type of people to give your mother a place to stay the night if she needs one. 

#7 | Cut Out What’s Toxic 

And whoever’s toxic. #thefirststeptofindinghappiness

#8 | Let Go of Your Ego

And make room for soul food. It’s not healthy nor does it help with any relationship at all- personal or professional. 

#9 | It’s OK to be Selfish

As long as it’s not at the expense of another, be absolutely selfish. You’re not obligated to live in another’s shadow. We’re made to feel like we’re being selfish for wanting to live life the way we want to and coming from a collectivistic family structure and background doesn’t really help. Instead, it feels wrong to chase after our dreams. That will not change till you change the way you think. You can only hope others around you will change the way they think once they see that you’re happy and healthy. 

#10 | Find Encouragement in Everything

I can’t remember who told me this, but it’s stuck with me since. Enjoy the little things, celebrate each and every achievement- big or small, let a traffic ticket lead you to learning about the law and your rights more, let rain be the reason for you to share your umbrella with a stranger and sun be the reason you stop by a crowded restaurant to admire and smell the pretty roses. 

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Where to from here?

Junior year of college can be the best as you make the transition from core classes to more targeted classes, and basically start majoring in what majorly interests you. What’s it like to be done with your third year? 

 HA! I’m actually not quite sure myself. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming, yet it took me by surprise and here I sit, still trying to digest the fact that I have a year, one year of college life keeping me from being an “adult”. This is mind-blowing to me because I honestly still feel like I’m in my teen years. 

So where to from here?

I’m assuming next year will go by even faster just because it’s the final year. Every minute and every move is going to matter now more than ever and if I’ve been terrible at texting back, I can almost promise you it will get worse. 

As some of you are already aware, my goal is to one day become a News Anchor. That’s why this summer I’m concentrating especially on putting myself out there and on screen more, learning the ins and the outs of video production, taking the time to understand programs like Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, After Effects, etc etc.

Specifically, I’m interning at my university this summer under a pretty rad multimedia producer, I’m working on a documentary on the side, making YouTube videos, reading and writing more, but the biggest, coolest, maybe most exciting part of it all-

I’m moving into a place of my own later this summer along with two gorgeous, very talented women! 


Thankful for all these people making junior year one to remember! 

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