Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rough Notes on Journalism

This is the first rough organization of notes I took while talking to retired journalist Gary G. about his profession.

Some Recommendations to Aspiring Journalists

1. Educate yourself: Read a wide spectrum of magazines and news sources, which many other journalists are not reading,
from the Nation [left] to the National Review [right],
and lots in between, such as
The Economist ("should be number 1 on everyone's list, but isn't"),
Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, The Sun, Harper's, etc.

2. Get published. Research newsworthy items of interest to you; write up a brief outline of your thesis and your sources, and pitch the idea to an editor of a fitting newpaper or magazine. Do an informational interview with the editor in person first, if possible, to establish a relationship.

3. To become an Olympic journalist:
Pick two or three topics of interest to you that are going to become major in the news in the next year or so (e.g. the way one could see a few years ago that stem cell research was going to become hot news sooner or later) and research them thoroughly, on your own time. When the news breaks, you will be in the position to be the resident expert.

Some phrases Gary used:

"public-service journalism"

"Live-In Reporting" = getting up-close to your subject(s) for a long enough time to get to know them, and write from that vantage point. This is related to Gary's principle of "reporting from the bottom up."
Problem: this is expensive, and most media outlets won't pay for it.

We are in an era of financial cutbacks. Newspaper managers are always concerned with the "allocation of resources" (spending money) and, Gary says, "Crime is the cheapest form of coverage."

"Enterprise Reporting" = generating and reporting a new story, as opposed to working on assignments or rehashed stories

"pseudo news"

"You don't get what you don't ask for."

Further Reading

1. Melvin Mencher's News Reporting and Writing: best textbook for aspiring journalists, now in its 11th ed. (Do the assigned exercises.)

2. News Is a Verb, by Pete Hamill of the New York Daily News

3. Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman

4. Jim Romenesko's Media News
News, daily commentary and links about journalism and media, out of the non-profit Poynter Institute.

5. Also connected with Poynter: Jay Rosen (at NYU) writes a lively blog PressThink about journalism and its ordeals (www.pressthink.org). NewAssignment.Net is his experimental site for reporting projects.

6. Columbia Journalism Review

7. American Journalism Review

8. The Society of Professional Journalists spj.org. Their ethic code includes: be accurate and accountable, minimize harm, and defend journalistic independence.

9. The N Y Times also publishes their ethics code.

10. Look into Oliver Wendell Holmes, William O. Douglas and Hugo Black's Supreme Court decisions on free speech ("no prior restraint" on free speech except reporting movement of troops in a time of war, and you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater).

11. Look into the media reform movement, which works against the concentrated ownership of media.

12. Committee of Concerned Journalists and Project for Excellence in Journalism (Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.)

Journalists Gary Mentioned

Bill Moyers (he says patriotism means questioning authority)

I. F. Stone (I.F. Stone's Weekly)

John Wicklein (changed the way the NYTimes covers religion)

Joyce Meyers, TV Protestant minister

William Raspberry (said the question, "What works in your town?" leads to newsworthy stories; journalists should cover efforts to help improve society not just cover conflict)

John Laurence, covered Vietnam War for CBS News

Walter Lippman (old school journalist, d. 1970s)

Saul Alinsky, "guru of community organizing"

Fred Friendly (CBS--the guy George Clooney played in Good Night and Good Luck)

Google McCandlish Phillips and Daniel Burros and see what you find, Gary tells me.
I do, and find a bizarre and intriguing story.
Phillips was a reporter for the NYT who reported in 1965 that Burros, a leader in the American Nazi Pary and the KKK, was himself a Jew. When the article appeared, Burros shot himself to death.
Ken Auletta's article on Phillips, "The Man Who Disappeared," covers this and other aspects of the life of this journalist who was also a devoted born-again Christian.
The article appeared in the New Yorker on Jan. 6, 1997, but can be read at:

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