When I was 24, I landed my first reporter position at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I was one of the youngest reporters on staff, and I looked even younger. I remember thinking, “Man, I really need to stay on top of my game to prove myself!” And I did.
As a newsroom newbie, it can feel daunting working elbow-to-elbow with seasoned journalists. But with these 10 tips — and a little advice from Newport Mercury editor Janine Weisman, who’s worked with tons of green writers — you’re sure to command respect in no time.
Even if newsroom veterans wear jeans and sneakers, opt for business casual instead. If you’re interviewing a politician, wear a suit and tie or throw a blazer over a dress.
Some situations require dressed-down attire (e.g. covering an oil spill or hiking through the woods), but you should never look sloppy. If you look younger than you are, dressing like a professional adds credibility.
“I once sent a summer intern home to change because he showed up wearing flip-flops on the day he was scheduled to interview a new university president in person,” Weisman said.
ACCEPT CRITICISM AND EDITS GRACEFULLY
It’s the most beautiful article you’ve ever written, but your editor hacked it up and wants a new lead. Don’t sweat it. This happens to everyone — even award-winning journalists.
As a green journalist, trust that your editor knows best. Put your ego aside, accept the edits and move on to the next assignment. Indeed, some things are worth fighting for, but choose your battles wisely. Consider criticism an opportunity to grow as a writer.
SUBMIT CLEAN WORK
Before filing a story, make sure it’s as clean and error-free as possible. (Yes, that means referencing your trusty AP Stylebook if needed.)
“Sloppy copy means more work for me, and that makes me unhappy because I have enough work to do already,” Weisman said.
Every journalist must meet deadlines. But for a young journalist with zero street cred, missing deadlines can quickly flush a budding career down the toilet.
In a newsroom, you’ll never know what each day will bring. So keep an extra stash of journalism tools at your desk or in your car just in case, such as: a blazer, an umbrella, a raincoat, a phone charger, dress shoes, sneakers or flats, a tie (for the guys), snacks, extra notepads and pens, and extra batteries for your audio recorder. Pack makeup, hairspray, a comb and oil blotting sheets if you regularly appear on camera. Being ill-prepared can look immature.
A desk strewn with papers, books and half-eaten sandwiches may work for some reporters, but don’t be that person. Maintaining a clean, organized desk will make your workflow more efficient and will keep you from being the Pig-Pen of the newsroom.
SEEK ADVICE FROM VETERAN JOURNALISTS
You can learn a wealth of knowledge from seasoned journalists. Offer to take a senior reporter to lunch one day to pick his or her brain. The reporter may feel flattered, plus you’ll show that you’re not just some know-it-all kid.
Maintain an open dialogue with your editor. Update him or her about your assignments, especially if you run into a major roadblock (e.g. your subject refuses to talk). It’s better to communicate any issues early on instead of waiting until the last minute.
MAINTAIN EXCELLENT MANNERS
Even if your newsroom is full of burps, curses and complaints, don’t go there. Saying “thank you” and “please,” curbing foul language and projecting a positive attitude will garner esteem from your colleagues. Along those lines, avoid engaging in too many personal texts during office hours, especially during meetings. It’s just rude.
Whether you’re working on a ho-hum assignment or attending dull meetings, demonstrate that you’re eager and willing to take on anything.
“Maybe a story sounds boring to you. But once you start working on it and learn more, you should be able to find out why it’s interesting and convey that to the reader,” Weisman said. “If you’re not a curious person by nature, what are you doing in journalism?”
Jennifer Nicole Sullivan is the vintage fashion writer/ editor at About.com, a contributing writer at Newport Mercury and a freelance fashion and entertainment writer in New York City. Previously, she was a copywriter at Real Simple magazine and a features reporter at Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Connect with her at email@example.com, @trendyjennyand vintageclothing.about.com.
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