You can thank my nostalgia and my excessive free time for this post. In what I hope is not the last tribute to J-school, here are the top five things I learned as a journalism student this year:
1. If your mother tells you she loves you what do you do? You check it out!
I know this probably sounds pretty weird to most people, but essentially it means that as a journalist you must be skeptical of everything. I’m not saying you should never believe a word you hear, but you should always be curious and the information you are told and the source it came from, and check, check and double check all the facts! We’ve been taught that as reporters, our first obligation is to provide the public with the truth. It’s not enough to publish information and check it later, we must make every effort to ensure the information we have received is valid before we share it with the public.
Think of the Balloon Boy fiasco last year: Did anyone in the media question if there REALLY was a little boy floating around in that balloon? Maybe if someone stopped to think about it for a few minutes before they quickly posted the story online and broke the news all over the TV, the hoax would have been discovered sooner.
So next time your moms tells you she loves you, make sure you have at least two other valid sources to confirm this statement before you go tell everyone. Accuracy is key.
2. Don’t use a $10.00 word when a $5.00 word will suffice.
This one came from my time as a co-op student at the London Free Press. Having the opportunity to sit down with the editors and go over my work was a great learning experience, and I will be sure to use their tips and advice every time I approach a new story. A problem facing most writers, including myself, is learning how to be as concise as possible. When you are writing for a newspaper especially, space for each story is limited and sometimes you will be given only 500 words for a story that you think you need 700 words to tell. This is why it is important to write clear and concise.
Remember all those long and fancy words you would use to fill up those academic essays in undergrad? You need to throw them out the window and stick to simple sentences. This was quite a struggle for me to get used to after all those years of writing 4,000 word papers, but the best thing to remember is just to tell the story as you would explain it to a friend or family member.
3. Canadian Press Style Guide is the Bible.
First, I must say I owe everything I know about grammar, spelling and editing to my professor Mary Doyle (thanks Mary!!). I may not practice it perfectly all the time, but the rules have definitely been implanted in my head. You can’t be a good journalist if your work is riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and editors will be much more happy if they don’t have to spend all their time making your stories comprehensible. This is why you need the latest edition of the CP Style Guide as well as Caps and Spelling to get the job done right.
All semester if anyone would ask, does this word have a hyphen? do I need to capitalize this? what’s the abbreviation for that? we would all say CP STYLE! It’s hard to even explain how valuable this book is for a writer, and it was definielty the best purchase I made all school year.
4. If it bleeds is leads.
Sounds pretty gruesome and sensational but it’s true (and if you start paying close attention to news coverage it will become more apparent). After writing countless practice news stories about house fires, shootings, dead bodies and car accidents you find there is a hierarchy when it comes to reporting events. It goes a little something like this:
If a person (or an animal) dies or is hurt it must be the first thing you report on in the story. If a large sum of money is stolen or lost that goes next. And finally, if anything is destroyed or badly damaged (house, car, building etc.) that would go after you report on the other two. Not exactly the best types of stories to cover, but somebody’s gotta do it.
5. Good things come to those who work really, really hard.
Sure I had to pull my weight in undergrad, but grad school I tell you was a whole other story! When we first began the year I remember being told, “you will get as much out of this program as you put into it” and boy did I take that to heart. There never seemed to be enough hours in the day to work on all those assignments, sit through hours of class and be involved in extra-curricular opportunities but I tried my best. When things weren’t going my way I wondered why I ever decided journalism school was a good idea, but when things turned out great all those worries melted right away.
Whether it was searching for story ideas, interviewing sources, editing a podcast or putting the final touches on a video clip I can honestly say I have never worked harder at anything in my life than I have in the last 12 months. But all those long nights and wasted weekends spent in the North Campus Building computer labs to get everything done just right was well worth all the stress, tears, hissy fits and bad hair days. It made me stronger, it made me wiser and most importantly it made me realize that with enough dedication and persistence anything is possible.