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No small talk -- big deal?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Trey Beamon, Aug 3, 2006.

  1. Trey Beamon

    Trey Beamon Active Member

    I guess this is a spinoff of last year's "Are you shy?" thread...

    I've been in the business for nearly two years, and still struggle with this.

    I don't shoot the shit with most coaches and players. A little small talk after a typical interview -- that's it. I don't think it's hurt much in terms of content, but the trust factor just isn't there, even after a year. Then again, past SE's here were buddy-buddy with coaches, but it certainly wasn't evident in their copy (play-by-play gamers, ho-hum quotes, etc.).

    It's kinda cruel, but I view sources -- with some exceptions -- as objects rather than people. Stop, say hello, get what you need and get out. Maybe it's a social anxiety thing. Maybe I've taken "keep things professional" to an unnecessary extreme.

    Many come on this site and mention the long hours, low pay and high stress as reasons for jumping ship. I'm starting to think I don't have the personality to cut it.
  2. If you're shy you'll never cut it in this business...

    Adios amigo

    Not trying to be cruel, but this is a conversation-based business...
  3. pallister

    pallister Guest

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep some distance. The last thing you want to do is become a schill. However, it is very important to build trust, and small talk isn't the only way to do that. Build trust while doing your job. Don't know what your beat is like, but every chance you get to break from the pack and talk one-on-one, do it. Make sure you ask more questions, and make sure you ask questions that have some depth to them. A good source will appreciate this and you'll build trust by showing he/she that you're interested and engaged.

    There's a fine line between small talk and ass-kissing. A lot of people don't want their ass kissed and can see through conversation for conversation's sake. You can be a good reporter without "shooting the shit" with everyone you talk to.
  4. Superman

    Superman Guest

    Building trust means that you keep pressbox talk off the record. You don't have to schill to do that, but you also can't print everything you hear.
  5. Small talk is important for building up relationships with your sources. Somebody mentioned this on another thread, but it's a good thing to go "off the notebook," with some of your sources. Obviously, this depends on time and location.

    Treating your sources like prostitutes is no way to build a rapport with them...
  6. ramona

    ramona New Member

    I feel the same way, quite often, and I also believe it holds me back. I think the main problem for me is I just don't know how to make that sort of small talk, chit chat, off the notebook, whatever you wanna call it, I don't know how to be natural doing it. I feel like I'm forcing the conversation. I worry that maybe I don't have enough naturally in common with these people to stroke their interest. Or I worry that I'm bothering them, so I just get what I need and then leave them alone. For me, the problem extends from athletes to coaches to front office executives to the office secretaries to the media relations bafoons. And to other sports writers. I hate when I see a small scrum of reporters around some important person and no one is taking notes or recording. I know they're getting chummy, possibly hearing great off-the-record stories.... yet I am too whatever to go join them.

    Anyway. I'd be interested to hear any kind of practical advice for overcoming this problem and acting natural in those moments, even if that skill doesn't come naturally. The one thing I've tried to work on is owning the title "journalist." I'm sure that sounds hookey, but I think because I'm young I tell myself I'm not a "real" journalist, I'm just a kid, stuff like that. I'm trying to let it sink in that I really am a reporter. Then maybe I'll think and act like one.
  7. BillySixty

    BillySixty Member

    It has to come naturally. You can't all of a sudden decide one day to become chummy with Player X. But the best advice I can give is to think of them as equals. If these are professional athletes you are dealing with, don't act so damn nervous around them. Like dogs, many can smell fear. If they are college/high school athletes, don't clam up. It makes them feel uncomfortable, too.

    Just act as if you'd act around a friend of a friend you met for the first time. Don't pick your nose and you'll be fine.
  8. shockey

    shockey Active Member

    being personable enough to establish a rapport with people is an important part of the job. if you can't shmooze, you lose.

    those who can't become editors/desk people. doesn't mean they don't have writing skills, but reporting well takes people skills, too. you won't get the best stories with just straight q-and-a style. trust is built through relaxed conversation. if you can't do it, it will limit how well you'll do. no ifs, and or buts. :eek: :eek: :eek:
  9. e4

    e4 Member

    This is true to a certain extent, but not entirely. If you're not good at it, you can get better. You just have to want to do it and work a bit harder to make it happen. Realizing that you're shy is a huge first step, as opposed to thinking you're just not good.

    I was so freaking shy when I started working as a journalist that I would sometimes feel sick to my stomach even asking someone for an interview. The confidence wasn't there for me and I definitely had some social anxiety fears about putting myself on the line in front of crowds of people, etc. I was also timid about carrying myself with an air of authority (too much turns into ego, so beware) but I think that's important as well.

    Now I have the confidence that I can go up to anyone, shoot the shit, find some common ground and build a rapport and get their help on a story.

    It never fit into my personality, but I always wished it had, that I could be the kind of person who was able to just shoot the shit with strangers and feel comfortable doing it. So I started hanging out close to reporters that were great at this. I'd take a step back in group interviews and watch how they presented themselves, what approach they took. I'd watch them during the down time, watch who they were talking to and how they slipped in and out of numerous conversations.

    The point is that like writing, the reporting needs to be practiced as well. Most people aren't able to be the perfect reporter naturally, but it's part of a social behavior and it can be learned and improved.

    The biggest thing I learned was consistency. Do you sometimes walk by a coach and say hi, then sometimes don't? How is he supposed to react to you when you do that? It may feel uncomfortable "taking charge" of your social interactions, but at some point it becomes empowering. And the thing is, you don't have to pretend to be their friend, they probably don't even want you to do that.

    Just ask questions about the team/players as a reporter. That's where you build rapport, by asking questions about the team/the players/the whatever when you've got the notebook tucked away. Yes, you're still interviewing, but it doesn't seem like that. If you ever need to write stuff down, you can always go back to the "official" interview later, notebook out and similar questions asked. Usually the interview will go smoother. Just listening to someone talk can go a long way.

    One final point: Frank Deford wrote in the intro to one of his books that he was always shy, so shy in fact that he never drummed up the courage to introduce himself to Red Smith. The shyness can affect a lot of people. Deford, and I am of course paraphrasing, said he overcame it by putting on an act of sorts, that he realized what had to be done and he just did it, almost as if it were a sense of duty.

    The key is to pull it off so that you seem genuine. Conduct yourself within your personality, but be honest and straightforward and the confidence and sources will evolve.
  10. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Sometimes it helps to be a stalker, too. Every once in a while, try going to a practice, or if it's a high school beat, the fieldhouse and leave the notebook in the car. Don't go with the intention of writing anything. Just show your face and hang around for 30 minutes or an hour. Listen for tidbits, and just file them away for future reference. Throw in the occasional joke if they're talking football or something like that. Half the time you don't even have to say anything. If it's a group of coaches they'll just sit there and shoot the shit and you can just listen. Basically, worm your way into their brain and let them see that you're not going to print all of the little off-the-record stories. It takes work and time, but eventually it'll pay off.
  11. Pringle

    Pringle Active Member

    I'm glad to hear others go through the same things I have. On my current beat, I do pretty well because I have the cachet of working at essentially the major paper that covers it. But I can remember being frustrated to tears at a previous stop when all conversation would seem to cease when I tried to join in. It was such a frustrating struggle and it started to affect how I thought of myself.

    I don't have any concrete advice - sometimes it's finding the right fit for a job, or being around enough, etc., etc.
  12. Superman

    Superman Guest

    The local TV station and my paper play flag football in the fall and softball in the summer and invite players to either watch or pick a team and play with us. Great way to get the kids comfortable with us.

    For coaches, when you call their homes and the wife answers, chat for a minute. I've gotten good tips from coaches' wifes because they help keep the team orgainzed just as much as the coach.

    Another coach we knew (now retired) owns a deli, so we stop in and buy a sandwich (don't take freebies) and shoot the shit.

    You just have to be a people person.
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