1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

rookie assignment editor question

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by writing irish, Sep 17, 2008.

  1. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    Way back in the day, before I entered journalism, I spent many years as a manager. Since entering journalism, I've been a one-man sports department and a one-man news department, but I've never been a supervisor. Until now- the organization just hired a reporter to work under me. I am now in charge of a micro-department that includes me and one staffer. My reporter, who I'll call Jimmy Olson, is right out of school with a degree in journalism from State U.

    So far so good, generally. I can tell my reporter is generally pleased with having me as an editor. His one complaint with my managerial style so far is that I'm not specific enough with my story assignments. I give him an assignment, he thinks it's too general, he gets frustrated. I wish I could give specific examples of assignments, but I really can't, for anonymity purposes. I'll try to give a hypothetical that isn't too far from reality.

    Jimmy: This assignment says to write a story about immigration in Palookaville! I don't know what that means- I don't know what you want.

    Irish: I know I've given you a very broad topic- one that can't be covered comprehensively in a single piece. What I want you to do is, given this general topic, find an interesting story.

    Jimmy: But I don't know what you want.

    Irish: I want you to find a story within this topic. I don't know much about immigration in Palookaville. I know that Palookaville is experiencing a large wave of immigration, both legal and illegal. I know that Palookaville is in our coverage area. Past that, I don't know much. So you tell me. Get on the phone, go to Palookaville, talk to people, find a story.

    Jimmy: You did a piece last month on immigration in Doofusburg. Your piece was a public policy story. Do you want me to do a public policy story like that? Or do you want a personal-portrait type story talking about a single immigrant's experience in the town?

    Irish: Either would be fine. What I want is for you to be a reporter and find a good story. It could be a slightly dry but information-packed public policy piece. It could be a piece that describes a single person's experience and places that one person's story within the context of an overall trend. Do research, get a footing in the issue. Then decide which aspect of this topic would make the best story- once you've narrowed it down, zero in on your angle and do it.

    Jimmy: But I don't know what kind of story you want! You won't tell me!

    For the record, I have zero experience, training or education for being an assignment editor. I've assigned stories to myself, obviously, but this is different. My question for the board is, based on what I've put forth here, what do you think? Is young Jimmy being lame? Am I being lame? Are we both being lame? Because I really don't know shit about being on the other end of the assignment desk, I'm fully prepared to accept it if I'm doing everything wrong. Really, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just shooting from the hip. So who needs the reality check? Me? The cub reporter? All of the above? Let's hear it, newsroom veterans.
  2. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    I think your assignment would be fine for someone with some experience. And others may disagree. But I really think for a cub fresh out of college, maybe just a little more direction would be good. Once he tells you he has no idea what you want, make a decision and tell him what you want. Then, as time goes on, let out the reins and tell him that now that he's got a feel for the area, it's going to be more on him to find these things for himself.
  3. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    That seems reasonable, IJAG.

    It's kind of an uncomfortable situation for both me and young Jimmy Olson. He just, as I said, graduated from college with a degree in this field. I, on the other hand, graduated from college during Bush I's presidency with an English degree. Never seen a journalism classroom in my life, but I've been a full-time journo for six years.

    So we have very different skill sets. He knows things about journalism that I don't, but I have more experience, both with this job and with life. Olson tends to go back and forth between being a know-it-all-kid-out-of-college at some times, a helpless babe in the woods other times. I'm not the only one who doesn't quite know what the other person wants out of me.
  4. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    I think IJAG hit the nail on the head. For someone who's been doing this for a while, you can afford to loosen the reins. (And, for a good reporter, it's probably the best thing you can do.)

    But if that hypothetical conversation is anything close to reality, your reporter clearly doesn't have or understand the initiative he needs to do what you're asking of him. So keep pushing him in that direction*, but in the meantime, you'll have to give him specific assignments to get what you're looking for.

    * By "keep pushing," I mean after he turns in a specifically assigned story, have a conversation with him about how/if there are a few more stories to be milked out of the topic. Sometimes, there's only one story you can squeeze out of an assignment. But often, you can turn one good assignment into 2-3 stories. Talk to him about generating those ideas, and help him come up with a few. That'll plant the idea in his head and hopefully he'll be able to do it on his own, with a little experience.
  5. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Some reporters can go on virtually any assignment and come back with a good story, or at least the best possible.

    Others can't even follow step by step directions.
  6. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    I'm not so much the overload of the rookie reporter who isn't such a rookie anymore (here about 8 months). But I do assign him stories, especially on the weekend when the newsroom consists of him and me. It's a process, writing irish. The kid here is sharp but doesn't always exhibit the bulldogism I crave, desire, demand. There was a guy in Roswell I worked with -- guy is a bulldog. I judge most reporters' aggressiveness against his. I want this rookie who isn't such a rookie anymore to show me his cojones and start sniffing out stories on his own. I've given him a list of what I think are great story ideas (either original or follow-ups) yet he hasn't pursued most of them. He gets "the line" many days and yet won't follow up unless I kick his butt to do so. When he goes to a story he gets great stuff. Other times he comes back with stuff but not the stuff I want, and I ask him why and you can smell the timidity in his answers -- he was nervous about asking this question or that one. I push him hard. I'm hard on him when the situation warrants, and he's come to expect that from me. Sometimes I push his buttons just the right way, and he'll be fiery right back, and those are the times he's angry enough to understand why I'm angry -- but he also produces a better story when he's working off that anger.

    The list of stories I've given him remains hardly touched. It bugs me. I remind him every day. I tell him that the emotion in the follow-ups to the original story will lose their luster if he waits any longer.

    This kid is as talented as any fresh 24-year-old a year out of college. In 8 months he's written about murder, rape, gang slays, drug overdoses, police issues as well as the fluffy shit. He's got a bright future. I love being his weekend editor. I demand a lot from him. I'm not afraid to step on his toes because he tells me he appreciates my blunt honesty. He's growing. He really is. The next step is for him to be more of a bulldog and growl more. But I don't want to have to tell him to growl. I want him to have the innate desire to go get the story, not read the pager and ask me if it's OK to go out to see what it's about.

    I've rambled. Bottom line is this: mold the kid into the type of reporter you want him to be. It's the only way. Jim Murray once wrote something about being liberal with a sharp tongue but knowing when not to cut too deep. I think I've got that balance with my rookie who's not such a rookie anymore.

    It's a balancing act, writing.
  7. TheMethod

    TheMethod Member

    My first year as a part-timer at a professional paper, my second assignment was to go to a youth soccer tournament and "find a feature." I did. I was fairly freaked out about it, and it wasn't very good, of course, but you just have to dive in head first. No sense holding someone's hand, not in a business way over-saturated with educated, capable and experienced journalists looking for jobs.
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Seriously, Irish, the best thing to do is to have a discussion beforehand during and as many times as needed before the story is written.

    If you tell the guy to go to Bumrush and do a story on immigration and it seems he doesn't have a grasp, talk over possible angles and say why don't you go check it out and see what might work and we'll talk about the best way to proceed etc.

    You want to have as much input beforehand rather than wonder how you got this mess of a story in your computer.

    Reporters are very different. Not sure if this guy wants to make darn sure he knows what you want or suspects you want something but won't tell him or wants to be led by the hand.

    I don't like reporters who want to be led by the hand.

    What I would have done with Jimmy is ask him to read up on Bumrush or immigration or recent reports out of there and come back with three possible angles.

    Then have him go and check in on whether any of the three will work or if someone better has popped up. And go over how he plans to attack it before he starts writing.
  9. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    Ace, that really would have been the best way to handle it. Olson and I had a frustrating discussion about the story after the fact. Really should have been done beforehand.
  10. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Agreed. We got two good follow stories last week in which the rook interviewed family members of a guy killed by his brother. Beforehand I told him to write 15 questions and print them out and stick to those questions, which I helped him fashion. He seemed more confident attacking the story with the questions already written.
  11. irish, i'm sure you're already doing this, but take the rook out for beers every two or three weeks. build up a rapport with him. kid definitely is green, but showing some confidence in him (both in the work setting and away from the office) will help him along. sure, he should be confident already, but he's still probably crapping his pants when he has to talk to random strangers.
  12. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    And don't forget some praise, liberal at times so that he really feels he did something well, and smaller doses other times. Another juggling act is giving praise and sharp critique at the same time. Just don't be afraid to tell him what you want from him. Mold him into exactly the type of reporter you want to edit.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page