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Standing out in the crowd

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Cullen9, Jan 18, 2011.

  1. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    Right now I am a "sports writer" (by title) in a two-man staff at a small daily. I put "by title" in parenthesis because my job is certainly more than just writing, as it also includes page layout (always the front page) and every other duty an editor has as well. This, I'm sure, isn't rare by any means.

    Myself and the editor have been at our positions for nearly four months now. In the process, we're trying to rebuild the credibility of the sports section -- a section that was never considered "local" by readers. We've changed that tenfold. On a typical day, the editor and I will both get into the office, do whatever page design we can, each cover a game, write the story and then finish pages. Readers, coaches, and, fortunately, management has taken notice and we've seen some good feedback.

    This is all good. I'm pleased with how things are going, and both the editor and I continue to strive for more. However, I'm worried I'm going to get stuck in a rut. I don't want to be at Small Daily Tribune for the rest of the my life. Since I'm 23, I want to do my time here, but also be able to move on and up when an opportunity presents itself. I'm worried that opportunity won't present itself, though, when I'm up to my neck in gamers and layout every day.

    So what I'm looking for is this: how do I get my name -- my work -- to stand out when I'm bogged down with gamers and pages all day, every day?

    I'm sure there are many ways for responses to go, so I'm looking forward to all the feedback.

  2. I'll never tell

    I'll never tell Active Member

    I don't know how many pages you have a night, but unless it's totally necessary, try to use smoke and mirrors to make it look like you've got just as much local in the paper.

    Spend an extra few minutes on the phone with a call-in. Get a couple of quotes from the coach and add that making it longer. Craft an actual lede on the call-in, make it 8-10 inches long and put a headline on it. Do that for one a night, and don't have two folks out at gamers.

    Unless you're just an effin' stud, you're never going to stand out when you're just churning stuff out. This way you and the other guy can concentrate more. One night you concentrate on making your layout better, while the other tries to write a better gamer instead of what I figure would have to happen: Let's try to get all this junk done before deadline.

    Also what this could open up is a chance to do features. This is where I think a young writer can make the most strides, because they've got more time to craft a story.

    That being said though, some folks are just going to be better on deadline, and that could be where you niche is. Or maybe in investigative reporting, ie just plain digging harder than the next guy.

    Honestly, it's far too early to try to worry about where you niche is (it could even be in page design), but I will say this: Even out your zeal a little bit. If you don't, you'll be ready to slit your wrists and kill the other guy by June. Not to mention how bitter you're already going to be after you've spent 10 years in the business.
  3. Cullen9

    Cullen9 Member

    Great advice. The last bit here has certainly been true on a few occassions:

    The "let's just get it done before the press guys jump on our backs" has certainly been an issue on more than one night. And some nights we know we just need to get that final edit done and put the paper out. Others, it's unfortunate because we might have covered a great game that we wished we could have had five more inches on but deadline prevented that.

    RE: features -- that is something I've wanted to start doing. Now that my feet are more than just wet at this job, I want be able to jump into the longer features and churn out some interesting pieces. At first I just wanted to do my daily job and do it well. Now I want to do those features; the stuff I really enjoy.

    Thanks again, Never Tell.
  4. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    You will ample chances to do good work and things you like. You're not going to hit a home run every at bat, but if you get enough at bats, you'll hit your share. I'm sure you uncover interesting stories on your various beats that can be worked into features and enterprise. Ditto for page layouts. I usually know when I've hit one good and those are the ones I save.

    I rarely include game stories in my clip file, because they are so generic. Most of the time, I rarely have more than 30-40 minutes to write a gamer, esp. if it's a night game. My best stuff are features, columns and enterprise. That's where I get a chance to let creativity show.

    Page layouts: Most days, your main challenge will be to just cram it all in and get the paper to press on deadline. That's understood. But look for opportunities to do unusual and unqiue stuff, how you package big events, be they a Super Bowl or prep state tournament, etc. Don't be afraid to swing and miss a time or two. How are you ever going to hit a home run with the bat on your shoulders?

    But, yes, consistency is important, too. And people will appreciate the days you just put out a solid, if unspectacular section. Don't get paranoid about getting stuck in Podunk long-term. You won't. Keep doing a good job and opportunities will come your way.
  5. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    You work for a business that is trying to make money. Blowing deadline costs them money. Ability to stand out *on deadline* is what is valued in the industry.
  6. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    Here's something I've told every reporter I've worked with who is even at all in your shoes of having to file stories or do layout/copy editing every day:

    Find an issue that affects a broad base. Perhaps it's funding for small sports or recruitment by private high schools. Whatever it is, find something that will in some way affect just about everyone you report on.

    Then, whenever you cover a game or write an advance or whatever you're doing on a daily basis, make sure to ask those you're interviewing a little about that broader issue. Within a week or two, you could have enough to do a nice little enterprise piece.

    It's a great way to make the most out of your limited time, and a great way to help the paper and help yourself by getting a deeper, well-sourced feature/enterprise piece.

    To do a kickass job on a feature requires time to spend on just one set of sources. Enterprising and writing stories that apply to everyone will allow you to continue to do the daily grind, and they provide a story every member of the community will care about.
  7. peacer84

    peacer84 Member

    You have game coverage at night, so basically after 5 or 6, your day is packed.

    Here are some things I've done to improve that area that you're talking about:
    1) Make the most of your afternoons when you get in. Don't be afraid to bug coaches at school right before practice (Twice this year, i've called the school at 3:20 and got both the player and coach right before practice. Just make sure you know what you want to talk about so you don't waste their time).

    2) With enterprise, build yourself a timeline with a publish date. This will motivate you to get it done. Plan out at the beginning of the week when you'll have free time i.e. come in and make a quick phone call on your day off (we've all done it), or if you work Wednesday, that may be a good day to get coaches. Or Sunday night or Monday night.

    3) Stay motivated in that after you get off the phone with a coach, don't be so happy to have that interview done that you say "that's good for now." Pick the phone right back up and make another call. Sometimes it only takes 20 minutes on the phone for a good feature. I've done it in less than that.

    4) Lastly, and this part is a cold realization of our industry, if you want to get ahead and make yourself known, you may have to go the extra mile and even work off the clock on occasion. If working an extra hour a week gets you that extra angle, then do it. It's a great clip for you to have and you'll always have it.
  8. DennisReynolds

    DennisReynolds New Member

    Cullen, I'm in almost exactly the same boat as you. I'll just piggyback on the last point peacer brought up, which is that sometimes you're going to have to decide to work off the clock. A couple of times I've had a feature story I really wanted to do that I simply did not have enough hours in my workweek to report and write in a way that would do it justice. So I spent a chunk of my free time on it.

    Of course in a perfect world, you would get paid for every second of work you do, but that's probably not realistic in the situation we're in, assuming you have ambition to move on and up. I try to think about it as an investment. I'm investing my unpaid time and effort, with the hope that I'll be adding a great clip to my portfolio that might help me land another job down the road.
  9. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    You can work off the clock, but what will that get you these days, a slightly higher-paying job? It's not as if SE gigs at some papers pay a lot.
  10. RickStain

    RickStain Well-Known Member

    You are simultaneously screwing over every other person who works in the industry *and* delusional about the future of the industry. "Realistic in the situation we're in" is that you are going to do your part to drive down wages and make the job expectations a living hell, and then you are going to "move on" to a slightly bigger paper for 2% more money, and then you are going to get laid off after six months and your job will be taken by some kid fresh out of college with no clips and a willingness to work for 15% less than you do.
  11. peacer84

    peacer84 Member

    I guess if you have dreams of moving up, yeah, it will get you a higher-paying job. Maybe a better work environment. Maybe more recognition to move higher.

    It is what you make it. If you're working off the clock and you don't feel your doing anything good, then you're not using your time wisely.

    I guess for me, it's less about the money. I don't make a lot, but if everything you do is money-driven in this business, then you're in the wrong business. A living is one thing, but some of us don't care about moving up just becaues it's a "slightly higher-paying job." Try a government job.
  12. peacer84

    peacer84 Member

    Respectfully, RickStain, you need to do what's best for you. If you want to stay at some crappy newspaper making barely a living to support the industry and make a point, then do so.

    I, on the other hand, would rather better myself through what I deem as may be a higher-paying, less-stressful job, and I'm not expecting anyone out there working for some other newspaper to help me get a job. I certainly don't think anyone out there is concerned about me getting laid off and is willing to do anything about it.

    Are you looking to start a union, RickStain? Let me know ...
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