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Star treatment?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by rubadubdub, Feb 21, 2007.

  1. rubadubdub

    rubadubdub New Member

    Our little 20K rag has three writers, none of whom have been here more than a couple of years. We cover mostly preps with a couple of small (non-football) colleges nearby. The nearest DI college is more than two hours away and we're about five hours from the nearest major professional franchises.

    The writer who's been here the longest (by a matter of three or four months) has handled pretty much all the top assignments that have come along during the current school year. It's not like the company is putting this guy's mug on billboards around town, but he's been sent to almost every high-profile event that we've staffed and he's the one who gets called whenever radio or TV want "expert analysis."

    I don't know if it's simply a matter of tenure or if the SE really thinks he's the best guy to send out, but he handles most of what we would consider our premier beats and is always the second guy sent whenever we double staff a big event like state finals.

    He's had more stuff run on 1A than some of our news reporters, and there have been times when he's been called in on his day off to handle something breaking that's not really on anybody's beat.

    It's gotten to the point that people from some teams he doesn't normally handle have complained about not getting the same coverage "his" teams seem to get. (I think this has more to do with how those stories are played in the section and how big the photos are, if there are any; a lot of his stories have been the cover centerpiece. It's just a little weird to call a place to let them know we're staffing their event and want to make sure we'll be able to transmit a story, only to have them ask if "he" is the one coming, and if not, why.)

    While there doesn't seem to be outright jealousy on the part of other staffers, there has been some grumbling when this guy gets sent halfway across the state to write a fluff feature instead of pulling a desk shift. In fact, I don't know the last time he's been responsible for doing a section front when everybody else does at least one a week.

    The thing is, I don't think he actively pursues any of this, it just seems to get dropped in his lap. I've even seen him try to avoid being publicly recognized as "The Guy from the paper." When the boss gave him his choice of winter sports beats, he actually chose the one that had the least chance to produce a winner.

    I'm curious if other places have similar situations. Is there really a star system for writers at small papers, or am I just imagining things?
  2. pallister

    pallister Guest

    If he is the best writer, and you can get by without him working the desk, then I don't see a problem. You should play to your strengths as your resources permit.

    Has he worked the desk? Is he any good at it? If not, it's a waste of his talents and a waste of time as far as production is concerned.
  3. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Pall said it better than I could.

    You have to play to your strengths within the whole department. If this guy sucks at design/pagination, there's no sense using him there. Ever.

    If he really is the best writer -- even if by just a little -- or if the rest of the staff is better at the desk, then it's a no-brainer.

    You said you "don't know if the SE really thinks he's the best guy to send out." Well, observe and find out. Or ask and find out. You can learn as much, if not more, from watching those around you than just by yourself.
  4. e4

    e4 Member

    to an extent, i disagree with the first few replies on this thread.

    the point is that it's a 20k paper and everyone is pretty much of the same seniority, except one guy is getting to cover events that give him the chance to get better clips and a better shot at moving on.

    he may be more talented, we dont know, but everyone should at least be given the chance to cover the premier stuff and let their talent shine at this level.

    i'd talk to the boss and simply ask for more opportunities. sports editors can't read minds. if you dont say anything, he/she may assume everyone is happy with what they are doing.
  5. Montezuma's Revenge

    Montezuma's Revenge Active Member

    The best writer should get the best writing assignments.

    Screw the "everyone should at least be given the chance to cover the premier stuff" sentiment.

    This is the real world, not J school.
  6. e4

    e4 Member

    Fair enough, but is this guy really the best writer, or is he getting the best assignments for other reasons?

    It's the real world, sure. And the reality is that a 20k newspaper is usually a first job and on some level a teaching newspaper for those who didn't go to J-school.

    All I'm saying is everyone should be given the same opportunity to showcase his/her work. If you fail while another person shines, then that would dictate a pecking order and produce the most polished product as possible.

    But don't pigeon hole someone so early in their career, at such a low level, just for the sake of going with the current flow.

    EDIT: To be clear, I should have said "an opportunity" vs. "the same opportunity" ... I didn't mean consistently over a period of time...
  7. Kaylee

    Kaylee Member


    I'm genuinely curious as to what you mean by "opportunity."

    I say this because I'm all for every deserving writer at least getting a taste of bigger stuff from time to time, especially when the chance for damage is minimal. If nothing else, it keeps morale up.

    Parceling out assignments for the sake of equality is another matter. If you have someone obviously good, then he should be your go-to guy. And were I a SE, I would be concerned with any employee for resenting that. Now, if someone is getting the plum gigs because he golfs with the boss, that's another matter. But you have to put your money on your best horse.
  8. Oggiedoggie

    Oggiedoggie Well-Known Member

    I'm a wee bit baffled by how most of us at newspapers work.

    Our life work is collecting informantion and communicating.

    But, in the office, all that is forgotten.

    Why not find a reasonable way to ask your editor what is going on and why?
  9. alleyallen

    alleyallen Guest

    Gotta agree with this. And everyone has a chance to shine, whether it's a high-profile story or not. Show me you can consistently turn out good pieces on crap events and maybe you'll get higher-profile events.
  10. Kaylee

    Kaylee Member

    Because you are assuming all editors are reasonable and would have a reasonable reaction. That's not always the case.

    Plus, even if I were a reasonable SE, I'm not sure how I would react to someone asking me why a certain person is getting the plums.
  11. e4

    e4 Member


    I don't mean to disrespect people who bust their asses at small newspapers, because I've been there, I've put in my time at that level, I've been at the bottom of the totem pole in small newsrooms.

    But what does it mean to be a "star" at a 20k paper? In my experiences, it's usually just who's been around the longest, so as not to disrupt the flow or piss people off on that totem pole.

    When I started out at papers this size, I received assignments no one else wanted -- a girls basketball game where the final score ended up being 8-6, the senior citizen bowling league, answering phone calls and writing roundups on junior varsity games.

    These are not the type of stories you can pass along in the job search. If you are writing these correctly, they are not the type of stories hiring editors want to see. If you are overwriting them, a hiring editor wouldn't want you.

    But I had bones thrown my way, or situations arise where I was the only who could do it. A feature, a championship game, a breaking news story. I made the most of these opportunities, nailed the stories, and was able to use those clips to move on.

    I'm not saying assignments have to be parcelled out equitably. If you have a top writer, then that's who you want doing your most important work. But the original poster said he wasn't sure this guy was the best. He was questiong why this guy was getting so much work, and that leads me to believe the guy getting all the good gigs isn't anything special. If he were, would we be reading this thread? People are usually pretty good at comparing their talent to others'.

    Anyway, you have to give people a chance to succeed or fail, especially at a 20k paper. People can say it's not J-school anymore, but that's intimating that this profession isn't an ongoing education, and it is.

    It just sounded like this poster wanted a bone thrown his way, a chance to prove what he can do. And I'm all for that, and any reasonable editor should feel the same way. Because maybe the person doing the less-desired assignments turns out to be on par with (or better than) others in the department, but you wouldn't know it until you give him/her a chance.
  12. Has the supposed "star" been there longer than the boss? It's been my experience that sometimes bosses who are younger with less experience can be more likely to accomodate someone with more experience...
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