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That panicky feeling before a story publishes

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by mudduck, Dec 4, 2010.

  1. mudduck

    mudduck New Member

    Decided to use my alter ego for this post.

    I have a story coming out today (and, unbeknownst to me until this morning, was already picked up and published today by another nearby paper in our company). Without going into too much detail, this news story involves public officials and because it is the culmination of stuff which has happened for several months, there's lots of emotions (for lack of a better term) involved.

    I made damn sure to cross Ts, dot Is and all that. I stand behind the story.

    The problem? The sick feeling I've had and still have since working on the story. I'm not exactly a cub reporter (very far from it) and I am damn sure I have all my facts straight. But this sick feeling sucks.

    My question to you - what brings that feeling on for you and what, besides drinking heavily, do you do to get rid of it?
  2. CRR13

    CRR13 Member

    I'm more worried about an editor's response to my story rather than when it publishes. As long as you have your facts straight and libel won't come up, you shouldn't worry.
  3. Lollygaggers

    Lollygaggers Member

    When I write something that I know is going to strain relationships with people I cover, especially those with whom I have a good relationship, I get a little nervous. I think that's just natural. And there's also times editors will play a critical story (arrests, controversy, etc.) bigger than I think it should and I dread having to explain why it got so much attention to a source.

    I've found that sticking by what you wrote, being honest and accessible, and letting those people vent their frustrations go a long way to smoothing things over. And if they don't, my worries simply fade away with time as I move on to the next thing and then it's on them if they can't just move on.
  4. dkphxf

    dkphxf Member

    The biggest thing for me is having everything right on a story written on deadline. I read over and read over, making sure my facts are correct, but once I send the story in, I feel nervous. Is this team really playing THAT team next week? Did I get the score right from their earlier season match-up? Etc.
  5. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    If that's all you have to worry about, consider yourself lucky because you're not going to get angry voice mails (well, maybe you will, but not from anyone that matters) from sources that you count on.
  6. Elliotte Friedman

    Elliotte Friedman Moderator Staff Member

    Good topic.

    Two things for me: First, I don't break a ton of trades/firings, etc., but when I do -- it drives me crazy. From the moment I put it out there, until the moment it actually happens, I worry about something changing and making me look wrong. Happened once with Jaromir Jagr. Months before he actually went to the Rangers, he was almost traded there. Had it from a great source, and things fell through. Every time I put something out there, I think of that.

    Some guys don't care if they're wrong. I really sweat with it.

    Second is what Lollygaggers talked about. I wrote something tough this week that affected a couple of really good guys, and now they won't talk to me. I can deal with it, I understand it and recognize if I was them I wouldn't talk to me either. I wouldn't take it back. It was honest and fair and properly reported.

    But I like the people involved and don't like that our relationships are damaged.
  7. dkphxf

    dkphxf Member

    Well, you have to admit, facts are our business.

    And I don't really worry about sources not speaking to me again, as long as I do my job fairly and accurately. After all, how good is a source if he/she won't speak to you after a negative story?
  8. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I'm not going to lose sleep if I misspell a kid's name or put the wrong time in for a game. I will lose sleep if I wrote something that is wrong about a person, or could get me sued.

    Ask Eliotte what he thinks of losing his sources. I'm sure the "they must not really be your friend" answer makes everyone feel better.

    Now, dkphxf, do you really have a stake as to whether you worry about sources right now? Are you working in the business day in, day out?
  9. inthesuburbs

    inthesuburbs Member

    I hope the story works out.

    To deal with that feeling, I'd say the keys are:

    1. Read the story aloud. It helps you focus on every word, even the little stuff that's easy to miss.

    2. Go line by line with a pencil. Mark every fact, including quotes. Check one at a time.

    3. Read the story again after the editors are finished with it, lest they have introduced errors.

    4. Don't surprise anyone. As much as possible, within the bounds of having to compete with other news organizations, make sure the people you're writing about, and the people who know the subject, know what will be in the article. They'll say, Oh, no, it wasn't a green Jaguar, it was a blue one, and let me tell you what happened after he said that...

    5. Say what you don't know. If you don't know something that the reader will wonder about, say so. Make sure the reader can tell where the information comes from, and which information people disagree on, and which information is what one person said but doesn't have a document to back it up. Information is on a spectrum of reliability, and the reader should be able to tell where every fact lies on that spectrum.

    6. Go see the subjects of the story the next morning. Be in their office. You'll learn what you got right or wrong, and if they have complaints you'll be able to hear them and address them before they tell everyone they know.
  10. JakeandElwood

    JakeandElwood Well-Known Member

    How'd everything shake out?
  11. mudduck

    mudduck New Member

    Thank you for asking.

    As I suspected, one official was furious. He (and a cohort) have both said lots to my editor (who is backing me 100 percent). The other public official is just fine with the story.

    Elliotte was spot-on. Part of it is the "sweating it if you're wrong." I knew I wasn't, but there's always that tiny bit of doubt, and I think that's because I care about the job I do.

    I was out and about quite a bit today, and again, as I suspected, the story was almost everyone's topic of conversation with me.

    Let's just say it was a long day.
  12. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    Good for you, and congratulations on something that obviously was big and time-consuming.

    That "feeling" isn't doubt. It's your pride in your work playing a little game of kick the can with your psyche just for fun. It's knowing what you wrote is going to be discussed by everyone. It's knowing your boss will have your back (or finding out if he will). It's journalism.
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