Ask the almost journalist who wants to ask the journalist

Basically, I can give you half-assed answers that are probably totally wrong until a real journalist comes along.

That’s all I have to offer.

I guess I’m a “journalist,” though not a “serious” one. I’ve written and edited for mass-market and business trade mags. No newspapers, though. Does that count?

I am 2 months away from getting a psychology degree. I have now decided that I want to become a production editor/assistant editor for books/magazines/whatever.

Is this possible? What should I do?

Eve, I checked my qualifications book, and you qualify. It would help if you have at least kissed, groped, or talked in hushed tones to a newspaper reporter, though. Saying hello on an elevator is also acceptable.

Blumoon, anything is possible. I’d suggest going to your advisor, explaining the situation, and asking him/her to recommend someone to speak to in the media/communications or journalism department. They can probably steer you in the right direction.

But my advice could be horrible (although I’m trying).


Funny this came up; I started some part-time work last week helping upgrade the phone systems at a local newspaper here.

Being very under-employed at the moment, I wondered what it took to work at the newspaper in some kind of writing-related job. It looked like an interesting environment.

I have a degree in Computer Science, obviously not much help there. I like to write fiction, but never been published.

I know they have a hiring freeze at the moment, but I might still ask around, if only for curiosity’s sake.

Actually Revtim, I might be qualified to answer your question.

From my perspective, it takes being in the right place at the right time and the ability to string words together in a non-biased way. I don’t have any experience with reporting but did have some published commentaries to fork over. Perhaps you could pull together some of your fiction to show a potential interviewer?

I kissed, groped and talked in hushed tones to hundreds of men at Limelight and Palladium in the '80s–at least some of them must have been newspaper reporters.

“Production editor” requires very special computer and layout skills; it’s art + computers. No actual “editing” involved, despite the title.

“Assistant editor” is secretary/gopher for an editor. A bit easier job to get, and most editors do start out that way.

You’re my hero.

Rock on with the rest of your wisdom.

I’m a communications/journalism student and a member of campus broadcast media. Do I count?


One time political journalist and now circulation and marketing guy here.

Just checking in.

(almost) Journalist checking in. I’m a second-year college student, I write for the school paper, I’m managing editor of the school magazine, I’ve worked at two NPR stations and one medium-sized newspaper. Unless there’s a secret induction ceremony into the Left-Wing Media Conspiracy™, I don’t think there’s much else to learn. So feel free to ask the young kid who thinks he knows everything. :smiley:

MsRobyn, Jonathan Chance, and Sanibel Man, you all count! Welcome!

I have a lot of questions but I’ll start with one (or two). I’m trying to get the hang of reporting (I have a degree in English, which isn’t helping me all that much).

How do you get over the “oh God, I’ll sound like an idiot calling back to check this fact” feeling? What’s a good way to start off an interview with someone who you feel badly about calling? i.e., I just interviewed a widow yesterday for a story about her husband and wanted to throw up before the call.

I hesitate to call myself a “journalist.” I’m a newspaperman. I edit a small paper in Eastern New Mexico. I also write stories, columns and editorials, take pics, lay the paper out and nurse my reporters and photographers back to sanity on occasion.

Oh yeah, I have to deal with publishers, too.

Last night/this morning we had a local election issue. I am functioning on about two hours of sleep. And the stupid election is not resolved. We had a tie!!

As I said, I am nothing so highbrow as a “journalist”. I’m a newspaperman.


I tell my reporters that the people you are calling back would rather have you call them back and get it right than not call them back and screw it up. Often I have had members of the public call me and say that this or that reporter was really good because he or she called back to confirm a fact or the spelling of a name. It is very appreciated.

The other kind of reporters are a royal pain: the ones who don’t call back. They’re the ones I end up calling into my office and chewing on and at times suggesting that maybe journalism is not for them.

As for your second question. there is no great way to begin a call like you had to make. Be sincere and caring and begin as you would begin with a family member or a friend. It’s hard. Most reporters get over that wanting to throw up before calling someone as you had to do after a while. The good ones never do.


Ex business reporter and now marketing whore, at your service.

Chiming in: Degree in Journalism. Experience as a magazine editor, technical writer and manager of a corporate communications department. Currently senior editor for a giant publisher who creates standardized tests.

If you’re starting out in another field and want to make a change because it looks interesting, please take at least one J101 class at your local university or community college. Just because you can write fiction or poetry does NOT mean you are cut out to be a journalist. The most important advice I can give you: the rules of grammar, style and usage can be completely different from what you’ve learned in standard English classes. Take a basic overview type of course to learn what inverted pyramid style is, how to craft a lead, and what the differences between features, columns, editorials and straight news stories are. That’s a start

Then you might have a shot to start out as an assistant editor somewhere. If you have a really sharp eye for typos, poor sentence construction and bad grammar, you could be moved up the ladder. Basically, I think you have to be bent a certain way to be successful at this: I am so detail-oriented and anal retentive about organization it’s sick and I’m considering professional help. However those qualities make me a damn fine editor. I also argue semantics a lot, which is a real pain in the keister for my friends, but a very useful skill when editing. “Does the comma go here, or there, or do we even need a comma?”

Don’t expect to make a lot of money either.

Welcome TV time and jjimm!

TV time, thanks for your reply. Believe it or not, it makes me feel better to know that the sick feeling is felt by others. I was worried that feeling that way was indicative that I may not “have the right stuff” for reporting.

Another question: does everything in a news story have to be attributable? I’m confused on this one. For example, on the story where I had to interview the widow, I spoke to three other people who spoke so highly of him personally and professionally, that I put in something like, “his dedication knew no bounds” and then transitioned into another sentence, which then had a quote from someone. My editor questioned the “ded…knew no bounds.” She wanted to attribute the sentiment to someone. Why was that?

The “interview the widow” question is a good one, and a hard one—I had to interview a man who was shot repeatedly by a disgruntled employee, and I felt like scum. Doing awful, evil crap like that is something you will have to get used to if you are going to be a news reporter. All I can say is, apologize profusely and politely take “no” for an answer. Even politelytake “go f**k yourself, you goddam leech!” for an answer.

General interviewing advice: take two tape recorders with you, in case one fails. Quote your subjects exactly. I once had Tony Franciosa (very nice man) call to tell me, “Yours is the only interview I’ve ever done that actually sounded like me!”

Hi, Cookie. I have a degree in English Lit and have been reporting full-time since 2000 (was part time before that for two years while still in college). I agree with whoever said that it’s not necessarily an easy transition from writing fiction, essays, and poetry to writing for a newspaper. Being clear, precise, and factual at all times is a must!
To answer your question about attributing statements: Statements you don’t have to attribute to anyone include facts, such as: “He died on Tuesday”; or, “He and his wife were married for 35 years.” Things like that. If you say, “His dedication knew no bounds,” that has to be attributed because it’s an opinion given to you by those friends, not necessarily a fact. The next person you call could say, “That guy was a jackass. The only reason he dedicated himself to certain causes was to benefit himself.” See what I mean? You could say something to the effect of, “His friends describe him as someone whose dedication knew no bounds,” and then use your quote.
Good luck with your new reporting career!

This will vary depending on the editorial guidelines of the pub. Washington Post? Yes. Weekly World News? Probably not (but one never knows).

If I can offer some constructive criticism I’d have to say the the phrase ‘his dedication knew no bounds’ probably doesn’t belong in the story at all. It’s more wordy and less reporting. Far better to work in someone else’s quote about the pristine character of the dead guy. It makes it more immediate and doesn’t imply that the reporter and the pub is passing judgement on him.

When you can…quote. It gives the story a better sense of authority than unattributed statements that can be misconstrued as to source.