I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fairly nervous person, a quality that is often aggravated by my prolific coffee intake. Of course, my chosen career path isn’t exactly “stress free” (then again, does such a profession exist?) But journalism, on a whole, from what I have ascertained, can wreak havoc on a person’s nerves.
The past few weeks, I think I’ve actually stumbled upon some important discoveries, primarily thanks to a class I’m finishing up at NYU. I’m, by no means, claiming to be an expert of anything. Ever. I don’t know anything. Which is actually related to my first discovery-based tip for fellow fledgling journos :
1) You know nothing, which isn’t a problem, unless you let it become one. During one of my first Hyperlocal Journalism classes at NYU, the professor, Betty Ming Liu, said something that really stuck: You are a tourist everywhere. This was interesting to me, in particular, as I’d spent the majority of the morning in Washington Square Park attempting to look like I belonged.
What she meant to convey, I think, is that your purpose is to learn all that you can as an outsider, from the inside, so that you can relate what you’ve learned to others on the outside of a situation, place, event, etc. “Stupid” questions are infinitely better than silly reporters who smile and nod, feign understanding, then Wikipedia every other word of their notes later.
2) People are just people. Though I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way from my stuttering freshman college days, interviews still make me nervous. Usually preparing a slew of questions ahead of time helps, but it doesn’t entirely ward off the anxiety. There’s a line in Regina Spektor’s song “Ghost of Corporate Future” that’s my default, “calm down” buzz phrase before entering an interview: “People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous.” It’s such a great line, and particularly pertinent when interviewing intimidating subjects.
3) Journalism is just as much a sport of consumption as it is production. That’s right, me, throwing around words like “sport.” A common segregation in journalism is between writers and reporters. Some people are decent at both, but usually one identity outshines the other. However, since the way we consume information is in constant flux, reporting is key. I love word play more than is probably healthy, but I’m learning that a great writer finds ways to supply information fluidly and efficiently first, and then finds ways to sneak in creative phrases. I’m all about sneaky alliteration and puns.
4) Treat interviews like conversation. This is another lesson Betty has hammered home. Drop the reporter voice and ease into conversation. After some self-assessment, I’ve come to the conclusion that my “reporter voice” is a little too polite, apologetic. Also, my notebook is often an anti-eye contact crutch for me. So, I’m working on this one…
5) Limit adjectives in conversation. If you ask someone, “Did the nice A make you feel B?” the person is likely to answer: “Well, the nice A did/did not make me feel B.” Sometimes talking to yourself can be revelatory, but I think interviewing yourself is generally frowned upon in journalism.