Ten things young journalists should know, according to a panel of industry professionals


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Brooklyn Kelley

On Thursday, the UK School of Journalism and Media hosted a panel of professional journalists to speak about their experiences in the industry. The six panelists, all affiliated with the Louisville Courier Journal and several of them alumni of the Kernel, talked to students about topics like unbiased reporting, covering difficult events and the future of journalism. 

The panel offered a plethora of insights that are invaluable to young journalists, but I found these 10 pieces of advice to be particularly important.

1.   Be yourself

Journalists are taught to be unbiased, but this often is misunderstood as removing all distinguishing factors and perspectives from reporting. Veda Morgan, senior director for engagement and diversity at the Courier Journal, said that it is through having a diverse staff that stories are brought to light and told accurately.

“Bring who you are to what you do,” Morgan said.

Morgan said that being a Black woman, she has a lens that others might not, and the same applies for people who are diverse in all kinds of ways.

She said that everyone being different and unique is what leads to finding different stories, because people who are a part of a certain group will know what needs to be covered and what kinds of stories are out there.

“Don’t detach yourself,” Morgan said. “There are stories out there that you can cover and you can tell better than anyone else because of your personal experience.”

2.   Find a newsroom that will support you

Reporting news that people need to know can come with emotionally challenging moments for journalists. It is for this reason that Mandy McLaren, an education reporter at the Courier Journal, said that young journalists need to find a supportive workplace.

McLaren said she reported on a story where she had to call a recently deceased man’s family for quotes, but the family wasn’t yet aware of his passing. She said her editor was supportive of her after having to break the news to the family and let her take the time she needed before writing the story.

“When you go out into the job market and you’re looking for somewhere to spend the majority of your days, I think that’s an important thing to ask about. Talk to people that already work there, and ask them how the newsroom supports these types of issues,” she said.

Morgan shared a similar instance in which her personal life and feelings were taken into account by the leadership in the paper she was working for as an education reporter at the time.

Morgan said her husband was in the military and got assigned to a tour in Korea for a year, and she was left to parent her step-daughter single-handedly. She asked her employer for a more predictable position in the paper and was given a position as an associate editorial page editor.

“Try to work for people who care more about you, the person, than you, the employee,” Morgan said.

3.   Be curious

In order to report well, journalists have to be curious. Be curious about people, happenings and even the seemingly mundane.

Paul Neumeyer, a non-dailies team leader for the Gannett Design Center, said that reporting on the things surrounding the main event – the things others don’t pay attention to – is when good journalists do good reporting.

“I found my favorite stories, often, were just regular, everyday people that you didn’t have any clue would be a great story when you started,” he said.

Brett Dawson, the Louisville mens basketball beat writer at the Courier Journal, encouraged young journalists to go where the other reporters aren’t. He said to keep people in mind in everything you do, be curious and ask questions to be a truly good journalist.

4.   Hold yourself and other journalists accountable and be transparent

In times where the community finds it difficult to distinguish fake news from genuine reporting, it is important to remain honest and real with readers. This may mean showing them the process of reporting, live Tweeting or fixing a mistake in a story as soon as it is found.

Michael Clevenger, a photographer at the Courier Journal, said that sometimes it is something as simple as showing the readers and viewers your surroundings, even if that is reporting from a freezer in Applebee’s in the midst of a storm.

Clevenger said these behind-the-scenes looks help people to see that journalists are still there doing their jobs even when it’s difficult or unorthodox.

Morgan also spoke on being transparent when journalists make mistakes.

“What we do can impact people’s lives. We have to be very careful,” Morgan said.

 5.   Be fast and accurate

Neumeyer said it is important to be as efficient as possible in getting a story out, while also making sure what’s being published is accurate.

“We want to serve the readers in the best way and keep them informed, educated, and I think more so now, explain how and why,” he said.

Similarly, Dawson spoke on the immediacy of publishing a story whenever it breaks.

“You’re working a lot; you’re working really fast,” Dawson said about the fast-paced nature of print journalism.

He said that some of the longer sports feature stories have had fast deadlines, so even longer pieces have the same pressure to get them done quickly.

As important as it is to get information to readers quickly, the speakers emphasized that journalists need to be cautious to not tarnish their own reputations or jeopardize readers’ trust by publishing incorrect information.

6.   Pay attention to the community

Morgan emphasized the importance of making sure that the community is represented in the newsroom, as well as listening to the community when finding stories to report on.

“I really enjoy talking to people and, more importantly, listening to what they have to say and helping that change the way we report and cover the entire community,” she said.

Morgan said that journalists should listen and respond to the public and write good headlines that will grab readers’ attention and attract them to stories they need to read.

7.   Some fundamentals never change, and you need to learn the basics

“Journalism isn’t going anywhere,” Morgan said. “It’s going to be here, and it’s needed for our democracy.”

Journalists will always have to do certain things, like ask strangers questions over the phone or in person, even if it is uncomfortable. The panel suggested that all young journalists get used to these fundamentals and keep practicing them.

Sarah Ladd, a COVID-19 and health reporter for the Courier Journal, said that, like a lot of young journalists, she feels socially awkward interviewing people, even with her three years of experience.

“What helps me when I do have to go talk to people is to write out my questions in detail ahead of time,” Ladd said.

8.   Form a community with other journalists

In this industry, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but having a community of journalists can be refreshing and make the hard days easier.

Clevenger said that his connection with others in the industry is one of the main reasons he stayed in journalism.

“The community that you’re forming of journalism, of storytellers, is very important,” Clevenger said.

9.   Devote yourself to learning

Without an eagerness to learn, journalists cannot cover topics effectively.

With the changing of the industry comes new skills that will be necessary, one of those being the ability to apply data journalism skills.

McLaren said that if young journalists want to be highly considered by employers upon graduation, they should look into refining their abilities in coding, Excel and other data programs. 

Clevenger agreed, adding that everyone has their own set of skills and talents, but being a well-rounded journalist means branching out and gaining experience in areas outside of those skills.

“Explore the things you’re not good at,” he said.

10.   Apply to internships

Any internship can be helpful to refine one’s skills and build their knowledge.

“The biggest takeaway that I came out of them [internships] with is that no project is too big to pitch. Just because you’re an intern doesn’t mean you can’t pitch the biggest thing you can imagine,” Ladd said.

Morgan said that when she hires, the biggest thing she looks at is experience. She said it shows that applicants are willing to work and go after what they want.