Trust me, you don’t become a reporter for the pay or the hours. Both pretty much suck. But it’s a job that has its unique set of rewards. Here are five things I learned during my time as a reporter. I could probably think of more, but this is a good start:
1. Why You Should Be A Concerned Citizen. Seriously, it really is sad how few people know what is going on in their local government. It was not unusual for me to be the only person at these public meetings. It’s hard to believe people can name the finalists on “American Idol” or know all the key players for March Madness but can’t name the elected officials on their school boards and municipal governing bodies. These people are making the decisions that will impact your future for better or for worse. Doesn’t it make sense to find out what they are doing?
2. How To Read A Property Tax Bill. This might sound stupid, but it’s amazing how many people have no idea what their tax bill means, what caused their bill to go up or down, what the assessor said their house is worth, things like that. Don’t you want to know what you are paying for?
3. Dealing With Criticism. Having a thick skin is absolutely imperative for any reporter because you will be constantly criticized for how you do your job. The trick is to learning when someone is making a good point and when that person is being a tool. Either way, you have to learn to let it go. You are going to make mistakes. Own up to them, correct what you can, then move on. But you are also going to be dealing with jerks. You have to ignore them and just do your job.
4. Be Curious. One of the best things about being a reporter is that you can ask all the questions you want without people thinking you’re a nosy twit. The best reporters are people who are lifelong learners, people who are always curious about how things work and why people do what they do. After awhile, you learn that everyone has a story or hobby or something that makes them interesting. You just have to find it.
5. How To Save. And I’m not talking about money. When you are writing your story, distracted by the witty words you are using to describe new legislation or a blowup at a city council meeting, remember to hit the darn save button frequently. Most reporters can share at least one instance when their computer locked up and they lost their entire story. The story is never as good the second time around, crafted this time by desperation as the clock is ticking away toward your deadline. Plus you’re royally ticked off that you are having to do the story again. The lesson is never trust your computer to auto save anything. Always hit the save button.
Bonus: On a related note, never trust your computer’s spell check to save you from embarrassing gaffes. You have to proofread. Otherwise, your report may say a car drove into the bitch rather than the ditch. (Yes, this really happened!) Not cool.