PR & Journalism EducationJournalism

Journalism 101: 16 Things You Learn In J-School

It’s been a couple of years since I sat in a journalism class, but I’m guessing (and hopeful) they still teach some of the same stuff they did when I went to school. While there is no shortage of blog posts discounting the value of journalism education, I can’t help but think bloggers and journalists would serve their readers better by sticking to some of these tried and true principles of journalism. And for the PR pros that read this blog, you too can improve the value of your content by following these journalistic principles:

1. Name Your Sources – he said, she said. When you name sources, you lend credibility to your story and demonstrate your savvy as a reporter. Only using anonymous sources when divulging their identity would put them at risk of retribution or harm.

2. Protect Your Sources – not to contradict my first point, but when necessary, protect your sources. They are the lifeblood of your stories. Reporters should be willing to do whatever it takes to protect their sources when they need to remain anonymous.

3. Be Objective – journalism should be void of opinion. It’s hard to find content these days that is truly objective, but when you do, readers appreciate it more. Keep opinions for the Op-Ed section.

4. Offer Balance – there is more than one side to a story. Go to great lengths to get information from all sides. If the other side is unwilling to talk, say so in your piece. At least you tried.

5. Avoid Conflicts of Interest – don’t write about something because you like it. This works in the blogosphere, but not for traditional journalism. If you have a close tie to the source or organization in your story, let your audience know. Don’t let it come out later, people will question your judgment and integrity. And no matter how small, don’t accept gifts. Most media organizations have policies regarding gifts; follow them. This includes covering advertisers over non-advertisers as the sole criteria for determining sources. This may seem like common sense, but it’s probably one of the most common offenses average journalists commit.

6. Don’t Censor – don’t leave a company out of a report because you don’t like their PR rep. Don’t be selective about the information you include unless you’re confident you’re giving your audience the best of what you’ve got. They will figure it out, and it will tarnish your reputation.

7. Get It Right – better to be accurate than first. Many journalists face this challenge today, they need to be first with a story. Haste makes waste in reporting. Take your time to get the facts straight. Don’t let the pressure of a deadline jeopardize your journalistic integrity.

8. Don’t Plagiarize – it’s easier than ever to catch a copycat. A simple Google search will yield “cut and pasted” content. Don’t steal content from someone else. You wouldn’t like it if it happened to you. Why jeopardize your career like that? If you really like something somebody wrote, and you can’t say it better yourself, quote them on it.

9. Report the Facts – there’s no room for guesswork in journalism. If you don’t know the answer, find it. Go to your expert sources, your local library, or your favorite search engine. There is no excuse for lazy reporting. If you don’t have facts, you don’t have a story.

10. Don’t Be Nasty – you’ve got influence, don’t abuse it. Avoid getting personal in your reporting. If it’s not relevant to your story, don’t attack the character of another individual. Keep it classy, not sassy.

11. Don’t Believe Everything – if it’s your byline, it’s your job to fact-check. Don’t believe those stats were sent to you by a PR firm. And don’t believe every quote you get. Do the legwork, verify the information, and save yourself from writing corrections later on.

12. Keep Good Records – when possible, record interviews. Take copious notes, and keep all those files as long as you would keep tax returns. You never know when you’re going to have to provide proof of the great job you did reporting on that story.

13. Don’t Write in a Stream of Consciousness – if you’re writing news, use the Inverted Pyramid. Give the reader what they want in the first few sentences, then provide your supporting information after that. Outline your story first, to avoid jumping all over the place. This advice is of particular importance to bloggers and PR pros.

14. Find Your Voice – at the end of the day, you have to separate yourself from the pack. Find the right voice for the way you write best. Readers will be more engaged and responsive to your genuine voice. Be original, be interesting and be relevant.

15. Never Stop Learning – whether you’ve been doing this twice my age, or it’s your first year on the job, you can always improve as a journalist. Get involved with journalism organizations and groups, take part in new courses and pick up some new skills. Your future employment status depends on it.

16. Have Fun – I enrolled in a journalism program because I found writing to be fun. I thought telling stories for the enjoyment of others had to be the best job ever. I still feel the same. Think back to what got you on this track, chances are you wanted to have fun. Have fun with that next story you write, your readers will thank you for it.

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