06 octobre 2009

The importance of accuracy and the bathroom

Friday, 25th September, our group of students from the Missou's Washington program (7 overall) and other journalism students also enrolled in other Washington programs met at the National Press Building (I'll have to write about this awesome place) to listen to Donna Leinwand, USA Today reporter and current President of the National Press Club.
She had a strong impact on me. A positive one. She first of all arrived late and laughing about it (yes! you can arrive late and no! that is not a big deal), but most important, she talked about her job. She started off as a simple reporter at the Miami Herald, then moved to Washington to work at the Knight Ridder Washington bureau. Then Gannett News service offered her a job, and now she is at USA Today since 2000.
She covers crime, justice, disasters and terrorism. Such a wide and exciting spectrum led her to cover hurricanes (Katrina, 2005 for example), bombings (London 2005), wars (Iraq)...Hello Donna, can I get your job when you retire?
From her hour-long speech, here are the main points that I thought were of importance:
- always check your facts, numbers and quotes. From my (small) experience, this seems to be more important in the US than say, in France (at least for the quotes);
- advices for foreign correspondents: when you see a bathroom, use it. A variant: when people give you some food, eat it (because you never know when is the next time you will have the opportunity to eat). Always have a stock of batteries with you just in case. Do not underestimate the power of beauty parlours to get gossips and words from the can make a good feature for example.
- she talked about the evolution of our job. How is it going to be affected by the internet and technology? "Technology changes the way people gather their news, not journalism in itself."
- about the rising importance of bloggers and the fact that people consider them sometimes as real journalists: trusted bloggers let us know what is happening in places where we can not be. For example, no media will have a correspondent in, say, Chad. This is why we rely on camera phones, Youtube, bloggers etc, to get some of our news. However: they are not professional news gatherers and will never be. We have to draw a line. They can not tell the difference between fact and opinion and most of the times it is poorly written.
- about the young journalists (us!) who are on the job market: we have two advantages (oh really? I did not know that...I'll have tell my Pole Emploi adviser!): we are cheap (is this an advantage?) and available: we do not have families or mortgage to support, we can go anywhere and work from 7 am to midnight.

Last but not least, she gave, from her own experience, three pieces of advice on how to beat the competition:
- read the papers;
- pitch many stories to your editor;
- get to the office early;
- cut on the happy hours...Only on Fridays!

Thank you Donna Leinwand!

Photo Flickr (Steffe).

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