RALEIGH -- Journalism is supposed to share more than one side of a story. I learned during my time at Carolina Journal how refreshing that approach can be for readers, sources, even the writer.
An experienced editor, Rick Henderson, taught me the ins and outs of basic print journalism. After I submitted a draft of my first article, he explained why the organization of a news story is so important.
He offered a method to organize news stories, which he said he "borrowed" from his time at Investor's Business Daily -- starting with a lede and going quickly to a "nut" or theme paragraph, before adding background material and quotes. This helped in forming my subsequent articles, as it provided a type of "formula," if you will, of what a good article should contain and how to draw the reader to your story. I learned it is important to have a knowledgeable editor who can give you tips in writing a story, as well as tips of who might be good to interview.
I also discovered that many folks from all different backgrounds can't wait to talk to you once they know you are a reporter. In my experiences during the past two months, it didn't matter whether the interview was in person or via telephone -- or if the interviewee is a politician (Democrat or Republican), professor, policy expert, director of an organization, or small business owner: Everyone I interviewed was eager to share information with me. In this, I learned that "reporter" can be a useful title. (Editor's note: This reporter was lucky enough not to encounter the opposite case -- the one in which a potential source clams up as soon as he knows he's talking to a "reporter.")
Through responses from readers, I learned that some seem somewhat surprised when a reporter is impartial. In fact, it is a bit disheartening to think that readers are surprised enough when they read an "unbiased" article that they take the time to email you to let you know, as if this is a rarity.
Besides email from readers, I also received email from individuals I interviewed. More than once, interviewees from both sides of an issue said they were pleased with how I presented the information in the article, telling me that I told their side of the story in a fair/accurate light, and that I remained impartial so readers could decide what conclusion to draw for themselves. I realized that this is about the biggest compliment I could hope to receive; interviewees from both sides thought I had done them justice.
I learned that researching your topic and asking the right questions are key elements in reporting. Researching a topic beforehand is the most time-consuming part of writing an article. But it is worth the time to do so, tenfold.
First, I would do my own research and find out as much as I could about the subject matter from every angle. Next, I would formulate questions and then interview individuals from all sides of the spectrum so that my article would present each side of the debate. After that I'd also try to interview an "expert" in the field, such as a policy adviser or academic. The next step was deciding what quotes to include in my article, and then I'd piece these together into a rough draft that would "flow."
The final step was always my least favorite: editing. More specifically, I had to make my articles more concise.
From the responses I received from different readers, interviewees, and others, I learned that it is well worth the time to do your research prior to interviewing anyone for an article. On multiple occasions, interviewees told me that I was asking good questions, and they appreciated that I'd "done my research" beforehand.
Most important, I got a taste of the reporting bug and learned that I love it.
Signe Thomas, a rising senior at Florida State University, was an editorial intern this summer at Carolina Journal.