Mike Sager’s 53 Ways to Improve Your Reporting is invaluable advice for journalists of all stripes.
It’s also helpful for anyone trying to navigate society and learn about how the world works. The perch of a reporter is a somewhat unique position, so these tips don’t translate well to, like, making friends or networking professionally. But if you’re curious about the social engines of our community — about people — then Sager is a good read.
Don’t be one of those reporters who ask questions because they love the sound of their own voice. The answer is the thing that’s important.
Give good foreplay, however limited the time. You talk first– explain, inform, charm, introduce tape recorder. Undress them slowly. Then ask questions.
Use your own unique personal assets to develop a reporting style. What works for one reporter doesn’t work for another. Jiminy Cricket: “Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.”
Be yourself– only a little less so. Your reporter-self should be more humble than your writer-self, more of a wallflower than a star, more of a follower, a watcher, a true believer, someone willing to try on an idea and wear it around the room, just to see what it feels like.
Don’t write your lede before you get there.
See, these are all variants on advice you’ve received in other arenas. I think it’s also probably interesting to pull back the curtain a bit and see what sort of guidelines good reporters employ when they’re in the field. Most readers only experience the final product or, maybe, a glimpse into the interview process when they themselves intersect with the press. But there’s a lot of long-view work that goes into those stories, of course — fragmented moments spent with different people in different places. It’s a dance, always, both calculated and passionate.