Helping the “shy” love tough stories
There’s an interesting discussion going on at a LinkedIn group for college newspaper editors about problems getting newer student reporters to tackle controversial stories. I’ll bet you know the feeling: a new recruit has done a good job on some light features and shows a lot of promise. But when you start talking to him about a campus controversy (or any story where two sources disagree), he starts backing out of the newsroom and mumbling about homework.
At this point, you must repress your Type A Perry White personality, which is screaming, “This guy will never make it!” This guy may become a great journalist (Clark Kent, if not Superman). Your job is to help him.
A wise newsroom management consultant says people who resist a new task usually don’t feel competent to perform it. In the case of your newer students, they may not even be able to imagine themselves asking a question that would ruffle anyone’s feathers. You can help shy students learn to love tough stories if you give them confidence through training and exposure to other students who have done this kind of work. So:
1. Attend conventions, conferences, workshops, whatever you can afford. The enthusiasm at these events is contagious, and the training helps your newcomers start to imagine themselves doing great work. If you have zero money, set up an hour or two with a nearby professional reporter you respect. Journalists love to be asked to share expertise. Invite students from a nearby college to build the atmosphere.
2. Tell your war stories! Make sure you and other experienced students talk about your successes with controversial stories. Even talking about failures with trademark newsroom humor helps the newcomers see that there is life after a rough interview. Your shy students will want to earn some war stories of their own.
3. Once he takes the plunge, don’t practice “sink or swim” editing. Check in with him often. Did someone get hostile in an interview? Walk him through it, give feedback for next time and assure him he’s on the right track (or help him get on the right track).
A plug: if you’re not on LinkedIn, seriously consider it. It’s a major player among the kind of people who may hire you one day. It’s the only social medium I used for years because it’s 99 percent professional. Here again is the link for the college newspaper editor group, where you’ll see suggestions from your peers on this and other topics: