How nice of the New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, to hand all of us this near the end of the semester: “Everything I Know About Journalism in 395 Words.”
No way I would be able to put this as succinctly as she does, but I agree with her advice — a gift to her last journalism class (for the foreseeable future) at Columbia University.
Here it is:
1. About social media.
• No road rage; walk away from the keyboard.
• Be useful.
• Be responsive.
• Be willing to correct and acknowledge errors immediately.
• Show restraint; remember that you are posting to The World. Forever.
• Try for a mix of 20 percent fun and 80 percent hard information.
• Read every link before re-tweeting or re-posting.
• It’s a tool, not an end in itself.
2. About journalism.
• Don’t cut corners. Do the actual work.
• If you “borrow,” always credit with a link and a specific mention, and always write in your own words.
• You can lose your reputation and your career in an instant.
• Despite that, don’t be timid. Be brave; just don’t be brave and stupid.
• Ask for advice from smart people.
• Do the work that improves the world, even in a small way.
• Don’t sink to least-common-denominator journalism.
• A little snark goes a long way.
• Think more about fairness than objectivity.
• Think about how close you can get to the truth.
• Put yourself in the place of the people who will be affected by your work. That doesn’t mean to pull your punches.
• Be rigorous. Go the extra mile. If you think you should interview five people, interview 10. Fact-check with a vengeance.
• Be aggressive — a passive journalist isn’t really a journalist.
• Get to be really good at one or two things. And get to be decently good at a whole bunch of things. (A hat tip to my friend Drake Martinet of Vice Media here.)
• If you screw up, apologize fully and move on.
• Try to work for someone great.
• Whatever help you’ve received in your career, pay it forward.
• Be idealistic. Resist cynicism.
• Never be boring — be engaging and clear, especially when the subject is complicated or hard to understand. If you’re writing blurry stuff, maybe you don’t understand the subject yet. Pity the readers (or viewers) and consider their attention span. (E.B. White on clarity, referring to his teacher William Strunk: “Will felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, a man floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get his man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope.”)
• You are not in this business for the money, so what are you in it for? Do that work.
What have you learned this semester that you would add as advice for the next group of reporting students?