Five tips for would-be reporters

More and more of the day’s news is being reported by rank amateurs.

That’s right—rank amateurs: sheer, utter, total non-professionals, with no training in digging up the story or writing it up once they have it.

This is not entirely a bad thing. In the world of smart phones and the Internet, amateurs can be in more places than paid news people. That means they can report on stories faster, so that content and events get covered more quickly, but maybe not as well.

While amateur reporters play an important role, they could do everyone a service if they learned some basic rules of journalism:

  • One, don’t report on issues close to your heart. Any reporter’s personal biases will shine through and taint the credibility of what’s being reported.
  • Two, get closer. Move in close when taking that picture. I’d bet that 99 percent of all photos are taken in “the amateur zone,” with the camera held at head height, about 20 feet from the subject, making sure to get the subject’s heads and feet in the photo. The other 1 percent is taken from “the pro zone”: close in, up high or down low, faces filling the frame.
  • Three, ask how to spell their name. Even if it’s Bob Smith. For all you know, it could be Bob Smythe.
  • Four, give the most important information first. News stories aren’t essays that follow the classic grade school format of an introduction, followed by three paragraphs and a conclusion. Amateur reporters should pretend their reader is a squirrel with a short attention span that will stop reading at any moment and move on to the next article. It’s the reporter’s job to give the reader the most important facts first, and then give the less important details.
  • Five, don’t harbor a grudge against the “mainstream” or professional media, for whatever reason. They have a job to do and management to report to, just like anyone else. Amateur reporters can play an important role in delivering the news, but it needn’t come at the expense of people who choose to deliver the news for a living.

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