Writing Lessons from the Newsroom

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Tor Constantino. Tor is a former journalist, current PR guy, and author of the book, A Question of Faith. He blogs regularly at The Daily Retort, and you can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

During my decade-long career as a print and broadcast reporter, I had the opportunity to work in several different newsrooms where decisions were made about how and what gets coverage on any given day.

Newsroom Photo
Photo credit: David Sim (Creative Commons)

Every day in those newsrooms, editors, reporters, producers and assignment desk personnel gathered in the morning to decide what we believed to be relevant for our respective audiences and stakeholders.

Through those meetings, I took part in literally hundreds of different editorial discussions to evaluate the “newsworthiness” of stories. As a result of those decisions, I wrote thousands of pages of news copy over the years to meet multiple deadlines each and every day.

As part of that newsroom experience, I learned five lessons about writing that might be useful to others:

Listen twice as much as you talk

Early on in my journalism career, I had a respected mentor who said,

You’ve got two ears and one mouth – great reporters use them proportionately.

That’s good advice, because it requires you to listen to the responses of the person you’re communicating with, rather than focusing on what you’ll be saying next.

Active listening is an underutilized tool to help clarify complex concepts or focus on core issues. It’s a great life skill that builds relationships and transcends the newsroom.

There’s something interesting about everyone…

I’ll never forget something my first news director told me the first week I was on the job. He said,

There’s something interesting about everyone – it’s a reporter’s job to try and find out what it is!

That snippet of wisdom inspired me on many occasions as I struggled to find an angle on a story, yet it helped produce some of my best work.

Your credibility is critically important, yet incredibly fragile

Whether you’re trying to persuade someone to share their story with you or convince a person to read a story you’ve written, your credibility is a key influencer of others.

Credibility takes a long time to build, but it can be destroyed instantly.

No matter how daunting a pending deadline might be, never forsake accuracy for expediency because the risk to your credibility is too great.

Why should the audience care?

Every writer who wants to create something great or memorable needs to keep and answer this question every time they work their craft.

Too many writers focus on what they want to express with little thought to the audience who may (or may not) consume it. Actually, the audience dictates key components of our writing such as message, distribution methods, tonality and format.

Great writers are mindful of the benefit of their work to the reader.

Show the “macro” through the “micro”

Large trends and major news events can impact large geographic regions, cities or nations.

Think of an earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the currency devaluation in Greece. These are each “macro” events, but they’re difficult for people to understand until they’re distilled to the personal or “micro” level.

Great writers are able to put a personal face on a major happening, which enables a more meaningful connection with the audience – meaningful connection should be a goal for every writer.

How might you apply any of these lessons to your own writing? What similar lessons have your learned from the craft? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: David Sim (Creative Commons)

Disclosure: Some of the above links were affiliate links.