Writing or Reporting?

I got some very interesting feedback today: someone asked me why there was such a difference between my work on LPJ and my work in the Reporter. I started to say because I don’t feel like I can afford to have an opinion in the paper, while on here I can, but they stopped me. The style, they said, that’s what they wondered about. Why the rigid style in the paper and the much more comfortable, conversational writing on here?

It was an interesting question. Whenever I tell someone I work for a newspaper they respond, “Oh, so you’re a writer?” I never know how to answer that. I’ve never considered myself a writer; I consider myself a reporter. Writing is the medium I use to get stories across, but the real product I create is the story. I like to think I’m OK at writing, but writer isn’t a title I would bestow on myself.

But their comment caught me. They obviously were more intrigued with my LPJ work than my Reporter work, and they suggested I might try applying my LPJ style to my reporting.

I went and looked back through my stories and understood what they meant, but I still have a challenge to deal with: how much of me and how much of my subjects are supposed to come through in my stories? How does that apply to the paper?

LPJ is mine, wholly and completely. I set it up because I’m passionate about reporting and the region I cover, and I don’t get paid to write any of these posts. I’m not representing anyone but myself in this venture, and if my personality shows through that’s fine. The Reporter, however, covers a city. I work there, just doing my job (reporting), and I shouldn’t overwhelm my subjects. That would do Berlin no good. I should almost invisible in the story, so to speak, in some ways.

But that doesn’t work either, because people don’t read blah stories. I could attend every council meeting from now until eternity, but if people aren’t reading what I’m writing what does it matter? It’s got to be captivating to get into people’s heads, or else they’ll put down the paper for the remote.

So I’ve decided to try to meld my reporting with the LPJ style, the one that has a bit more of my stamp in it. Hopefully it will help me improve what I’m producing  and people to get reading about their city.

I started tonight with a council story about Councilor Danderson and his comments about the police department. Honestly I think it makes me look  like I disagree with Councilor Danderson’s every word, but instead I just point out some hypocrisy in recent statements he’s made. I actually had one extra line that made him look even more of a hypocrite, but I took it out because it didn’t seem fair. But maybe it’s not fair to remove the line, because it’s all things he’s said and suggestions he’s made.

It’s a tough line to draw. It’s doubly tough because I’m not surrounded by colleagues who can weigh in with their opinions and experiences. But that’s the nature of the 21st century newsroom, where a laptop and a wireless connection are what make the news world go ’round.

This all goes along well with the last post about neutrality in the newspaper business. Hopefully I can toe the right line here, and inspire a more engaged citizenry in Berlin. One can only hope, right?

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5 thoughts on “Writing or Reporting?

  1. I always thought it was your job to report what he said and let the readers form their own opinion about how to interpret what he said. You telling us that you are not sure if you want to print what he said makes me wonder what else you are not telling us. That makes me question if I want to even bother reading what you write all together, which means I am not buying the paper. Which means you could lose your job. All because you rather filter the news then report it. Put another way, good thing the BDS doesn’t need to rely on hard hitting unbiased reporting in order to sell papers for revenue. They just need to rely on the person selling ads. Good for keeping the paper in print, unfortunately not so good if you want the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    1. Berlin Resident –

      Thanks for the comment.

      How I juxtapose what people say one day with what they say the other is important, but it doesn’t necessarily make for bias. Including more context and connecting comments at one meeting with comments from other meetings affects how readers interpret what people say. I include quite a bit of context on LPJ, and I’ll be doing it more in news stories. I wish 600 words was enough room for the “whole truth,” but we all know there’s no such thing. No, I don’t worry better writing will endanger my job. Engaging readers while being accurate and fair isn’t a science, and I will undoubtedly miss from time to time. Luckily we take letters and make corrections for those instances. I don’t worry about the scenario you lay out; I think it will actually improve my reporting. But I understand your concern, and, as always, I appreciate your comment.

      Erik

  2. So instead of just reporting what was said, you are putting statements together in a particular way with the goal of getting the reader to come to your interpretation of what was said.

    Don’t you believe your readers are smart enough to draw their own conclusions? How about just reporting what was said and let readers juxtapose?

    1. Berlin Resident –

      I agree readers are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions. They also need all the facts, or as many as can be squeezed in. If they read a story on a subject one week but missed the story on the same topic the week before they may be missing key information critical to making an informed decision. The paper can put all that together in one place. Sometimes that doesn’t make people look all that good because they’re comments change week to week (think Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race). That’s not the media’s fault.

      But granted, every tidbit of information won’t be in there. I understand your concern there. Hopefully you are able to attend council meetings to avoid the media filter, if that’s a big worry of yours.

      Overall, I think including more context and improving the conversational style will result in better reporting. Like the News and Sentinel said, independent but not neutral. Pointing out inconsistencies in a public figure’s statements is not bias, it’s good reporting. Holding government figures accountable is good reporting. Publishing a councilor’s statements without verifying them and without contrasting them to earlier statements is not good reporting, it’s parroting the party line.

      You are right though, I do have to make decisions about what I include in the stories I write. That’s inevitable. I wish every Berlin resident would attend council meetings; it would eliminate the need for newspaper coverage. Until that happens media has to exist to disseminate the news. If I lose my job because of a mass movement toward civic engagement I’ll be thrilled, not upset. I would be the last person to complain if that happened.

      Councilor Mark Evans always says our stories make the council look better than it does in person. That’s a pretty good barometer for whether press depictions are too harsh or not. I’m interested to see what reaction readers have to the piece. I understand your critique, Berlin Resident, but you have judged my efforts without having read the story. Perhaps you’ll weigh in again after you have read it.

      Erik

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