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lifeflame's avatar

[novel question] Journalists -- what was your workplace like? What kind of conflicts / ethical dilemmas did you encounter in the workplace?

Asked by lifeflame (5805 points ) November 2nd, 2011

I’m in the process of writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, and my main character is a freelance feature writer. Originally, he just got sent out on assignments and didn’t have to head back to the office much. However, as I’m writing, his boss—I’m assuming the section editor?—has become more involved in the plot, and it there’s a chance that the protagonist might suddenly be stuck in the thick of things or be promoted to a minor position of power in the place.

So if you’ve ever worked for print media, I’d love to hear what a typical workday (or work-week) was like for you, the kinds of things you were asked to cover, your working environment, and in particular, what the people you had to deal with (the chain of command?) were like. I’d love to hear any stories about ethical dilemmas – self censorship, company policies, types of conflicts that happen in the hierarchy, or generally the types of things that would stress people out…

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7 Answers

whitetigress's avatar

Power trips. In journalism, your title means everything. Pretty much as soon as story was handed out, it was off to the races of finding multiple sources to talk about the subject. With politicians it seemed that they always played games and played hardball. Artists for the most part loved to talk about what they were up to. Working under deadlines was extremely intense, but very good for actually getting work done. Editing process was the fun process. Nothing like having a bunch of peers read your work over and over until it is completely readable. Journalsim, short, quick, quality literature is just one thing my professor loved to say. Ah, I love Max Branscomb.

snowberry's avatar

These days journalism has to be about the drama. I took a journalism class in high school. Writing an article was so straight forward. In your first sentence, you started with the most important word, then the second most important word, and so on. If your article had to be shortened, no big deal. They cut it off the end.

Nowdays it has to start out as a dramatic story. It’s play up the drama all the way. In real life, if there is no story to be had, you invent one. If you have a choice between printing an interview with a credible source and someone who has no credibility or documents to back it up, print the controversial interview. It’ll sell, even if it isn’t the truth. Been there done that. I live it every day.

Nowdays when I hear something on the news, I always ask, “How much of this is true? Actually, this has the makings of an interesting story of yours. It will be interesting to see where you take it.

bkcunningham's avatar

@lifeflame, I’m a little confused when you say a freelance features writer. Are they freelancing for a newspaper? A freelancer is usually called a stringer in the newspaper business. If that is the case, they wouldn’t be spending very much time in the newsroom.

The editor for feature stories is usually called the lifestyles editor. If it is a news feature story, the city editor would be the boss. These people are usually not in direct contact with the stringer after the story is “budgeted” or assigned and given a placement in an upcoming newspaper. The writer would be dealing with a copy editor at this point.

Is your writing doing an investigative piece perhaps?

zensky's avatar

Freelancer here.

Bellatrix's avatar

When I was working as a stringer, either I would pitch my own stories and then submit them or the editor/sub-editor would call me and say “Can you cover this? I need it by xxx” and I would go and do the research/interviews, write the story and submit. I never had cause to visit the newsroom. It was in a different state and all our communication was by email and phone.

lifeflame's avatar

@bkcunningham – “stringer” ... thanks for the jargon!
Yes, originally I had the main character be a stringer because he didn’t like the soundbyte aspect of the news section, and he felt that working made him a bit blase about the news. He likes talking to people, and feels bad about reducing their stories to a few hundred words. However, I want to drag him in there because I smell that’s where a lot of contradictions take place. .

Anyone want to give a stab and describing and routine and atmosphere of the newsroom? I’d like to try and drag my main character in there because that’s precisely where a lot of the contradictions seem to take place.

Aside from a stint on the college paper, my experience has largely been on the other end of the interview, and I’ve encountered both sincere and insincere reporting). Also being involved in the protest scene I feel a real discrepancy by what is portrayed by mainstream media vs. the experience on the ground… stuff that @snowberry talked about…

I’m going to PM some of you with more specific questions… thanks for pitching in to help.

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