Wick Communications

Gaining perspective off the beat

In Ideas on April 2, 2010 at 8:33 am

I loved reading about the experiences of Michael Schmidt. And I similarly loved hearing what his employer is doing with him to make them both better.

Schmidt is the 26-year-old wunderkind at the New York Times who has had a hand in breaking a bunch of stories concerning the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. The natural tendency with a superstar in any field is to keep him in position. You don’t suddenly bat your clean-up hitter first do you? You wouldn’t move a top salesman to the reception desk, would you?

Well, that’s akin to what the New York Times did with Schmidt. They took him off his specialized sports beat and moved him to the police beat. And it’s something they do with many young reporters. Times editors do that to season their best young talent, to expose them to the rigors of other types of reporting and probably to give them a dose of humility. Schmidt’s notoriety on the steroid beat meant little in the police station pressroom, I assure you.

Here’s what Schmidt had to say about his new experience on a blog called, “The Big Lead:” …

At times on my steroids beat, I believe I fell into the trap that many journalists do and believed that everything that occurred on my beat was really important. Not surprisingly, my perspective changed when I came downtown and wrote stories about murders, the deaths of children and hit-and-runs. As awful as it’s been to write those stories, it has given me a much better sense of the big picture and how to evaluate a story’s significance.

It’s something you can try in your shop – either in a big way or a small one. Perhaps you swap newsroom beats around for a week. Or you trade beats for just two reporters who have become entrenched in what they do. You might even make a sales person a reporter for a week and let that reporter try her hand at sales. I suspect that would be interesting for everyone involved.

Clay

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