Today, I was feeling inspired by the reprint of this terrific list from the pen of Melvin Mencher. It’s the “Sayings of Mel,” and it’s timeless.
I came up with a few thoughts of my own suitable for the modern community journalist. Take them for what they are worth. I’m sure you have a list that is equally valid, whether or not you have bothered to write them down. Feel free to comment with yours.
If nothing else, please heed No. 10.
- Don’t foul your own nest. One of the great big mistakes that young journalists make is to draw lines in the sand, forgetting that the beach is vast. As journalists we were born holier than thou. We would do well to remember we don’t hold a patent on righteousness. Getting angry is short-term gratification.
- Be more understanding. Of your coworkers. Of your sources. Of your family. Of your readers, commenters and fellow citizens. They all piss us off from time to time. Try to remember you are human too.
- Make deadlines. There was a time not so long ago when deadlines were carved in stone. It was a print world and the presses rolled at a given time. Then Al Gore invented the Internet and every moment was a deadline, which devalued all of them. You can post online whenever you want. Don’t take that to mean there is no such thing anymore. When you are late, you are making a colleague’s job harder. That’s selfish.
- Always be publishing. The Web is famished and you are the chef, prepping for a buffet that never closes. It’s exhausting. Try scheduling a Facebook post in the morning and a series of tweets in the afternoon. You can do it automatically or just program yourself to do it. Take a photo for Instagram or Snapchat on the walk to lunch. Making it normal makes it less difficult.
- Speak up. Millions of people long for the soapbox we have been given in our communities. They sign up for blogging platforms and social networks in hopes that someone reads what they have to say. You have a captive audience. Don’t squander it. Use your opinion page to shape a better world.
- Help someone every day. A reader’s lost her dog. Someone emails hoping to promote a non-profit function. A class mom would like publicity for a third-grade project. Want to feel good about what you do? Help them be heard. Keep a log. Look at it at the end of the month. Feel good about the things you have done.
- Learn something every day. Twitter Moments, Periscope, Yik Yak, Medium, Snapchat, Tumblr, Blox, Apple News, Google Newstand, NYTNow, LinkedIn… Pick one you don’t use and spend 15 minutes searching online to learn why you should use it. If you stop learning about new platforms and possibilities, all is lost.
- Read good writing. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read every day. Can’t be done. Spend at least 30 minutes a day reading other news sources. Find a book that interests you and read it until you need another. Read every day. Read. Every. Day.
- Get out of the office. This week, keep tabs on how much time you spend in the office. If you are a reporter and you spend more than half of your workday in in front of a computer screen, you are doing it wrong. Get out. Meet people. Breathe the air your readers breathe. See what you are writing about.
- Give yourself a break. Your job is impossible. You are asked to keep track of dozens of potential news stories 24 hours a day and publish them as they break, with context, art and flair. You will fail to live up to that standard. We all do. Despite that, you are appreciated by your peers and respected in your community. You are a journalist. Yours is a noble calling.