This past month has been insane. I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at work, hanging out with friends, and trying to sleep as much as possible (failing miserably at that, might I add).
Sunday is here, so I finally have some time to catch up and talk about some things that have been weighing heavily on my mind, like how family and friends can affect your work when you’re an aspiring journalist trying to make a name for yourself.
This post will focus on two important topics:
- How stories are deemed newsworthy
- How family and friends can affect you career-wise when you’re working in the news business
As backwards as this may seem, I think it’s important to start with topic number two first, then make our way to topic number one. Let’s begin, shall we?
When family and friends think you’re a news director
I’ve said it many times before, and I will continue to shout it from the mountaintops: I am so grateful to have come to the University of Georgia. There are two people who have been instrumental in getting me there, covering costs for rent, my car, and so many other things. I have been blessed in so many ways, and I will forever be grateful for this.
Here’s where it gets tricky.
One of them, who I love very much, can be extremely controlling. I actually think I get some of my control freak ways from her. She is generous, outspoken, and she’s a force to be reckoned with. I know I can always count on her. In fact, I call her when my apartment complex gets out of line. I just give them her number and wish them good luck.
As you can imagine, this woman, as mighty and as wonderful as she is, also tends to overstep boundaries. Even as a kid, I had a hard time expressing how I felt to her. When I was younger, my mother would often step in for me and resolve the situation, and today, I still ask my mom for advice, but I generally handle situations with this person on my own.
Recently, she called me about an event she was attending during the upcoming weekend. She thought I could talk to the folks over at WAVY and write a story about it. I had things to do that weekend, and based on what I’d seen the station cover and the e-mails we receive about certain events, I didn’t think it was something the station would pay any attention to.
I didn’t want to flat out say no, and I wanted to give her a fair chance to at least let the station know about the event. Maybe someone would want to cover it as a weekend piece. I told her that the event organizers could send the information to Report It. That’s where we get viewers to send story ideas, tips, etc.
They sent it in with my name in the subject line. I did not tell them to do this. I am in no way affiliated with this event, and I didn’t appreciate them sending it as if I was.
Needless to say, the event was not covered by the station and I went on about my weekend.
Still, it made me think about two things:
- If I get a job at a station in Hampton Roads, will this become a common occurrence? Will she think she can just send me anything she wants me to cover and I’ll hop on it in a jiffy?
- Do I have to do what she says because she has helped me get where I want to be career-wise? Am I still allowed to say no to her if I don’t think her idea is a good one?
After thinking it over, I thought to myself:
Just because someone does something for you, it doesn’t mean you are forever indebted to them. You are not a slave. You can still say no. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you in that way or abuse your gratitude.
I am so grateful for her. I really am. If she calls me or needs me, I will answer or get back with her when I can. I will help her with whatever she needs, but I am not obligated to cover a story because she or anyone else thinks it will make a good one.
I am not a news director. I am an intern. I am still trying to make a name for myself, so I don’t need anyone interfering with my career and development in that way, and I fear that this is something she may inadvertently try to do. In the future, I think explaining how stories are chosen and followed up on would be wise, which leads me to the aforementioned topic of how stories are deemed newsworthy.
What makes a story relevant?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve gained a better understanding of how leads are followed, and how some stories just don’t make the cut. There have been story ideas that I’ve thought would be interesting to someone, but they never came to fruition. Clearly, I’m still learning.
News stations cover an array of stories, whether that’s hard news like crime and politics, wacky, national happenings like this liquid eel story, and upcoming events, like the opening of the Norfolk Premium Outlets.
In response to the stories we write, we receive tons of comments asking “Why is this news?” and “How is this relevant to Hampton Roads?”
What I’ve learned is that what’s relevant to one viewer may not be to others, and it’s important to remember that relevance is a subjective concept.
When I first started school at UGA, I learned about the concept of gatekeeping, or how the media filters information prior to airing it on TV, radio, or posting it online for viewers.
Gatekeeping and publishing decisions take into account both relevance and what will engage the most people in discussions online. There are gatekeepers who determine what’s going to be published and what isn’t, and they come to us in the form of directors, producers, and reporters.
In fact, based on what I’ve read and witnessed firsthand, some of the questions that producers and reporters ask themselves are:
- Who is this information relevant to?
- Why should people care? So what?
- How well will it do online and on social media?
- Will this headline make people click on it?
Also, one viewer responded to a comment questioning the relevance of a story we posted and said “The great thing about news outlets is that they can write more than one story per day.”
Of course, that’s paraphrased. She was a lot more sassy and sarcastic in her response, but I see her point. There’s something for everyone. Even if this story doesn’t interest you, there are tons of other stories for you to choose from.
I mean, I don’t care if Beyoncé had her babies, nor do I care if President Trump is coming to Virginia next Saturday for the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford. But I know that someone out there does care, and as a news outlet, it’s our job to get that information to the viewers. That’s the goal, and some things are just relevant to more people and get published.
It’s the stories that don’t really have a “So what?” factor that get sent to the chopping block. They just aren’t relevant to enough people.
Not making the cut
When I first started this internship, I was told that working in this business will toughen or desensitize me. It’s true, and it’s a tough pill to swallow.
While I may think a story about a missing kid needs to be posted, if there has been no police report filed, or the kid has a history of running away, we’re most likely not going to post it. It’s sad, but it’s true.
Or like my earlier example about the event she wanted me to cover, I personally didn’t think the event was going to be deemed “newsworthy” by the station. Still, I encouraged them to submit it anyway because as I said, relevance is a subjective concept, so someone else at the station may have disagreed with me and wanted to do a piece on it.
I’m not writing this to discourage any of my readers from submitting story ideas or tips to news stations. Please do, because these outlets do get a great deal of their stories from people within the community. Your input and opinions are valued. I want to stress this.
This post is more like a plea for you all to respect your friends and family who work in the field, and to keep in mind that just because you know someone who is on the news or writes for a paper or outlet, it doesn’t mean your story will automatically “make the news.”
There is an entire process that the story must go through before it reaches the air, and I hope that this blog has helped you all to better understand that.
I hope I haven’t offended anyone, and as always, thank you all for reading!