• A ruthless ability to completely cut somebody off (in conversation, not traffic).
Sometimes you get ramblers. Chances are they know they’re ramblers. They’re the sheep, you’re the sheepdog. You know what you need for your story. And you have to get it. Journalism isn’t a tea party — etiquette falls by the wayside. Herd them back.
Note: Sometimes really great stories come from ramblers.
• The science of appearing to agree without actually agreeing.
I have this source who always tries to enlist my help. He starts a lot of sentences like this: “Tell me this. How would you feel if ….” And it’s not rhetorical — he actually waits for my answers. When he’s really up in arms about something, he’ll say do this three or four times in a single interview. “Oh, Giovanni,” I’ll say (not his real name). “I see where you’re coming from…” It may be an awkward deflection, but it is crucial to stay clear of declaring an opinion. You're a reporter! One good technique is to follow these exchanges with the following: “So, just to play devil's advocate, (start poking holes in their theory so they start thinking about their own opinions again and ignore yours).”
• Just enough legal knowledge that you can smack-talk public officials.
Sunshine Law infringement? Bam. Open meetings being violated? Take THAT! Oh, you want a Colorado Open Records request? Well, it just so happens I have a template on my MacBook. KAZAM!
• The humility to admit when you’re wrong.
It happens! I was wrong just a couple weeks ago! Shocking, I know. But you have to roll with the punches.
• Off-grid grit.
Between my time as a mountain reporter and in my six-month stint raking muck in the bayou, I’ve learned that a world still exists wherein the power of Google Maps is neither known nor recognized. The point is, maps are still important. So learn to read them. Click here to read about my off-grid adventures in the God-forsaken backwoods of Louisiana.
• The art of finding the perfect Pandora station to match your story.
For me, hard news usually goes with Van Morrison or William Elliot Whitmore Radio. Features vary for me; for the really human interest-y ones I’ll go with Cat Power or Bon Iver. For business profiles, I just need to get it done, so I’ll usually choose something upbeat like Laura Cantrell or Buck Owens. I like to blog to Amalia Rodrigues (or Mariza, or another fado artist). For really controversial, conflict-ridden stories, I stick with classical – but be warned that it takes a while for Pandora to make its way past Fur Elise, the Moonlight Sonata and the Brandenburg Concertos.
Just in case.
High Timber Times reporter Gabrielle Porter keeps a personal blog where she writes about life as a newspaper reporter. To read more, visit gabriellereport.wordpress.com. Any opinions are not official Evergreen Newspapers stances.