CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

August 9, 2009

Journalism Rules and Professionalism: I had neither!


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

JOURNALISM RULES AND PROFESSIONALISM

I Had Neither!

      In searching for a certain picture, I came across my first press pass (http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolyncholland/?saved=1 ).

     Over the years that I have been a freelance newspaper photojournalist, my editors had to put up with a lot from me. I was definitely not always “professional.”

     I was working at the newspaper until closing time, and the editor asked me (for the tenth time) if I could be back the first thing in the morning to complete our work.

     “Yes,” I said. “I’ll roll out of bed and into the office.”

     The next morning, I put my work clothes on, but didn’t wash my face or comb my hair. I grabbed my papers, my floor-length, maroon, fluffy bathrobe and my matching slippers. When I arrived at the newspaper, I parked in the back. I put on the robe and replaced my shoes with my slippers before entering the back door of the office.

     As I entered, I feigned yawning, as I said, “I told you I would just roll out of bed and into the office.”

     During the time I worked at one newspaper, I was needed to help my daughter with her newborn baby, Jordan. I would pack my briefcase, camera case, bottles and diapers when I took an article in to be edited (I sat with the editors while they worked on improving my writing). I would spread a blanket out on the floor (Jordan was not crawling yet) and work with the editor. Often, I would have to take a few minutes break to prepare her bottle, change her diaper, or quiet her down.

     I remember being asked by one editor to cover a wrestling banquet that I was attending. “No,” I said, turning and leaving. Tossing over my shoulder, “I know nothing about wrestling.” Then I did a turnabout. “Yes, I can,” I told the editor. “My husband is a wrestler, and he can edit it for me.” Monte did, and laughed at my mistakes while he corrected them. The article went in great.

     A mother should know her son’s name, right? Well…she may…but she may not always use it. I almost caused the newspaper lawsuit when I submitted the name of a five year old, given to me by his mother. She, however, was divorced from the child’s father, and told me his last name was the same as hers was. She had remarried. Never did I expect that a mother would lie about her son’s name. I erred, breaking the rule about asking the child to give me his name.

     But then, the editors I worked with didn’t follow the rules either. I found that together we “broke” some of the rules of journalism. Below are a couple of these “rules.”

REMAIN FREE OF ASSOCIATIONS AND ACTIVITIES THAT MAY COMPROMISE INTEGRITY OR DAMAGE CREDIBILITY.

AVOID CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, REAL OR PERCEIVED.

     Obviously, this implies that the journalist should not write about the organizations  with which they are involved. However, Jamestown (PA) is a small, rural town. When I arrived on the scene, the long-term freelancer for the Greenville Record Argus newspaper was ready to pass the job on, and I became the recipient. I also received a grant from the Children’s Trust Fund based on the premise that healing an adult of their childhood abuse would break the intergenerational chain of abuse. After receiving word of the grant I approached the newspaper’s and informed him that the new program needed a picture in the newspaper. Community residents needed to know about the new program. Logically, it should be the head of the program (me) photographed with the director of the county’s Children and Youth agency. I fully expected him to say that the paper’s freelance writer in Mercer would be assigned the task. Instead, to my surprise, he said, “Hand the camera to someone and ask them to shoot.” I did, and ended up being paid for putting my own picture in the paper.

     It didn’t end there. I allowed another local newspaper to do a feature article on the program. When the headline read TOWN GETS GRANT TO COFFEE KLATCH I was very irritated, to say the least. At that point, I decided that the only person to write the publicity would be me, and through the four years of the program I wrote all the articles, albeit, never again was I in any of the pictures, and I was not given a byline.

DON’T WRITE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY

     When we moved to Connellsville, the church my husband, Monte, pastored had a significant fire. I wasn’t allowed to report on it, which didn’t surprise me, but angered me. During the rebuilding, however, I was assigned to do a progress article. I took a photo, intentionally omitting Monte. When I arrived at the newspaper, I was asked where he was, and sent back to retake the picture with him in it.

     All in all, I have worked for quality editors. They accepted what I had to offer, both good and bad. I truly appreciated it at the last newspaper I freelanced for when the editor started me out by including me in the editing process (I never saw any other freelancer in the office working together that way). This encouraged me by implying that they thought I was worth mentoring, and they taught me journalism by working with me.

     Sometimes, especially in small communities, it is unavoidable to separate community activities from journalistic writing. And sometimes, life just presents situations that are unavoidable, and multitasking is necessary.

     If you plan to writer for a newspaper, make certain you follow the rules. If the editors choose to break the rule, well…so be it.

 ADDITIONAL READING on writing:

THE ART OF THE INTERVIEW: Things Writers Should Know

BAD WRITING CONTESTS

DEVELOPING CHARACTERS IN NOVEL WRITING

DOES EXAGGERATING THE TRUTH CREATE GOOD STORIES?

Eavesdropping—the good and the bad of it

INTEGRITY: A JOURNALISTIC CODE OF ETHICS REVIEW

2 Comments »

  1. This is great information. I’m starting to get story ideas zooming in my head.

    Comment by hostlanceme — August 21, 2009 @ 8:48 am | Reply

  2. hostlanceme,

    Thank you for your comment on my post,
    Journalism Rules and Professionalism: I had neither!
    I hope you follow through on a couple of those ideas, and perhaps share them. The Beanery Online Literary Magazine accepts submissions to its publication. Visit them at http://www.beanerywriters.wordpress.com/ and/or send submissions (any genre) to beanerywriters@yahoo.com with the word “SUBMISSION” in the subject line.

    Carolyn C. Holland, facilitator
    Beanery Writers Group in Latrobe, PA
    http://www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com

    THE LEGACY FROM MY EDITORS
    A BLUE BUTTERFLY and STAR GAZER LILIES
    Take Me Out to the Ball Game…So Reluctantly I Go

    Comment by carolyncholland — August 21, 2009 @ 12:50 pm | Reply


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