Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 25, 2014

There is little time to celebrate a job well done in the newsroom

— You have to be prepared to take a little bit of criticism in our line of work. All too often a writer or editor will hear from someone who is not happy with what you reported on as opposed to receiving praise or a simple thank you for a job well done.

And the newspaper industry, in particular, can be a little cruel in that there is precious little time to celebrate a job well done, including a local story that receives an award or is picked up for statewide or even national publication across the news wire. That is because each morning we start with a clean slate. That award-winning story we wrote the day before is now, simply put, yesterday’s news. Each day is a new starting point, and an even bigger story could be just around the next corner. You must strive as a committed journalist to top what you wrote the day before. It’s just the nature of the beast with the news media industry — television stations included.

Each day is a new adventure in the newspaper business. But with time writers and editors become an expert for a day on a multitude of topics. You learn something new — regardless of how many years or decades you have  been in the industry — just about every day. It’s like going to school all over again — minus those trips to the principal’s office and the dreaded report card.

With time you will get screamed at — even cursed at — by someone who is angry at you over a story you have written. But we are simply doing our jobs. And striving to do it fairly and accurately. Most editors are not a Perry White. If you make a mistake, you can expect to hear about it from the boss. But you move on and strive to do a better job tomorrow. That’s the same with just about any company an employee may work for.

But in the newsroom there are days when the phone will ring and ring and ring. Sometimes I ask myself what would folks do if they didn’t have a newspaper to call. Sometimes we can help the callers. Sometimes we can’t. Not every story requested by a caller becomes a story in print or on the Internet. However we try, as long as there are no red flags, to do as many requested stories from our readers and callers as humanly possible. Most of the requests we receive turn into actual stories. But there are other instances where a “letter to the editor” may be more appropriate than an actual story.

Frequently there is someone calling wanting to do a story attacking someone else, but we can’t do a story about someone breaking the law when they have not been charged with an actual crime. I wish more folks would realize that before they pick up the phone.

It is also common to get calls from folks trying to track down a past article. If you are looking for an older article, try searching our Internet website first. The next best option is Craft Memorial Library in Bluefield, which has copies of our newspapers on microfilm going all the way back to the very beginning of this publication in 1896. Sometimes it is difficult for us in the newsroom to remember a story that was written two or 10 years ago. If you ask us about a story that was published 20 years ago — well let’s just say that would take a lot of thought and digging. It’s not something we would immediately remember.

The political season also presents more than a few headaches for those of us in the newspaper business. If you work for a politician, or as a public relations director for a political action committee or political party, calling us repeatedly about the same topic will not improve the chances of a story making it into print. And filling our e-mail inboxes with dozens of unsubstantiated press releases about why candidate A or candidate B is unfit to serve in public office will not improve the chances of these at times ridiculous press releases ending up in print or on the newspaper’s website. And boy do we see a lot of these press releases during the political season. I’m currently averaging several dozen a week — and this number will continue to grow as we get closer to the actual fall political season. So will all of the political mudslinging, and all of those fun commercials, attacking the individual candidates. It really takes a love of politics to sort through all of the political press releases, e-mails and phone calls.

Yes, every day is a new adventure in the newspaper business. That’s a fun way of looking at it I suppose. And there are days that can be more stressful than others. It’s not a job for everyone — particularly those who prefer a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, but for those who choose to accept the challenge it can be quite the rewarding experience.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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