When journalists contact me, one of the first questions I ask is “What is your news philosophy?” Most cannot tell me clearly. I end up having to ask a series of questions, then define it for them. (This, by the way, includes many news managers who call me looking for employees.)
Now I know some people are already rolling their eyes at me mentioning news philosophy. The naysayers response: “Your philosophy is the boss’s philosophy.” My counter. Exactly. If you do not know what type of news you love to do, and you do not define your own mission statement to serve the community, you cannot connect with a manager who thinks the same way. Want to know why so many journalists burn out in the first 5 years? This is a big reason. You and the boss don’t think alike. The job is simply too intense, too all encompassing not to believe in the message. Journalism is a vocation in many ways. You do it because you just don’t know what else you can do. It is simply a part of you, so you need to define it for yourself. Personal fulfillment often replaces the great paycheck in those first key years.
O.K., lecture over. Now let’s talk about how to define your philosophy. It requires exploring a few questions and truthfully answering them instead of saying what you think others want to hear.
What types of stories make you proud to be a journalist?
What issues do you read about in your spare time?
How do you visualize stories?
What news do you love to watch and steal ideas from?
How do you serve the community in your reports/newscast?
Really think about these questions. They are a great guide to helping you define news philosophy for yourself. Also try and throw away stereotypes. (See article “What is Hard News”) You need to define your philosophy in clear terms a viewer could relate to, not a fellow newsy. For example, the “New, Now, Next Philosophy” has different meanings depending on what broadcast entity is executing it. So just telling a prospective boss, I am a “new, now, next broadcast journalist” is only a small part of the picture. You need to have more detailed discussions. How will you do this with graphics? Standups? When deciding what stories are live? Do you like a lot of 20 second vo’s or do you like to really delve into an issue and pick apart what’s new, now and next? Make sense?
Let’s get back to news as vocation for a minute. Sometimes journalists need to be reminded that the news they put on the air, and over the internet, actually impacts people’s lives. You have incredible influence over issues, sometimes arguably too much influence. You owe it to yourself and those you serve to know why you dedicated your life to doing the news. If you cannot do this, you need to go into PR. It’s a simple truth. Call me an idealist, a purist, a fool. But news philosophy is crucial to excel at this vocation you have chosen. Don’t shortchange yourself.