Four Things They Don’t Teach You in J-School

A friend’s recent status update brought to mind some of the things we have to deal with in the real world of journalism that aren’t always in the textbooks we fork over our hard-earned money for while in school. I’ve decided to compile a few of those tidbits on this here blog.

1. How to use your phone voice.

Everybody has one, even if they don’t realize it. The second you pick up the phone, your voice changes. You have to learn how to use that to your advantage. It’s not really something that can be taught. Like Nike, you just… do it. When you’re working on a feature story, your voice should be calm and happy-like. When you’re working on a hard news story, trying to force answers from an official who doesn’t want to tell you anything, you need to be more assertive, a teeny bit aggressive. And adding just a bit of hesitance to your voice, like you don’t want to ask the question, but you know you have to, that’s the key. Realizing when you shift from one voice to the next will be important because once you become aware of the changes, you can master them.

2. The art of leaving a voicemail.

Voicemail No. 1:  “Hi, my name is [insert first and last name]. I’m a [reporter/editor/photographer] with [insert news organization]. I’m working on a story about [insert story assignment], and I was hoping to ask you a few questions. I can be reached at [phone number], and my deadline for the story is [insert deadline]. Thanks so much, bye.”

Voicemail No. 2: “Hi, this is [insert first and last name] with [insert news organization]. I  just wanted to follow up with you about the story I’m working on about [insert story assignment]. I’d like to ask you a few questions. I can be reached at [phone number], and my deadline is [insert deadline]. Thanks, bye.”

Voicemail No. 3: “Hi, this is [insert first name] with [insert news organization, abbreviated, if applicable] calling again. I’d really like to ask you a few questions about [insert assignment/interview topic] for the story I’m working on. My deadline is [insert deadline]. If you could get back to me as soon as possible, I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks.”

Voicemail No. 4: “Hi, this is [insert first name] with [insert news organization, abbreviated, if applicable]. I’d really like to talk to you about [insert story assignment/interview topic]. If you could please contact me as soon as possible, I’d really appreciate. My deadline is [insert deadline]. Thanks.”

Any questions? Nope. Okay. Moving on.

3. How to answer the question, “Will you charge for this article?”

“Well, um. There’s no charge for news, but if you’d like to run an ad, I can put you in touch with the advertising department.”

4. How to respond to people who sent you a press release and called to follow up (this specifically applies if you’re an editor in chief or managing editor).

“Yes, I did that email. I can’t guarantee coverage, but I’ll make sure to pass the information along to the appropriate editor, and if it’s something they’re interested in covering, either a reporter or the editor will be in touch.”

If you have anything else, add it in the comments!

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