Simply being there

I couldn’t help but keep coming back to how Samuel Freedman in Letters to a Young Journalist discusses the idea of showing up in reporting. We spend a lot of time discussing how the Internet has changed news and how news outlets can find new ways to profit from the Internet. But it has also helped diminish the need to go out in the world.

Now I don’t think it is all a bad thing. The Internet can make for much more comprehensive reporting, especially with data. But we can’t forget the importance of having, “scuffed up shoes.” What Freedman means is that reporting is more than taking what press releases give you. There’s more than showing up to all the White House press conferences and staged photo-ops. As the Washington Post reporter, Walter Pincus, won the Columbia Journalism School award for outstanding political reporting, he wasn’t just regurgitating information fed to him by the press office. Pincus was asking the important questions and getting other information as to what was really in Iraq.

What’s even more interesting about the Pincus story is that his stories weren’t even showing up on the front pages. The stories created by the press office were. Pincus on the other hand, was engaging in his basic reporting skills to get to the answer.

I also liked how Freedman discusses in addition to showing up, the need to use all of your senses in reporting. There’s more to it than just showing up and writing about what you see. What’s it smell like, sound like or even taste like are sometimes more valuable questions to the story than the visual aspect. For example, with the story of the reporter walking through the New York neighborhood with the man who grew up there, he asked him what it smelled like. This in turn evoked a nice little anecdote from the man’s childhood that I’m sure led to other information the subject could recall. It was a great example of showing up and asking the more than just visual questions.

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