Want to be a better journalist? Get a life

If there’s one skill that the modern journalist needs in spades, it’s the ability to multitask.

But many moons ago, when God was not so much a boy as a toddler, I came across a man who could have written the book on that subject.

If memory serves, his name was Tony Brown.

And he was both the clerk to Wellington Town Council in Somerset as well as chief reporter of the tiny Wellington Weekly News.

Which meant that he both took the minutes of the council meetings and wrote objective reports holding his employer’s actions up to public scrutiny.

That, as I understand it, was the tip of the iceberg: he was involved in every aspect of community life.

Whether he actually managed to be both efficient public sector scribe and wholly independent investigator all at the same time, I cannot recall.

Certainly, it’s not a situation that would be acceptable to any editor today.

And yet there is no greater need for reporters to be immersed in their communities.

I always used to say that the best news editor I have worked for – the great Jim Parker, now editor of the Herald Express in Torquay – knew when someone had so much as sneezed a few miles down the road in Paignton.

Actually, it wasn’t sneezed. It was another bodily function, but that’s not important right now.

He was a one-man story machine, with matchless contacts and the ability to charm and cajole information out of the most truculent police officers and council jobsworths.

Most of those great stories had nothing to do with sport.

But it was Jim’s total devotion to his beloved Barton Cricket Club and the interconnected worlds of local cricket and football that made his contacts book the envy of the office.

When his wife saw him, I’ll never know.

What I do know, however, is that the full life that Jim had – and still has – outside of work utterly and completely enriched his journalism.

One of my colleagues drew my attention to this rather sad piece about work-life balance in journalism a few weeks ago.

The fears expressed in the piece reflect feelings that a number of people working in our industry – and not all of them in editorial by a long shot – have shared with me in recent times.

Disengaging yourself from work is increasingly difficult when websites need to be updated 24/7, weekend rotas are more demanding, and content ideas come at us from all angles on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

I’ve not been at the newsdesk coalface for more than a year, but I’ve done more than my fair share of 55-hour weeks and spent large parts of my last Christmas Eve as a news editor posting updates on floods as my parents arrived for a festive stay.

At the end of the day, however, there needs to be an end of the day.

We will not get the most engaging stories chained to a screen – whatever size it is.

Living a full life outside journalism won’t mean our work suffers.

The result will be life experiences, connections and conversations that make us far, far better journalists.

 

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One thought on “Want to be a better journalist? Get a life

  1. Couldn’t agree more – my best stories come from chatting on the school gate, and my neighbours being my eyes and ears.. This morning was a perfect example – and only because my neighbour texted me. ! http://www.stroudlife.co.uk/Bomb-squad-called-address-Stroud-morning/story-28238694-detail/story.html

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