Journalism is a profession in which one can, moment to moment, experience and feel just about anything.
We see some amazing things that happen and periodically see some of the worst. It’s a profession that presents new challenges and opportunities each day. That is, to say, no day is ever alike, which is why organization and communication is so important.
There are the everyday tasks of preparing an editorial budget, which is a list of stories we plan to pursue on any given day. These budgets are fluid, meaning they constantly change depending on several factors such as availability of information, people, photo opportunities and others. We list these stories on the budget, delete or move them around as needed, and add more as the day goes on. Usually by 5 p.m. each day, these story budgets are pretty well set, barring some newsworthy calamity.
This is where organization comes into play. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to drop whatever task I was doing at the moment and rush to an accident or other spur-of-the-moment event. This doesn’t happen regularly, but it happens more often than you think.
For example, one day a few years ago, a massive wildfire broke out in the nearby mountains in south-central New Mexico where I lived and worked at the time. The local emergency management director of the county provided my reporter and I with fire suits and told us to put them on, adding that no one will ask us to leave the area as long as we are wearing them.
We were away from the office for a solid six hours, but I managed to get great shots of trees and other natural things completely burning within seconds. I managed to snap a photo of a truck speeding around a bend in the road, with fiery trees and smoke billowing into the air in the background. The photo was picked up by The Associated Press and wound up in the following day’s edition of USA Today.
On another day, I ran out the door to a plane crash site, where I spent the next six hours – mostly waiting – gathering information and listening to a press conference, where I was able to get all the information I needed. Hindsight being what it is, I might have been able to wait 5½ hours, then drive to the scene and get the info I needed. Unfortunately, news doesn’t work that way. Journalists never know when information may become available. They may wait five minutes or, like me, six hours.
Now, during those six hours each at the plane crash and wildlife sites, I wasn’t sitting around waiting to be spoon-fed information. I talked with deputies, state troopers, airport officials, fire officials — anyone nearby and in the know about things. I also grabbed photos when able and kept in contact with colleagues at my home office and sister publications.
Organization and communication is key. Everyone knew what I was doing, where I was at that moment and what needed to be done back the office. It was a well-spent six hours as the work eventually won the newspaper honors at the state’s annual press association awards ceremony. We took a total of 13 awards that year, and 49 over the course of my five years there — including General Excellence in our classification in my final year.
I say “we” because it was a team effort. Organization and communication were at the heart and soul of it, with everyone pitching in — not just on that day, but every day.
The awards were nice and I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Practically every journalist I’ve ever spoken with likes the recognition, especially from their peers, but we don’t do it for the accolades. That’s just icing on the cake.
We do the job because we love what we do, being in the thick of the story while trying not to become part of it. Whether it’s a feel-good positive story about little Johnny’s Boy Scout project, a wildfire, plane crash, or any number of other things good and bad, we spend each day trying to give our readers a perspective they may otherwise not get.
After all, we are part of an organization that’s in the communications business. It’s important to do both well.
Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.