The soft, feathery pages in one’s hands that crinkle with every movement, the pages filled with a seemingly endless amount of words—picking up a newspaper can be overwhelming.
I stumbled upon the art of journalism accidentally; my indifference to newspapers turned into a passion for speaking with people and learning their stories with the help of my very enthusiastic former journalism teacher, Mrs. Lucinda Hogentogler.
I learned quickly that reporting is not for the faint of heart; I learned how to be immersive, how to really connect with people on a level that makes them comfortable enough to share their story. I learned that no matter what the topic is I’m writing on, people will talk—this is both a blessing and a curse in itself.
Five years after starting my accidental dream career, my stories have been featured on the front page of three different newspaper publications. The following tips may not entitle you to a front page article, but they may spark creativity and interest for writers and journalists alike.
Find out what your audience wants to read, and what will reach the most people.
Study your location thoroughly and find out what the people in your town care about most. In Lancaster, Pa., it happens to be farming and agriculture. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in your town just wants to read about farms or the interests that your town possesses, but it’s a good starting point.
Human interest pieces are popular, too; strange happenings in your town will always garner readers’ attentions, and editors will be more likely to think that these pieces are front-page material.
Relevancy is also important; if a holiday is coming up, readers will be interested to know the travel plans of the surrounding community as well as the activities that can be done if the reader decides to take a “staycation.”
Research and fact check.
In the words of Mrs. Hogentogler: “If your mom says she loves you, ask her to prove it.”
Every single person in this world has a story to tell. On the flipside, people like to read their name in the newspaper, and sometimes this will make them feel the need to make their story more extravagant than what it actually is.
Be skeptical: find multiple people to talk to with differing viewpoints to ensure the most balanced product. Do not believe everything from face value; the last thing an editor or a writer wants is to push out a story laden with inaccuracies.
Be open to criticism of all kinds, even if it’s negative.
The editors are there to ensure that the best newspaper is being presented to the readers, a.k.a., the consumers of their product. No one wants to pay for sub-quality content. That being said, they will let a writer know if they do not like their story; in fact, sometimes the editors will nearly rewrite parts of the story. This is not meant to be a personal attack, nor is it an insult to the writer’s ability—editors have an idea of what they would like to portray in the newspaper, and if the writer’s story doesn’t meet their expectations, corrective measures will be taken. Be open to this. Editors like to see their writers open up to different approaches.
From a community standpoint, there will always be some kind of talk that blossoms from an article being published, especially if they are published online where commenting is readily available. Sometimes community members will have views that differ from the views you wrote about, and that is okay. In fact, I encourage you to embrace this, as it’s all a learning opportunity. No writer knows everything about everything—it’s okay to be a work in progress.
Don’t be afraid to get dirty and adapt to any situation.
Some of the best stories come from uncomfortable situations.
One of my most recent pieces that landed on the front page of Lancaster Newspaper was about how the Lancaster community came together to rebuild after a large poultry house caught fire and killed over 16,000 chickens.
I, a momentarily naive and ready-to-impress young journalist, showed up at the barn wearing a dress and flats, wanting to make sure that I looked presentable enough to talk to these folks who had just gone through a heartbreaking tragedy.
The farm reeked of burning animals and bird feed, and the humid air ensured that those smells clung to my clothes. Mud from the fire cleanup caked onto my shoes and made walking mildly uncomfortable. With a photographer, I walked on practically every square inch of this farm, stepping over dead bird carcasses, and speaking with the very emotional farm owners.
This is a mild situation compared to what many journalists have to endure.
Journalism is uncomfortable. To land a front page article, a writer must be comfortable with putting themselves in compromising environments and talking with people whom they may not share many interests. They must be willing to talk with angry or crying people, people who have committed crimes, people who just want to be heard.
A journalist must be willing to be a people person, and have a sense of humanity — with those passions, everything else will fall right into place.
Mickayla is a communications student at Millersville University. When she isn’t writing, she’s likely watching Game of Thrones or cuddling her adorable ginger kitten named Kitty Friend. You can follow her at @mickaylawrites.