Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I've Been Given a "Sunshine Award" :-D

Well it looks like I have been given a "Sunshine Award" from my friend at "Armitage Watch!" (www.armitagewatch.blogspot.com/)


Although this has nothing to do with journalism, apparently there are 10 questions I must answer, in exchange for receiving this lovely and gracious nod. So now the tables have been flipped, and the journalist is the "interviewee."

I would be a spoiled sport if I didn't participate, so here we go!

What is a favorite childhood memory? 

Christmas mornings at my grandparents' farm in Georgia, we had fried quail for breakfast. Today, I've only been able to find quail once in a very posh restaurant ... but I can tell you it didn't come close to the quail we had after opening gifts from Santa. 

What is a real fear you have? 

Any harm befalling my child. :-(

How would you describe yourself?

I'm like a dolphin -- carefree, engaging, fun loving and trusting.

What countries have you lived in? 

Only the United States!

What is your style?

Shabby chic comfort and Ann Taylor classic.

What is your favorite breakfast food?
Sausage gravy over country biscuits.

What are some of your hobbies?

Playing the piano, reading 19th century classics, yoga, baking anything chocolate, experimenting with gourmet recipes, antiquing (when I can afford it), ventriloquism and ... I'm planning on more horseback riding when I pluck up the courage again!

If you could tell people anything, what would be the most important thing to say? You won't gain an hour by worrying. Conquer it by only looking at the 24 hours in front of you and trusting God to get you through one day. Don't look ahead any farther than that.

What is one of your passions?

 My chief passion at the moment is to raise a future "Mr. Darcy" and protect my child's mind and heart so that he grows to become a noble and true soul.

What is the one truth you have learned?

Nothing else matters but keeping God first. The rest falls into place.

I'm supposed to nominate other bloggers .... so here are my top picks. Check out these cool people:


The Most Important Question to Ask in an Interview

Pull up a chair, get your coffee (or bourbon, whatever your poison), and get your pencil and paper ready, because I'm about to share with you the most important question you should ever ask in an interview.


OK, but before we get to that ....

Think about all of the interviews you've done and the most frustrating aspect to them.

If you're anything like me, it's usually the sense that even after the person finally opens up to you, you still feel like something, somewhere, is missing.


You can't put your finger on it exactly, but you just know that within that person is a goldmine of information -- something they'd really like to tell you. But for whatever reason, even if you were as gifted as a 60 Minutes interrogator, you just can't pull it out of them.

Maybe they're deliberately holding it back. Maybe they're not sure they want to tell you. Or maybe they do want to tell you, but your questions have put them off, or your mannerisms. Maybe they are just DYING to let someone know this one thing, but they don't even realize it themselves!

How do you get that piece of platinum off of their tongue?


You ask the most important question to ask in an interview.

But before we get to that ....

First I want you to think about all of the preparation you do before an interview. Suppose you're doing an interview with ... well, let's make this really fun: Think of your favorite movie star -- someone who really floats your boat. Just to give this a little zing for me (It's my blog, after all!) ... Let's use MY favorite movie star, Richard Armitage. Now you're sitting in front of Richard, completely star-struck. And if you're a good journalist, you've done all of your homework. You've researched his career, his movies, his theatrical performances, even the voice-overs he's done for television commercials. You know his childhood best friend's name, and you even have unearthed the comfort food that his mother prepared for him when he was ill at 6 years old. (No, I haven't done all of these things! I don't have an interview with him. Yet. :-)

You come armed with your knowledge and the best-ever questions known in the entire history of journalism ....

And yet, I can tell you that you still haven't asked the most important question to ask in an interview.

Take a sip of your coffee (or bourbon -- got a Mint Julep? Good, because I'm offering pearls, here).

Here it is.

At the very end of the interview, you pack up your things. Put away your tape recorder. Shut down the videocam. Put your pencil behind your ear, and fold your notebook into the closed position.

Then say this:

"This interview has been fabulous, so thorough, in fact, that I can't think of one more thing to ask you! Thank you so much for this and for all of your time!"

The person will nod and smile and usually extend their hand and say it was nice to meet you.

And then say:

"You know what? I was just thinking ...."

Here we come to the moment of truth .......... drum roll, please .................. the most important question to ask in an interview is ....................

"Is there anything we haven't talked about or anything you'd like our readers to know that I haven't asked you?"

Now watch the person's face. Look into their eyes intently.

They will say, "No, I can't think of anything! This has been really great!"

You will turn and smile and get ready to go, and then ...

"But there's just one thing. Wait a minute."

Get your notebook out! FAST! This is the moment.

Because in this moment, you will hear the one thing they really want to tell you.

I have been in my job for 22 years. I learned this advice from my first editor, Bob Orr, at The Coatesville Record in Coatesville, Pennsylvania -- now no longer in existence -- and it only had 6,000 readers. This little newspaper, where my Mountain-Dew-guzzling editor sat behind a crusty old desk, is where I first heard this nugget of wisdom.

And Bob was right.

Every time, every single blasted time, you will get the gold -- but you have to ask the most important question to ask in an interview first.

Try it, and let me know how it works for you.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Journalist's Life: The Observer on the Fringes

Recently a friend of mine decided to try her hand stringing for a paper and covering a local school board.

The problem was that the editor had assigned her to the school district where her children attend. A busing controversy was on the table for discussion. My friend covered the meeting and quoted parents who were against the initiative.

And if you're a journalist, you can probably guess what happened next: The people who were quoted said they never said what they said.

(We've heard that before, haven't we?)

Luckily, my friend had the backing of witnesses and also a recording. In fact, she'd quoted the folks accurately, and as you already know, they were just angry that they were spotlighted as the jackasses they really are.

Now you'd think it would stop there, but it heats up a little: These people also were my friend's friends. So right on the heels of this story, there was a birthday party ... and then following that, there were other social events .... and if you've ever covered a nasty story where everyone is throwing rocks at each other, you know the result: My friend has been dealing with some pretty nasty comments, gossip and ostracism.

As a stringer who had no experience covering local stories, it's understandable how someone could find themselves in this position. And as I've been talking to her about how to deal with it, it has brought up some introspection and revelation about myself and my career.

I discovered that I've always been an observer of life on the fringes. I started my career at age 23 and am now 47. That's 24 years of watching people. Even after I left newsrooms 12 years ago to go full-time freelancing, I never really jumped full-force into the pool of society. Maybe it was out of habit. Maybe it was out of fear. Maybe it was from cynicism that I knew people were not as they portrayed themselves. Maybe it was from simple lack of social skill development! After all, I've kept the rest of society at bay purposely.

The bottom line here is that as journalists, we can't afford the luxury of being in the world like everybody else. If you're going to cover a story, you have to remain objective. That's impossible to do if you're friends with those involved with the subject matter. Kudos to you if you've pulled this off, but face it. We're all human. Eventually, someone is going to get to you.

You may be skeptical that I have kept up this mantra for two-and-a-half decades.

But after I thought about my friend's scenario, I realized that I really have. My closest friends are those who worked alongside me in newsrooms -- or were friends of those newsroom friends. Those of you who know me might say, "Well you're a Christian. Certainly you have friends from church." Nope! I had many cases where people within churches didn't want to socialize with me because they knew I was a reporter. I had another scenario where I questioned the finances of one church where I'd gotten heavily involved and was attacked on the Internet by those members.

Whether it's by personality or the constricts of the journalist's job .... If you're thinking of getting into this profession, please know this right up front: You will see people as they are, and you are not going to be popular. If you're not okay with that, find another profession, for your own peace of mind.

And if you are ... welcome to the brotherhood that we call, "Journalist."