Monday, 12 March 2012

25. If in doubt ASK. But don’t over do it. If you want to know if a word is hyphened look in a dictionary or online.

As journalists we are expected to ask questions — sometimes even pretty dumb ones..

(My favourite is to wait for an expert to finish some particularly complicated explanation before adding: "Yes, I get it. But how would you explain that to the layman?" Often mumbling something about wanting it in their own words. However the stupid question is often necessary to extract the raw emotion of the situation. You may see the emotions etched on the faces of, say, a family who has lost a loved one but still need to ask how they are feeling to get the quote.)

No, dumb questions are sometimes required.

Except in the office. And certainly not from the workie who wants to become a journalist.

So keep your questions to a minimum (except the best ones such as: "Would you like tea or coffee?").

A personal favourite was told to me by a friend. A secretary was escorting a potential trainee out of the office when he asked if the paper he had just been interviewed for was a daily or a weekly.

(He didn't get the job...but he's probably now editing something on the web.)

Write everything you are told down, few things rile people more than having to keep telling a student journalist the same thing over and over again.

Remember you have a huge dictionary, atlas, encyclopaedia, gazetteer sitting on your desk - and hopefully you will have been able to switch it on - all by yourself. (Actually it is amazing the number of workies who can't...instead they sit there waiting for the news editor to crawl on their knees to get to the on button - once you've established it's your desk for the week please feel free to switch the bloody thing on.)

So don't go asking how do you spell something like onomatopoeia - check it quietly to yourself online (like I've just had to - having missed the fourth "o"). Actually, if ever tempted to use the word onomatopoeia, don't.

Also don't use the word psephologists (which I can spell and which I did once) it's flash and an unnecessary technical term...I'll let you look it up.

Certainly don't ask things like is the local MP Conservative or Labour - especially if doing work experience in, say, the U.S., Australia or Scotland.

Just be careful not show off your ignorance. If you can possibly avoid it. Here's another from an agency news editor: "I had to tell a new junior who Belinda Carlisle was the other day."

Don't ask. Just nod, make sure you get the name right and then check it online as soon as you can.

You should also pick your time to ask questions. When you see everyone getting stressed, staring intently at screens and barking down the phone with a little bit more intensity than they were four hours before is NOT a time to start asking dumb questions...

Btw if anyone can put this clip onto YouTube I'd be able to upload it onto here. Thanks.

Oh and if you find this useful - please RT.

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