Favorite

The Observer's guide to reporting 

We've got summer interns at the Fortress of Employment right now, eager young folks who, for some reason or another, want to be reporters. None of them are old enough to drink, as far as we know, which is too bad, as drinking and reporting have been married longer than steak and taters. We'll not say that too loud, lest the mother of one of our young charges overhears and insists they make a course correction as to their career.

In addition to the young and barely paid running around, we've also got a couple of promising new folks just starting their sentence as scribblers, among them Will Stephenson, whose recent story on the Jacksonville power line vandal we really admired. The Observer is nearly the oldest of old hands on the AT Ranch, and we've seen folks come and go through the bunkhouse. It always warms our shriveled heart to see new faces around.

The Observer has been a reporter for a long time. We've reported in the snow. We've reported in the driving rain. We've reported in churches so silent we could hear the echo of our breathing, and we've reported on street corners where sirens wailed. We've reported under conditions that required a dust mask and a towel wrapped around the head, and in hollows so far back in the mountains they have sunlight delivered parcel post. We've yet to do any underwater reporting, but give us time.

Over the years, we've managed to accumulate some advice that we wish we'd known back when we started. Nothing too high-handed, you understand. Nothing in the ass-backward syntax of Yoda, or that's ever going to wind up on one of those gatdamn inspirational posters at the dentist's office, featuring photos shot through Vaseline of people fly-fishing and breaking marathon tape over the word "PERSISTENCE." No, this is just nuts-and -bolts stuff.

Even if you're smart enough to have chosen a profession other than Reporter, you might find something here of use.

1) They can cuss you, but they can't eat you.

2) Follow the money.

3) Follow the condescension.

4) About 85 percent of the time, you can find a phone number for any person in America by Googling their name in quotes, followed by the area code, in parentheses — (501) for example — of where they live.

5) When reporting in a small town, talk to the woman at the laundromat. They've got nothing but time, and they seem to know everything. Some of the most insightful quotes The Observer has ever published were collected while socks and boxer shorts spun in a nearby dryer.

6) The story is not about you, stupid. Shut up and listen.

7) At the end of the answer to a particularly hard question, count to five, medium-slow, before you ask the next one. If it's a REALLY hard question, count to eight. Sometimes the whole truth gets stuck behind a person's teeth, and it takes a little silence to coax it out.

8) Record the interview, or take good notes. Sometimes a sentence that doesn't seem important enough to bother writing down turns out to be the key to a person's whole life when you step back and look at them in full.

9) Even if the guy's name is Dave Johnson, get him to spell it. There aren't many D'havf Geonsaans floating around out there, but if you're a reporter, you will eventually find one.

10) When they offer, accept the glass of water. Water's close enough to free for gubmint work, and besides: It's not really about the water.

11) Don't take that smartphone in your pocket as an excuse to avoid stopping for directions. You can get a lot of good stuff while asking for directions.

12) When reporting on something that seems unfathomably big, the trick is to focus on something very small. Few people want to read long, War College dissertations on troop movements. Lots of people, on the other hand, want to read about a soldier praying in a foxhole — how he survived, why he stayed, how he found the thread of his life again once the war was over.

13) Buy your photographer breakfast every once in awhile, and keep your ass out of the shot.

14) Even crazy people are right sometimes. Resist the urge to hang up when they start talking about conspiracies.

15) Write the correction, get drunk and move on, penitent.

Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Addendum

    he Observer has our regrets, just like everybody else. For example: last week, Yours Truly published a cover story on the increasingly ugly fight over Eureka Springs' Ordinance 2223, which is designed to protect a bunch of groups — including LGBTQ people — from discrimination in housing, employment, accommodations, cake buying, browsing, drinking, gut stuffery, knickknack purchasing, general cavorting, funny postcard mailing and all the other stuff one tends to get up to in the weirdest, friendliest, most magical little town in the Ozarks.
    • Apr 30, 2015
  • Snake stories

    The Observer's boss, Uncle Alan, is something of a gentleman farmer on his spread up in Cabot, growing heirloom tomatoes and watermelons and crops of chiggers on property that looks like the perfect farmstead Lenny and George often fantasized about in "Of Mice and Men."
    • Aug 27, 2015

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Next week a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems will be held in Little Rock by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change. The conference will discuss deploying existing technologies to increase access to food, water, energy, clean environment, and medical care.
  • Tomb to table: a Christmas feast offered by the residents of Mount Holly and other folk

    Plus, recipes from the Times staff.
  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.
  • Arkansas archeologist does his job, is asked to leave

    Amid Department of Arkansas Heritage project.

Latest in The Observer

  • The sweet hereafter

    This week, the Arkansas Times falls back on that oldest of old chestnuts: a recipe issue. Being who we are, of course, we had to put a twist on that; namely, the fact that most of the recipes you'll find in these pages are courtesy of people who have shuffled off to that great kitchen in the sky, where the Good Lord is always whipping up new things in his toque and apron, running the great mixers of genetics and time, maybe presenting the batter-dipped beaters and bowls to Jesus for a lick down.
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Writers blocked

    OK, back to basics, Observer. Get hold of yourself. Give the people what they want, which is escapism! If you don't, this column is eventually just going to devolve into The Prophecies of Hickstradamus at some point in the next four years: "The Orange Vulture perches in the fig tree. The great snake eats Moonpies and Royal Crown Cola by starlight ..." That kind of thing. Nobody likes that. Too much deciphering and such.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Cassandra

    The Observer's grandfather on our mother's side was a crackerjack fella. Grew up in the sandy hills north of Conway. County boy, through and through. During hog-killing time in December 1941, the story in our family goes, when word of Pearl Harbor reached his little community, he and his friends loaded into his T-model truck and made the rough journey to the first speck of civilization that included an Army recruiting office, where they all enlisted.
    • Nov 24, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The Observer

    • So this is for your article you put out right after trump got elected. It…

    • on December 10, 2016
  • Re: Only Arkansas law makes same-sex couples different

    • Nancy Colburn aka, Nancy richard colburn, or nlcolburn@gmail.com. Has a pile of shit husband who…

    • on December 10, 2016
  • Re: Arkansas medical marijuana supporters are back

    • ORDER YOUR PRODUCTS AT VERY GOOD PRICES WITH GUARANTEED DELIVERY WORLDWIDE. email at:(jonesjacks155@gmail.com) email at:(jonesjacks155@gmail.com)…

    • on December 10, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation