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Career Story: Columnist For A Small Newspaper

Columnist For A Small Newspaper

Job Title: Newspaper Columnist

Type of Company: I work for a newspaper.

Education: BA, English, University of Virginia

Previous Experience: I have worked for the same company for more than 20 years

Job Tasks: My goal is to make people see their communities through others' eyes. Sometimes the story is sad: a murder, a fatal accident, a deadly disease. Sometimes the story is funny: a giant Barbie doll in a tree, for example. But mostly the stories are just reflections of the people who live here and work here. My job is to tell their stories as accurately and as entertainingly as possible.

A typical day involves story-planning and being able to scrap those plans when a news event dictates. It involves figuring out who would be helpful to talk to, whether it would be better to talk in person, on the phone, or by e-mail, and getting people to respond to requests for interviews. It involves filing a story on time and at the length it is budgeted for.

Newspapers are allegedly on death's door. Opinion blogs are all the rage, but I believe they'll lose their lustre over time, for a variety of reasons. Some are too narrowly focused to sustain years of loyalty. Others are too broad to gain a big fan base. And I'm optimistic that something akin to newspapers will survive.

It's hard to envision a world where fact-gathering's been replaced by spouting off, a world in which people don't have the opportunity to get to know their neighbors and their communities.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is being able to learn something every day. Every person has a story to tell, and often several if you take the time to listen. Every event can be seen through many different sets of eyes. The more slants you can gather, the more accurate the account will be. And being trusted to tell those stories is nothing short of amazing.

The down side is also the up side. You never, ever know what's going to happen on a given day. That makes life interesting. It also makes it hard to make commitments before or after work.

Job Tips:
1.) Never assume you know the story, never assume you know what's going on. Don't be afraid to look foolish. Just ask.

2.) Papers still hire "stringers" (i.e. free-lance reporters) and, while the money isn't good, it's still excellent experience and a way to get your foot in the door.

3.) Embrace technology. The more ways you can tell a story, the better. Print, TV, radio, the internet, Twitter all provide ways to tell a story, but each format requires different skills and a different voice. Competence in one these arenas is not the wave of the future.

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