8 Mistakes for New Journalists to Avoid
January 29, 2014
Mary Clare Fischer


I made my fair share of mistakes when I first became a journalist. Using only one source in an article. Trying to go undercover when it wasn’t actually necessary. Sending an angry email to an editor after my story ended up with a factual error that wasn’t my fault.


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Luckily, these weren’t blunders that would haunt me forever. Yet I began thinking about the new issues emerging technology has introduced for young journalists, when making a mistake could live on forever, as well as the old, classic ones — such as sourcing — that serve as a proving ground for journalists who are just starting to navigate the industry.

So I asked a few veteran journalists at the Online News Association‘s annual conference this year about the biggest mistakes they’re seeing from new journalists today and got input from young stars on the rise about what they wish they’d never done.

1. Putting too much information online

“I do free resume reviews and the first thing I do is Google [the person I'm reviewing]. One student had a Twitter avatar of her wearing a bikini and holding a martini glass. Another had gone to an interview and then gotten on Facebook and talked about it, saying things like, ‘That was so easy; the person asked puffball questions,’ and it got out.” —Benét J. Wilson, director of media relations for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

2. Trying to master every journalistic skill

“One of the biggest pressures I put on myself as a student journalist was to learn everything. I felt I had to know how to capture audio and video, program sites, write stories, design graphics, edit, work for the paper, start a magazine, blog, and so on. It’s important, sure, to take advantage of all the opportunities afforded at school to try new things, but I would like to tell my younger self that my career didn’t hinge on knowing everything to a proficient level.” —Rebecca Rolfe, interaction designer at Google

3. Looking at only one side of the story

“It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been immersed in the professional environment to realize how to be independent and detached from the news. [It's] the idea that professional journalism organizations want objectivity but young reporters haven’t been exposed to much.”  —Shawn MacIntosh, deputy managing editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

4. Being too close-minded

“[When starting out] I wasn’t trying out enough new things. At the time I was just a photojournalist, and I thought that’s what I wanted to be for the rest of my life, and I still do in a way. But there is something about working with the web, being able to create within that world that excites me. Had I known that when I was starting out, maybe I would have double majored in computer science and photojournalism while in undergrad.” —Erik Reyna, graduate student at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

5. Not maintaining professional standards

“Being too cute and edgy and thinking that nobody would ever find out since I’m in J-school. What students are publishing online is going to live forever, so they better be bloody careful.” —Ari GoldbergONE Campaign press secretary

6. Avoiding social media as a promotional tool

“Don’t assume that ‘if I write it, they will come.’ In our age of information overflow, it’s not enough to produce compelling content, you also need to be your own best advocate. In developing Beyond the Bombs, I’ve discovered how important it is to use social media to publicize your content and engage your readers. After we launched our Facebook and Twitter pages, the number of visitors to our website increased by a factor of ten.” —Ashley Lohmann, Founder and Director of Beyond the Bombs, a “transmedia project redefining how the world views, understands, and connects with the Middle East and North Africa.

7. Ignoring the different tools in your arsenal
and 8. Neglecting the fundamentals

“Forgetting to use digital tools in your reporting but also thinking that digital is the only way to report; not everyone has a Twitter account. You’re a lazy journalist if all you’re doing is using social media and vice versa. Also, students saying, ‘I don’t need to care about grammar and spelling, I don’t need an editor, the Internet is my editor,’ that’s bull–.” —Robert Hernandez, an assistant professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and co-founder of #wjchat

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the correct title, which had been omitted due to an editing error, of Erik Reyna, graduate student at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Comments
  • Sean Henderson

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  • Lisa Rossi

    My frequent advice to young journalists: Be willing to participate in conversations about solutions. When I started my career, I thought my only job was to write. These days, media leaders expect more from their hires, even new hires. Every news organization is in startup mode, and everyone can have a seat at the table to talk about solutions — if they want to.

  • Amy Wu

    Solid points, especially using social media in reporting and also interacting with readers

  • harveyonline

    Every one of these is important. Fairness and accuracy (#s 3 and 8) still go at the top of my list for the most basic of standards that need to be met. But the point about over-divulging on social media is so important, too. I tell students to put the bathing suit shots, the drinking-at-the-keg-party shots and the rants about politics or sources in the family keepsake book.

    • Lisa Rossi

      Great advice, re: the family keepsake book! I find it’s a hard line for new journalists to navigate — how to build their presence online, while being interesting and having a “voice,” but avoiding any appearance of bias or anything inappropriate. Very tricky.