Thursday, November 05, 2015

'Soft Skills of Journalism' or 'Being Nice Gets You a Long Way'

THERE always seem to be some strange looks when I turn up in the newsroom or classroom to do a session on the 'Soft Skills of Journalism'.
That all sounds rather pompous so I'd rather call it 'Being Nice Gets You a Long Way'. I talk about how to cover death knocks by teaming up with a neighbour or relative before bowling up with your 'We'd like to write a tribute' speech and the importance of making friends with the really important people like security staff, drivers, receptionists and even the tea lady, if there is still such a thing.
The assistant at the care home who will help you gain the confidence of a 100-year-old; the teacher's aide who will let you into the classroom; the Minister's flunkey who will let you get close enough for a walkabout question and the policeman who will tip you the nod past the cordon.
I am reminded of this by a story now running on HTFP that has got the mutterati at it again. 'Weekly reporter files complaint against police over house fire cordon' runs the headline about  Reading Chronicle reporter Courtney Friday, who has done just that.
He set the ball rolling with a couple of tweets:


Followed up by the HTFP story, which spawned a rich variety of comments. Some talk about police heavy-handedness, others about the reporter's naivety or  the part the editor is (or isn't) playing.
I may humbly suggest that filing complaints never gets you very far and it certainly doesn't get you the story. Readers have no interest in the inner working of police-media relations; our job is to get the story out there on their behalf.
Back when I was a boy reporter the common wisdom was that Ernie the Cleaner knew everything that was going on. He was indeed a mine of information from  the comings and goings in the Managing Director's office to when the funeral director was calling with his latest warm death notices.
Sadly Ernie went the way of a lot of 'support staff', replaced by agency workers who swept in and swept out. But the modern days Ernies are still out there; you just got to work hard at finding them. They may even by manning a police cordon near you...

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