Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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THE B.S.:

Bruce Spotleson: Journalists are the same breed they’ve always been

In many ways, we’re like your company. But not exactly.

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Bruce Spotleson

There are a lot of moving parts in the average business organization, but also a lot of moving people. As any smart leader knows, a mission statement alone isn’t enough to ensure they’ll work in unison.

Sales, accounting, production and administrative departments often are populated by different personalities with occasionally conflicting tasks, priorities and timelines. When they are all on the same page, though, an organization can become greater than the sum of its parts.

As with other companies, media organizations like ours also have that wide range of departments and jobs, each tasked with its own critical segment of the operation, whether it be in sales, design, distribution, financial, technical, administrative or somewhere in between.

There’s really just one group that’s unique to our industry. That would be our journalists—more specifically, the editors, writers, reporters, photographers and artists.

I have worked around journalists for longer than I care to share here, watching them fight deadlines and chase stories to varying degrees of success. Over the years, the technology around them has changed dramatically. But really, they are the same special breed they have always been.

When I began this career, I was a younger guy surrounded by older reporters who grilled politicians, banged hard on manual typewriters, smoked Camels at their desks and pounded six-packs after deadline. The reporters of today’s media world are a little more health-conscious than the veterans I knew, and their keyboards are quieter.

But they’re still asking questions, and they’re the same ones. Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? Still pursuing the story, often under conditions intended primarily to prevent them from getting it.

One of my early editors used to say that there were two sorts of people in the world: Those who wanted to get their names in the news, and those who wanted to keep their names out of it. While that may seem like a terribly cynical viewpoint, it was somewhat based on his experience in covering news.

As are other journalists’ perceptions. Reading the content of newspapers I’ve published over the years, I at least understand the somewhat common news journalist’s notion that power tends to corrupt. No, not always, and not absolutely. But there have been too many high-profile examples over the years for me to win this argument.

Reporters are street smart. They work hard to be objective with coverage, but they recognize manipulation when they see it. This is a natural result of being exposed to so many emails, phone calls, faxes and news releases trying to coax them toward one story or maybe steer them away from another.

Writers and editors spend a lot of time laboring over word choices for stories and headlines. Synonyms, antonyms, adjectives and adverbs are the tools of their trade; this of course makes them perfect partners for a conversation on the language. Word dexterity is also one big reason journalists are often good at Scrabble. And their knowledge of pop culture and trivia often makes them an ideal teammate for Trivial Pursuit.

They can be direct to a fault. A public relations professional in town complained to me once that some of our news people were not courteous enough when she called. I understand now why she felt this way. PR folks are trained in the use of tact. But tact is not in the job description for news people. Given the work they do, it can’t be. Although I did go back and ask that editor to be nicer.

By the way, journalists are generally indeed very good at speed-reading upside down, just like the movies portray. No, this is not taught in journalism school.

Journalists I know seem to want the world to be a better place, and this is one reason why they are drawn to stories about people who have developed a cure or a solution, or are doing things on behalf of others, or who have overcome great odds or obstacles.

They write all of it while a deadline is upon them, like a drumbeat that never stops. In a 24/7 news operation like ours, there is always something to be covered. Or uncovered.

A psychologist studying the media once told me that “deadline” was too stressful a word, and that we should perhaps replace it with a phrase like “smile-line” so it wouldn’t stress reporters out so much when they heard it.

I never did anything with that. Mostly, I didn’t have the guts to suggest it to the reporters.

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