I believe that journalists can become healthier and happier in our jobs by reducing and simplifying.
A lot of people call that minimalism.
There are as many definitions of minimalism as there are people trying to put it into practice.
The Princeton University website says, “The term ‘minimalist’ is often applied colloquially to designate anything which is spare or stripped to its essentials.” —
And while it isn’t technically a definition, I really like what they write over at The Minimalists blog: “Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression.”
So there you go, minimalism is getting down to basics and stripping away everything extraneous so you don’t have as much to worry about. Here are four ways I think minimalism can help the beat reporter and his cousins the PIO and social media manager.
Length Appropriate in a Social Media Age
My first paying journalism gig was at the Athens (Texas) Daily Review and my editor was Gene Lehmann. I would go to Gene with a story and ask him how much he wanted me to write and he would always say, “Length appropriate.”
He left it up to me to figure out exactly what that meant, which was a great skill for a young reporter to develop.
But things have changed since then and what was the appropriate length for a story 20 years ago is too long today. Reader habits and expectations have changed along with the rise of the Internet and social media. Scanning and info bites are in; dense text and process stories are out.
While many older journalists bemoan this trend, it is actually great news for the overwhelmed hyperlocal reporter. Put together the Who, What, Where, When, Why of your story and move on. Don’t get caught up in trying to stretch the story, if it is only 4 or 5 inches, so be it … that just means some folks might read all the way to the end. It will also make it easier to turn into a status update for Facebook or Twitter.
Cut Unnecessary Quotes
This goes along with the first tip, but I thought it bears repeating because it is a problem I see with a lot of community journalism.
Stop including the useless quotes. They do nothing for the story except make it longer and often they make it harder for a reader to understand whatever you are trying to explain. This also makes news gathering easier, because you don’t have to continue fishing for a quote from a source for simple stories. Just get the 5 W’s and move.
I am not saying to drop all quotes, but rather to use them to where they make a difference, usually in longer more complicated stories to describe mood. Don’t try to shoehorn one in just to have a quote.
Close the Extra Windows and Tabs
How many times have you had Facebook, Twitter and email open on your computer desktop all at the same time. Most of the time? Always?
We are afraid of missing something, of getting beat on a big story, so we try to stay connected as much as possible. The result is the constant stream of notifications interrupting our thoughts and giving even slow news days the feel constant, breaking news.
Give it up! With mobile phones today you have almost zero chance of being the first person to break a story. Stop driving yourself crazy over it. Your job is now to be the voice of reason and authority, the one who gets the information correct, the one your community looks to for answers when the rumors and confusion are running wild.
You don’t have to be first, but you have to be right.
So shut down the windows and tabs. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t check those sources regularly, but just not constantly. If you take 10 minutes every hour to run through those traps you will stay on top of what’s going on and still give yourself most of the day to work notifications free.
The One to Bind Them
One app to rule them all,
One app to write them,
One app to bring them all,
and in the cloud to bind them.
My apologies to Professor Tolkien.
One of the best things I have done in my own journalist’s walk is to learn Evernote.
Evernote is the most useful tool I have ever come across for the community journalist, bringing all your notes, photos, stories — whatever — under control and in one place.
One place is simple and less stressful