4 Ways Minimalism Fits For A Journalist

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

3 Things for Burned Out Reporters to Remember

“The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life. — David F. Jakielo

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Have you ever been so busy putting one foot in front of the other that you forget where you are going? You look up from your labors and wonder, “How’d I get here?”

It is easy to drift, to lose focus. It can happen in any part of your life and it can certainly happen to your work. Deadlines, undermanned newsrooms and the 24-hour news cycle can derail the most dedicated reporter.

So how do you refocus? There are three things I try and remember.

Remember the Joy of Learning New Things

The daily grind of producing content can wear down just about anyone. Reporters can start to focus on the four big questions under deadline stress: Who, What, When and Where.

While that will suffice for many hyperlocal or community news items, it rarely generates any excitement for reporters and if that is all you are doing you run the risk of becoming bored.

Bored reporters are dull writers. Readers pick up on that.

Get the excitement back and get out of the rut by asking the questions How and Why. Indulge your curiosity. The chance to learn new things is one of the greatest benefits of being a reporter.

Try it. Think about the beat you’ve been covering the longest and the stories you write every year and ask How and Why. I’ll bet you come up with a brand new angle on an old story.

Don’t let deadline stress or repetition steal your joy. Learn something new this week.

Remember That You Are A Teacher

I have had reporters who were good writers and I have had reporters who were good teachers.

Given my choice, I would take the teacher every time. Hey, I love writing, but the problem with putting the emphasis on the prose is that you eventually stop amazing yourself with your wit (hopefully!).

If your only goal is to channel Hemingway, you will quickly get bored of writing news stories. As I said earlier, bored reporters are dull writers … and miserable.

As reporters, our job is to inform and serve our community. Our readers have always looked to us to explain complicated issues and, in a social media world, they also need us to be a dependable source of information during emergencies.

Remember to put your job as a teacher first. It will change the way you approach stories and give you a fresh appreciation for your role in the community.

Remember it is About Helping People

When you are mired in a rut, remember this: It’s not about you. Harsh, but true.
I have always thought of reporters as public servants and I believe that is our most important function. Reporters are blessed to have an essential role in the community regardless of whether the platform is print, television or online.

It is easy to lose sight of that fact when your list of beats is too long and your paycheck is too small, but that fact remains that reporters are vital to the health of the community.

Every time you sit down at a keyboard you have the potential to change somebody’s life. That can’t be said about many jobs.

And that is worth remembering.

Why are we trying to outwork God?

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So, God is apparently a lightweight.

It is right there in the Bible, so don’t get mad at me for pointing it out. It says it in Genesis 2:2:

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”

He took a day off! And he didn’t just stay out of the office for a day. It says he rested from “all” his work.

What, he didn’t spend an hour answering email? No completing work projects? No running by the office?

He didn’t mow the lawn? He didn’t wash the car? He didn’t do laundry?

Seriously? He took an entire day just to rest? To … relax?

As for me, I don’t always take the entire night to rest. And I don’t mean to say I am anything special — I know a lot of people like me.

According to Bloomberg News, America is filled with hardworking folks:

“(I)n 1991, the average American worker put in 163 more hours on the job than in 1973, according to the sociologist Juliet Schor, the author of “The Overworked American.” Since many more families had two parents working, the increase in annual working hours per family was much higher — 500 to 700 hours more than in the ‘70s. It should be noted that increases in labor productivity are not “energy-free” advances for the workers whose productivity increases. As it happens, workers are required to get much more done and more quickly. Working hours are more draining, while the hyper-competition of today’s workplace makes them even more stressful.”

God would definitely get some quizzical looks in America — a place where citizens are likely to claim his special blessings — because of his bohemian ways. Figure it like this: one day a week of rest equals 52 days a year, which is equivalent to more than seven weeks of vacation time!

Doesn’t God know what that means? How can I put gas in the car with that much time off?

How can I afford a new car? How can I afford the house I want?

Doesn’t God want me to get ahead?

Bloomberg tells us we have our good, American working habits for a particular reason:

“The postwar (WWII) era, aided by the new medium of commercial television, ushered in what came to be known as “the consumer society.” Expectations for larger homes and cars soared. Easier credit brought a cornucopia of material goods within easy reach of the middle class. By the mid-1970s, and especially after 1980, median wages weren’t keeping pace with increases in our capacity to produce. But flattening incomes didn’t derail the consumption train. Americans continued to buy more, in part by going deeper into debt, by having more members of the family enter the workforce and by working additional overtime. By the boom times of the late 1990s, Americans worked more than the notoriously workaholic Japanese.”

So there it is: We spend more time working than almost anyone else so we can get more stuff, including the accompanying stress and illness. … And the funny thing is we have become so accustomed to having all this stuff, that we have forgotten there was a not-very-long-ago time when we didn’t have it and didn’t miss it.

Thank God we don’t live in that time any longer.

Then again, considering he is such a lightweight, maybe God doesn’t have anything to do with where we are now.

Rules I’ve learned through living

penknife-657712_1920I recently celebrated a birthday marking a somewhat large number. The occasion got me to thinking about the things I have learned in my time, and I realized there were a few “rules” I tried to follow. They are:

1. Don’t panic: Keeping calm is the first step to solving any emergency or problem.

2. Carry a pocket knife: You’d be surprised how often it comes in handy.

3. Your family is always your family: They’re the people you will see your whole life, so you better learn to live with them.

4. Do more than what’s expected: Nobody remembers the average employee/player/friend.

5. Never stop learning: The minute you stop learning, you get left behind.

6. Pray thank you: No matter your circumstances, remember to be thankful for your blessings, because there is someone who has less.