What’s a print journalist like? That’s like asking what’s a politician like.
The answer depends. There are beat reporters who only cover politics, general reporters who do sometimes, business reporters, columnists, editors and many others who put together a newspaper or magazine.
A print interview might involve an hour with an editorial board or a few minutes on the phone with a straight reporter. You prepare differently for each venue. The first step in preparation is this article on the needs of print.
I’m not sure how many books Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote to prove that print is a dead medium. They’re good books and still around, and so is print.
Readership is down, to be sure. But Rupert Murdoch still thinks buying The Wall Street Journal is a good deal. One of the big issues with print circulation is that multiple people read the same newspaper. A family might buy one paper, but that’s four readers. Also, influential people read newspapers. Many of those important people are also in radio, TV and the blogosphere.
Influencing influentials is good campaigning. If you get a favorable report or editorial in the newspaper, you can photocopy it 1,000 times and mail it all around the district.
Many newspapers are online and even have video clips of newsmakers they interview. Cross-ownership means newspaper columnists are also radio and TV reporters and commentators.
Here are a few of the newspaper venues and types of people you’ll encounter in a campaign or while governing:
I once asked a good reporter at a successful tabloid newspaper who was on his editorial board. He replied, “Whoever’s wearing a tie on the day somebody wants to meet with us.” Some boards are formal and set policy for the paper. Others are informal and just want to get something topical written that day. You’ll encounter all kinds in an editorial board. Don’t be surprised at the thoroughly academic approach or flippant questions. You will probably spend at least an hour in discussion. Radio sound bites may get you laughed out of the room. You’ll need to go into some depth and breadth to be taken seriously.
Many editorial boards also invite columnists or specialty reporters, depending on who is speaking to them.
It takes all kinds, but straight print reporters usually have a little more time and are more interested in the facts than in a performance from you. A clever turn of phrase is good, but substance is better. Unlike radio and TV reporters, a print journalist isn’t part of a show or putting on a show. You may not get feedback such as nodding or tone of voice to let you know how you’re doing. You need to summon up enthusiasm from within yourself, not from the energy of the interviewer.
New beat reporters may not know much about their beat. They have to learn somewhere. Some major newspapers even like to change assignments drastically to obtain a fresh approach. I know one reporter who did stints in China and on the arts beat.
However, for the most part, a beat reporter has been covering the field (politics, business, the legislature, etc.) for a long time. This can mean s/he’s gone “native”, as anthropologists used to say. This reporter may be jaded or bored and think s/he knows more about the issues than you—which may be true. The other reaction to being a long time on a beat is to be quietly intrigued by the issues and extremely well informed. Both kinds of reporters can give you a good workout.
The more of a character and the better known the columnist is, the more spin s/he puts on the story. Don’t be surprised if you get no quotes but your personality is reviewed in detail. Act accordingly. Be guarded, but be authentic.
A political campaign can be covered by half a dozen different sections of the newspaper. The sports section might want to know your memories of going to football games as a kid, or it might want to get pictures of you throwing around a football. Be careful—you don’t want to look awkward. The lifestyle section might want to know about your fitness routine, hobbies or diet. The city section might want your views on urban sprawl, architecture or parking problems. The business section will be interested in interest rates, capital-cost allowance or your business experience. The general news section will take your message of the day or your reaction to the day’s news. Political editors will want to know the logistics of the campaign. The homes section may do a feature on where you live.
The look of a newspaper page used to emerge from someone’s fiddling with a pot of glue and bits of paper and pictures. Today in even the smallest of weeklies it’s usually done on computer. It’s still called page make-up, and the person doing this picks pictures, writes cutlines underneath them and may write headlines. In big newspapers there may be different persons acting as photo editor, headline writer and cutline writer. You don’t usually get to interact with these people unless you’re in the newspaper. If you do, go on a tour and shake some hands.
“Editor” is a general term which can apply to someone who edits copy or edits a section of the newspaper. A section editor might handle the weekend features, sports, business, politics, lifestyle or other matters. Sub-editors assist or edit copy. Managing editors run the paper day to day. You normally won’t encounter these people unless you’re pitching a big story or complaining. Be careful on both counts.
There are professional publishers who sit at the top of the pyramid in a newspaper because the owners have hired them. Then there are owner-publishers, such as Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell. They’re part of a grand tradition going back to William Randolph Hearst in America and to Lord Northcliffe and Canadian Maxwell Beaverbrook in the UK. Most get into the game for money, then influence, then fame.
They’ll skewer you, but I’ve never heard of anybody who even knows lots of them or has a strategy to influence them. If you do, share. And Finally… Radio and TV reporters don’t want to admit it, but most read the major papers partly to decide what might make a good story for their media outlet. Whether you’re good or bad in the paper, you will probably get a second bounce from the electronic media.