The Ball State chapter of the NABJ had the opportunity to go visit the Indianapolis Star this Friday, September 28 along with Juli Metzger, a Ball State professor who is over Unified Student Media. Upon arrival, members sat down with 4 editors of The Star. Alvie Lindsay, news and investigative director, Leisa Richardson, metro editor as well as a Ball State alum and NABJ member, Amy Bartner, social media editor and Carrie Ritchie, a reporter with a politics beat, took time to sit down and answer the questions of students.
How as the business changed in the last couple of years?
Digital is now the thing people are looking to first. The content the paper sends out needs to be able to serve different platforms. Richardson talked about the continuation evolution of the media but how there’s a certain perk to being in the newspaper industry at a time like now all of the same. “You get the longterm look of things when you get the paper. There are no space or content requirements,” she said, pointing out the benefits that print has over broadcast. Lindsay reflects on the past, having worked in journalism for 3 decades, he’s seen a lot of change and evolution over time. “All the internet was, was a place to put our paper,” he said. When print began posting to the web, it was the same stories with a few additional photos. The paper didn’t live or die by the web. Now, things are different. “You Tweet, then write for online, then for print,” said Richie, a recent Indiana University graduate. For her, Twitter and social media are something she uses frequently to promote herself, something vital to gain trust and readership.
What is it like competing with other media outlets?
Print is in direct and usually bitter competition with television companies. The middle ground is the web, where everyone is equal in their own right. Lindsay says it has a lot to do with consumer habit. It’s instinctive for people to get their weather and traffic reports from the television, but turn to the newspaper for information on the community, something The Star specializes and capitalizes on. “We’ve always been the best investigative reporters, and we always will be,” said Bartner, who believes there is a clear advantage with the amount of content print newspapers can give to the audience. She also told members that a willingness to learn all of these new aspects of social media is important in getting a job. The more you can do to help get a boost over the competition, the better. “We would expect anyone who wants to be in this industry to be able to use different types of media,” said Richardson, going off of what Bartner was also stressing. But one thing they also agreed on was the need to get back to basics. Despite the new direction media is taking, there’s one thing you can’t forget how to do and do well. Write.
What sort of steps did you take in order to get a job after graduation?
Internships. The word came up over and over again. Bartner herself had an internship with The Star before landing a job there. Not one, but multiple internships can give students the job experience they need, but more importantly, getting connections in the work force during those internships are vital. But not all stories are your typical college to internship to degree to job format. Alvie Lindsay told the story about his rise to editor, starting off at 16-years-old with a passion for sports writing. With no college degree, he continued his passion for writing until a job opening with an education beat came around. Despite his love of sports, he took the job and soon realized the world of news reporting. “There was something great about going to the news side and seeing how my work could impact people,” said Lindsay. And he’s been doing it ever since.
How important is it to have a foundation before applying to jobs?
The next keyword that the editors spoke about was brands. “Everyone is in an umbrella of their own personal brand,” said Bartner. Being able to sell yourself as well as your media presence to the people is key. Two examples were given to students, one of those being Mary Beth Schneider, the state government and political reporter for The Star. Reporters, according to Bartner, can no longer be on the outside looking in as they were taught to be before, and they used Schneider as a great example of a reporter who uses her brand to relate to the people in a way that doesn’t make politics dry. “Personality without partisanship,” chimed in Lindsay, recounting how well Schneider, as well as Ritchie, does when it comes to covering court cases and politics. Their other example was Whitney Smith, better known as Indy’s FruGal. They brought her over from her station in the newsroom to talk about her brand as a reporter who deals with shopping and finding deals at local stores for all sorts of items. Before working at The Star, Smith had her own personal blog that dealt with coupons and discounts. When she applied for The Star, they took into account her previous work and the audience that she would bring with her to the paper, giving her an edge over the other applicants. In today’s economy, people are looking for ways to save, and Smith was the answer they needed. “Protect your brand,” warns Richardson all of the same. In their newsroom, there are social media guidelines and codes of ethics they have to follow and consider before every tweet or Facebook post is sent out into the world. What it all boils down to is common sense. “If you’re going back and forth on a decision, it’s safer just to let it go,” advises Smith, while Lindsay admits to deleting more tweets than he actually posts. Without your brand or name, it’s hard to get followers and without them, you can’t get the traffic you want for the site.
Did you ever consider working in broadcast news?
The immediate and initial response around the table was unanimous. No. For all of them, the idea of working gin broadcast never crossed their minds when dealing with journalism. Ritchie recalls working on a story at the court house and being surrounded by television reporters. “I just never understood how you could tell a story in less than 30 seconds or one minute.” They all agree that the quick who, where, what, when and why of a story doesn’t delve deep enough into the issue. “I just want to write,” said Lindsay, who then compared broadcasting to a Big Mac sandwich. It’s the same ingredients over and over again and the whole idea is to learn to do it faster and faster to come out with the same format and product. But with print, he says, it’s like creating something new with different ingredients over and over again.
The Indianapolis Star shared some of it’s up and coming new media projects with NABJ students after the questions. One thing to look out for will be the way they cover the Presidential debates on Wednesday, October 3. From what was described, be expecting an elaborate and well thought out blend of several types of social media. What they are attempting will be a first for The Star, but expectations and spirits are high that it will be a success. With the alone time with these editors coming to a close, NABJ members were invited to listen in on the afternoon meeting. There are 2 meetings held each day for the Star. The morning meeting consists of what they’ll be doing for online as well as breaking news. The afternoon meeting is more of a recap. Members sat in a row behind the long table as representative editors from different departments such as sports, breaking news, photography gave reports to Jeff Taylor, the 3-month top editor for The Star. As that meeting came to a close, Taylor asked what the overall opinion of the meeting was. Students agreed, “It wasn’t as intense as we thought it would be.” Most of the editors agree it’s not what you would think but Taylor stresses it’s not a shouting war. “We want everyone to speak their minds and their opinions to be heard.” With that, the editors parted, but Taylor stayed back with some spare time to give a little more insight to NABJ members.