The first person to compliment me on my writing was Ms. Semchuk, my fifth-grade teacher. Since then, I’ve received a lot of praise for my writing style: it’s conversational and natural, engaging, and a bit goofy, with just the right balance of heart and sarcasm.
“You write just how you talk,” my friend Harry said a few weeks ago. “When I read something of yours, there’s no doubt you wrote it.”
I don’t give my writing style much thought, but I now have a better idea of how people experience it. That’s because someone dug up and posted an introduction to a staff directory I had written more than 20 years ago at The Tampa Tribune.1 I have no recollection of writing it, but I instantly knew it was mine.
Here’s the text. The image is below.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh crap, more convergence propaganda. Well, you’re right.
The News Center Beat Guide — the very document you’re holding right now in your eager little hands — comes straight from the Top With A Capital T. Managers concocted the idea. Top editors signed off on it.
So why am I, a member of the rank-and-file, writing this cover letter?
The simple answer: Donna Reed and Forrest Carr told me to, and they sign my paychecks.
The better answer: I think there’s an opportunity here that we, the front-line workers, must not pass up — an opportunity to do better work and make our jobs easier. Yes, easier. Read on.
We are three newsgathering organizations, working side-by-side under a single roof, but not always working together. We overlook daily opportunities to collaborate with fellow journalists who are covering the exact same issues we follow, and in doing so we pass up the chance to improve our coverage of this community.
The News Center Beat Guide explains what each person covers. Look in the guide. Find the names of your counterparts at the Trib, WELA and TBO.com and introduce yourself. It’s not hard.
If you don’t like doing anything without a TelePrompTer, here’s an easy script: “Hi. My name is (insert your name here. I work for (insert name of media outlet here). I thought I’d introduce myself since we both cover (insert name of beat here). Boy, that Dave Simanoff fellow is certainly handsome, isn’t he?”
The goal here is not to create more work for yourself; it’s to build a relationship with a colleague who covers the same issues and topics as you. So pick up the phone. Let your counterpart know what stories you’re following or what rumors you’re chasing, and ask him or her to do the same. It could mean less work for you and better coverage of our community. Working together is a time-honored tradition between journalists. Where would Woodward be without Bernstein? Barlett without Steele? The Captain without Tenille?
Convergence may have been born in the strata of Media General management, but it will pay the richest dividends to the people who gather, write, photograph, illustrate, edit and report the news. So pick up the phone.
“Never argue with people who buy ink by the gallon.” — Tommy Lasorda2
Rediscovering this introduction felt like stumbling across an old photo and realizing the attractive guy in the middle is actually you — just a few decades younger. We all get older (and, sometimes, wiser), but it’s nice to be reminded that the things that make us different and memorable stay the same.
1 Some context: At the time, The Tampa Tribune, WFLA, and Tampa Bay Online were owned by the same media company and had moved into a shared building. The company began pushing “convergence,” an effort to get all three reporting staffs to work as a single newsroom.3
2 The origins of this quote are unclear, but it’s usually attributed to Mark Twain. I have no idea why I thought it was said by Tommy Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager.
3 I don’t think convergence was a success, but it was good for me — I was tapped to deliver morning business reports and created some packages for teevee.