Journalism classes in college can only teach you so much about AP style and inverted pyramid structure. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t teach to become a weathered reporter—most of which you figure out on your feet. Here a few things your professors won’t teach you:
1. Your neck is gonna hurt a lot
If I hear one more person tell me I look like I’ve been sitting at my desk too long again, I’m gonna elbow them in the throat. I know I sit at my desk a lot. The excruciating pain in the left side of the crook of my neck from balancing my desk phone while furiously scribbling down notes during an interview reminds me of that every day.
2. There’s a lot of running involved (so wear good shoes)
Running alongside a politician or celebrity as you try to interview them is no joke. In fact, I have to do pilates just to be able to do my job—i.e., chasing mayoral candidates around City Hall in my sneakers and dress pants, then sprinting back to my newsroom to write the story on deadline.
3. How to hold a pen, notebook and recorder at the same time
No one will EVER teach you this. My personal approach: reporter’s notebook between thumb and forefinger, recorder just beneath it in the same hand, pen in the other. Just pray you don’t have to take a photograph or check your phone at the same time.
4. How to connect to a source emotionally while being professional
Nothing kills the mood more than a source telling you the heartbreaking story of losing their home in a fire, and then having to ask them to re-spell their last name. Interviewing is a delicate art more akin to producing someone on a television show.
5. Weekends? What are those?
Kiss weekends goodbye when you’re a reporter. Saturdays are for protests and Sundays are for political rallies.
It feels like practically every night I go to sleep making a mental to-do list of all the sources I need to interview and all the questions I need to ask, only to wake up from a nightmare at 5 a.m. where aliens have overtaken my newsroom and they’re holding my zoom recorder hostage.
7. You get yelled at… a lot
Your editor will yell at you for not getting a source you really need. Sources will yell at you for “not quoting them correctly.” PR people will yell at you for not making their client seem amaze-balls. Your parents will yell at you for “not doing anything with your life.”
8. And blamed. For stuff you didn’t even do.
I cannot stress this enough—journalists are not responsible for headlines! Do not blame us if the headline does not match the story! Take it up with the copy desk, why don’t cha.
9. Random people will ask you a lot of questions when they find out what you do
Once, I was getting a tattoo and when the artist found out I was a reporter, all he did was give me his opinions on fake news and freedom of the press for FOUR HOURS.
10. Your only friends are in your newsroom
Working 50-hour weeks usually mean the only people you see regularly in your life are the people in your newsroom. They’ll become like family to you.
11. Newsroom 15
Again, 50 hour work weeks don’t leave much time for meal prepping and grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats and that Panera right next to your office are definitely going to give you a Newsroom 15.
12. You’re gonna consider sleeping at your desk all the time
Nothing seems comfier than your desk chair when it’s 11:30 p.m. and you’re not even close to finishing laying out the paper, or it’s 2 a.m. and you’re waiting to interview a source in Europe.
13. There’s nothing in the world like a reporter’s high
Runners high be damned. There’s nothing like the adrenaline-pumping feeling of covering a story on deadline or getting a tip or having your article on the front page, above the fold. Or having your editor say “good job” and actually mean it, or changing someone’s life by telling their story. At the end of the day this is what it’s all for.