When I was a daily newspaper reporter, I always had to navigate through multiple versions of a story before I learned what really happened.
We have a saying in journalism. It goes, “There are three sides to every story: side one, side two, and the Truth.”
The Truth usually falls somewhere between the first two sides, and when I reported the Truth, both sides frequently accused me of bias. That’s how I knew I’d done my job.
In today’s age of information overflow, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reading multiple stories and don’t know what to believe. This is causing rampant fear, confusion, and possibly poor decision-making.
When I shared some of the truth-finding strategies I used as a journalist with a dear friend after we discussed the Plandemic movie, she encouraged me to share my tips with the world. “Not many people know this stuff, Shari,” she told me. “Not everyone has a journalism degree, and I think these tips could really help a lot of people in today’s environment.”
So here I am, in hopes that I can help YOU navigate through the waves of information (and misinformation), thus landing on the Truth for yourself. Here are some of the basic building blocks that journalists use when investigating a story and getting down to the bottom of it:
1) Cross-Validation with Multiple Sources
Information should always be validated with a minimum of three independent sources to confirm its validity. As a journalist, you can never go with just one person’s story or perspective, no matter how viable it seems. You need to follow up and interview at least two more sources, check records or documents, and see if everything else backs up the story from your first source.
2) Attribution from Reputable, Primary Sources
Today, the moment I read an article, column, or blog post–or watch a video–where information is stated without citing a reputable and primary source, my radar goes off. THIS MIGHT BE FAKE!
In order to avoid slander and libel lawsuits, reporters must cite their sources. Otherwise, anyone can make any claim and it would be considered truth. Additionally, the sources must be:
Reputable. This means you cannot cite a psychic when making claims about a medical condition or the state of the economy. Instead, you would cite a doctor or an economist.
Primary. This means you cannot cite another article as your source, or a friend of the cousin who experienced the wrongdoing; the information needs to come directly from the person or entity.
3) Libel — The Accused are Given a Chance to Comment
How often have you read an article from Reuters or the Associated Press where it says, “_____ could not be reached for comment”? Reporters do this to avoid a libel lawsuit. They give the person or entity being accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to comment publicly before running the story. This is a common practice to remain within the bounds of law and avoid defamation, and any reputable news organization will follow it.
4) An Ulterior Motive or Agenda
People will try and use the media to push an agenda. Gee, ya don’t say?! But by this, I mean sometimes, a person has a beef with another person or entity, and his/her motivation for contacting the media is to “get back” at someone or something else (this is different than a legitimate whistleblower). Other times, a public relations representative is trying to sway public opinion in favor of his/her company, or a public policy that would benefit the company (lobbyists, anyone?).
As a reporter, I always had to be wary of someone’s motivation for contacting me with a potential story. This is also why cross-validation with multiple sources is so important in a balanced and well-researched news article.
The Bottom Line
I hope these basic journalism tips help you determine what’s correct and incorrect from all the information floating around the Internet and social media these days.
Remember: the intentional spread of misinformation can be just as dangerous as censorship.
Don’t let yourself become a victim of misinformation. Keep your head on straight. I always tell people that facts drive journalism, while emotions drive propaganda.
If you found this helpful, I urge you to please share it with your friends and family!
*Shari Lopatin is a former award-winning journalist, mass communications professional, and author of “The Apollo Illusion,” a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology.
I used to be a reporter at a small daily, community newspaper like the Capital Gazette. We had maybe 14 reporters, and we were like family.
I couldn’t imagine living through a shooting with that family, watching some of them die. Today, I cry with the reporters and staff at the Capital Gazette.
We don’t know the motive behind the crime yet. We don’t know if the alleged shooter was a disgruntled worker, a terrorist (foreign or domestic), or the crazed spouse of an employee. The police did say the suspect mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification, as reported in this article from the Baltimore Sun, so that leads me to believe this was planned and malicious (versus a potentially angry worker).
Regardless, I know one thing for sure: journalists just want to tell stories, and today, some died for it.
*** When I was a full-time reporter, this was never a fear of mine. ***
But things have changed, and it breaks my heart. For those who don’t know any reporters personally, let me explain a few things:
Most reporters are completely non-violent people and just want to find the truth.
Most reporters are empathetic storytellers who want to give a voice to the voiceless.
Most reporters believe in nothing more than freedom of speech and the press–more than politics and more than religion.
Most reporters are “crusaders” who believe in the mission of holding those in power accountable, and protecting the innocent.
I once thanked an active-duty Soldier for his service to our country, and he said to me, “Shari, thank YOU for your service. Not enough people say it, but as a journalist, you’re serving too. Thank you.”
I mean, GUYS, this is seriously cool. This means that anyone with one of these nifty little e-readers can absorb the life-altering words of your blog directly from their Kindles. They can read it like an e-book!
If your interest is piqued, here is a list of pros and cons I discovered regarding taking the plunge:
It expands your reach and offers another way for people to find and read you.
You get paid if people subscribe! The more people who subscribe through Kindle, the bigger your paycheck.
You can reach your target audience more accurately. Writers want to target readers, and Kindle owners LOVE to read.
It’s easy. Once you publish your blog to Kindle, Amazon does the rest. Just continue operating your blog, as if nothing changed.
It’s freakin’ coolto say your blog is available through Kindle. Maybe you’re not a published author (yet), but you can officially claim to be a “published blogger” … if it works like that.
People have to pay a monthly subscription to access your blog through their Kindle, even though they can get it online FOR FREE.
Amazon sets the monthly subscription price; you have no control. The prices range from $0.99-2.99/month.
You make only 30 percent in royalties for your monthly subscriptions.
Not even the most popular blogs have many subscribers. I discovered this upon skimming through the Kindle blogs. So this may or may not be catching on yet.
Is It Worth It?
I’ll tell you in a few months, as my blog just published to the Kindle this Monday. However, my personal take is, “YES.”
I chose to take the plunge because it cost me nothing. Zip. Zero. And while this venture may not exactly pay my mortgage, I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it for the exposure.
WILL YOU GIVE THIS A TRY? I want to hear your thoughts! Would you pay $0.99/month to read a blog on your Kindle? Will you consider publishing your blog to the Kindle? Do you think this additional platform is a good idea? Why or why not?
Two weekends ago, I spent my Saturday and Sunday in Washington, D.C. (for the first time—yeah!) at the 7th Annual Military Blogging Conference … and an interesting subject arose during one of the panels.
Are blogs dying?
And therefore, subsequently, is the future of sustaining an online presence moving the way of social engagement on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds only?
I found this to be fascinating, because several “old school” military bloggers, who’d been around since 2004/05, mentioned they’d noticed their readership vastly deteriorating. However, some younger bloggers talked about how their Facebook engagement was growing, the conversation therefore moving away from their blog to social networks.
The Social Movement
OK, so here’s what I think: Blogs are not dying (they better not be, or else what the freak am I doing here?). Their methods of drawing website traffic are merely evolving.
Is this a bad thing? Well, that depends on YOU. How resistant are you to accepting change and implementing it? From my personal, as well as professional experience, it appears blogs are not becoming obsolete; however, it’s completely pointless to maintain one if you’re not on Facebook, or Twitter, or both.
I’ve built a readership using my blog. It’s a way for me to write and find readers. I’ve even gained a few freelance jobs through this blog (God bless it!). However, if I relied on my blog solely, would I have reached success?
I relied, and still do rely, on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and other bloggers to drive traffic to my site. Without the “social platform,” my blog would not—and could not—survive.
Perhaps the bloggers at the conference had a point. Blogs, in their older forms, are dying. They are no longer the go-to hubs for conversation. Maybe it’s time to think of blogs in a different light. Let your social pages drive conversation, and let those conversations drive traffic to your blog, where visitors can delve deeper into subjects or ideas. Best of all, they can learn more about YOU.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Are you seeing less traffic to your blog? Are blogs, in their original forms, dying?
I used to hate PR (public relations) people when I worked on the newspaper. And really, I still kinda cringe when someone calls me a PR professional.
“I’m in media relations,” I always correct them.
I don’t spin. I don’t twist. I just educate the public the best I can for a company. Would I love to pound the pavement again as a journalist seeking the truth, living the edgy life? Yea, I dream about it. I’m not gonna lie.
BUT … I will say that I’ve learned several lessons on my road from reporter to “media relations.” And if I ever make it back, I’ll definitely apply them!
So, here are my top five takeaways I’d like to share—whether you’re a writer, reporter, or PR hack:
1) Not all journalists are honest, or accurate.
Trust me, this was a HUGE surprise to me. And quite honestly … a blow. My job on the newspaper was my first out of college, and I truly believed that every journalist was ethical—like me. But after working on the PR side, I realized that some reporters don’t care about the truth; they only care about their angle. Whether from laziness or an agenda, I’ve witnessed journalists report blatantly false information. Lesson? Don’t believe everything you read, always research the facts yourself, and treat ethical journalists like royalty.
2) Understanding media strategy or content marketing can HELP writers or reporters, not hurt them.
Not to brag, but I believe I’m the perfect example of this. As a reporter, I’d slap you if you mentioned the word “blog” to me. However, after entering the world of media strategy, I started this blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Now, I have a readership … and I haven’t even published a book yet! Lesson? Any reporter who can build an ENGAGED following will more efficiently distribute the news … so don’t run from the concept of content marketing.
3) Multi-media and diverse writing is now a requirement, for anything.
I left journalism right as the newspapers began to collapse in December 2007. I began my new job in PR at the start of 2008, allowing me to witness the media world’s transition from the outside. I used this time to develop my skills in writing for the Web, social media, blogs, magazines, newspapers, e-newsletters, business, and to persuade. No longer can I find a writing job that merely asks for experience in print. Lesson? The more you understand multi-media–as well as writing for different audiences—the better chance you have of landing a job!
4) Learning to pitch well isn’t only for PR people. Freelance journalists need it for editors, and writers need it for literary agents.
I’ve been able to help creative writer friends perfect their query letters to literary agents. And I’ve advised journalists on pitching a solid story to a magazine editor (and landed freelance gigs myself). Why? Because I’ve become an expert in pitching. Understanding “the tease” has become a vital skill in anything media-related today. Lesson? Don’t think of pitching as selling out; instead, embrace what you can learn, and use it to your advantage!
5) The basics ALWAYS apply.
Bottom line, I still attribute information to its sources, even when writing for a company. My leads are always 30 words or less. And I always keep my readers in mind; the goal is still to inform them, regardless of the outlet. Lesson? The basics are taught for a reason. THEY WORK. So … never forget them.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you agree with my observations? Have you witnessed something contrary, or additional? Discuss …
It’s not just for companies. It’s not just for marketers. Content marketing can be applied to anyone or anything seeking exposure:
You name it!
And, content marketing is a GREAT way to increase your audience. Writers, use it to develop a loyal readership. Business owners, use it to create customers. Editors or journalists, use it to increase the number of people reading your articles.
What is content marketing?
For those of you new to the world of marketing, here’s a brief explanation. Content marketing is … marketing your content to as many people as possible.
Content can be blog posts, videos, podcasts … anything YOU produce for people to read or view. e-Newsletters, magazine articles, and even the words on your website.
When you produce content, you want to market it through every channel available.
Here’s the key to content marketing
You want to get the most exposure out of each piece of content. This means you’ll work smarter, not harder.
So, how do you market content, successfully?
Here’s my philosophy: Every business or entity should treat its website and accompanying social media pages, as a news outlet.
Running a law firm? Your content should relate to updates on the law you practice. A writer (like me)? What’s the latest on the publishing world and the hottest writing tips?
Adding on to that, if you want to market your content successfully, follow these tips:
Get organized and plan. If you know what you’ll write next week, and the week after, you can plan where and HOW to market it.
Consider posting less, but instead distributing your content to more places.
Dedicate time to building a following on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linkedin. Engage with your followers.
DO NOT set your website or blog to automatically post published content to social media channels. Craft witty or interesting messages to accompany your posts, and publish at a time when you receive the most response. (TIP: Use Hootsuite to schedule individualized posts ahead of time).
Have any affiliates or partners (including blogging buddies)? Ask if they’d consider promoting some of your content on THEIR channels, if you routinely emailed links of your newly published work. If they accept, pump up your promotion of their content, as a thank-you.
Use the “bit.ly” tool to shorten your links before sending to your partners and posting on social media. Bit.ly tracks the number of click-throughs and will allow you to see which posts get the most traction (TIP: The topics with the most traction show what interests your readers. Write more about those topics).
Submit some content to popular professional development sites, such as Pro Blogger. If they accept your post, market that same content to your channels. You’ll get double the readership!
Aim for quality, not quantity. Bottom line: no one will share your content if it’s badly written or offers poor advice.
I’ve somehow evolved into the very thing I promised myself I’d never become: a media strategist.
You see, once upon a time, I was a newspaper reporter, a.k.a. a Jedi Knight. Then, the evil economy forced me into the Dark Side (a.k.a. public relations). And somewhere along the way, I decided if I wanted to become my own writer, I’d better take advantage of all these media and marketing strategies I was learning.
Behold, I can now say with authority, I know how to market myself as a writer (and I’d do more if I had additional time). I can pinpoint the good blogs from the bad. I can tell which ones will thrive, and which will falter.
And I can tell you the three key questions EVERY blogger must ask themselves, if they want to see their readership grow:
1) What is this blog all about (a theme)?
The most successful blogs have a theme. Some may be literary agents offering tips to up-and-coming writers. Others are humor blogs. My blog, for example, is a writing blog. The theme or brand is “Rogue Writer.”
If you really want to see your blog grow, ask yourself: What is this blog ABOUT? Is it a travel blog? A photography blog? A news blog, or a parenting and health blog?
Decide, and stick to it (even if you stray occasionally–like me). That will build your niche, slowly but surely.
2) What is my main goal with this blog (get subscribers? sell a book?)?
If you have a goal in mind, everything on your blog works toward that goal. If you’re everywhere at once, you won’t actually build or sell anything.
For example, the main goal with my blog right now, is to build readership. A following. Therefore, the very first “widget” on my blog’s righthand column, invites visitors to subscribe via RSS feed or email. A few inches down, I invite visitors to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve expanded my network by partnering with other bloggers and writing guest posts. I write one new post a week, consistently, so my followers know to expect something. All of these tactics work toward building my online following.
And, it’s working (slowly but surely). Know what you want, and build toward it.
3. When, and how often, will I post?
Decide this up front. Will you post once a week, every Wednesday? Or twice a week—every Tuesday and Thursday? The key is to REMAIN CONSISTENT.
This consistency gives your readers a sense of professionalism. Just like magazine subscribers can expect their publication the first of every month, blog subscribers can expect a new post every Tuesday.
Just remember, whatever you decide, you need to keep up with it. So even if you can post three times a week right now, ask yourself: “Can I come up with three new ideas every week—and write them—five months from now?” My suggestion is to start slow, then add on if you have the time.
SO TELL ME: Do you have any key questions to add onto this list? What do YOU think are the most important aspects for bloggers to consider, for success?
Do you like the advice offered here? Then don’t miss the next post! Sign up to get my weekly posts delivered by email, straight to your inbox.
Ever wonder what those big-time New York City editors look for in a story pitch? Or how successful authors pulled off a great book deal?
Today, journalist and author Caitlin Kelly shares some of her secrets as a former senior editor for WorldBusiness in New York and a successful author of two books. Caitlin has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. She recently published her second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” Briefly, here’s a snippet from her book’s opening:
My writing career had gone well from the day I graduated from college, whether I had a staff magazine or newspaper job or worked freelance. But by the fall of 2007 I was scared of the precipitous decline in my industry, journalism. I was also newly aware, after pneumonia landed me in a hospital bed from overwork, I needed a ready, steady source of cash, something solid. And so I decided to join a populous, if largely ignored, tribe – the fifteen million Americans working in retail.
On a personal note, I can relate to Caitlin’s situation. The year 2007 was also when I left my beloved journalism job. That seems to be the fateful year—of the housing market crash, the journalism crash, and the start of the Great Recession.
So, here’s my interview with Caitlin Kelly. Hope you find some valuable insights in these 10 questions, as I did!
1. SHARI: You’re a veteran journalist, having written for notable publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Hartford Courant, and Glamour. Journalistically, what drew you to the topic of America’s retail industry–for a book?
CAITLIN: I was amazed that this enormous industry — $4 trillion, 15 million workers, the nation’s third-largest and its greatest source of new jobs — had not been examined in book form in any serious way. There have been several excellent books on low-wage labor, but none focused exclusively on retail. Once I had spent 27 months working at its lowest level for a large and well-known retail company, I realized what inequities and absurdities the industry contains. They spend millions on new technology and software but most refuse to pay their front-line workers — who drive sales — decently. Since we’re a nation of shoppers, I wanted to explore this subject in depth.
2. SHARI: “Malled” is your second book. Your first was “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” I have several writers new to the publishing world who follow my blog. What tips can you give them about the process of finding a literary agent and publisher?
CAITLIN: It’s not simple, quick or easy! Finding an agent means finding someone whose skill, experience, ambition, personality and stable of other writers matches your vision of what you hope to accomplish. My agent on Blown Away, William Clark, was then — in 2000 when we first met — fairly new to agenting and was eager to build his brand, so that helped me. He, like my current agent, Kathleen Anderson, was also extremely dedicated to the project — both books received 25 (!) rejections each before finally selling to major NYC publishers. You need someone who really cares deeply about the work, and gets what you are about: this is not a game for the easily deterred or fantasists. You must find someone who is utterly straightforward with you about every aspect of the process and demands excellence and professionalism from you. It helps if you like them personally as you must trust them with your work.Find an agent by: reading acknowledgments in books similar to yours (they always thank their agent); attending annual writers’ conferences like the ASJA where members can meet and pitch agents face to face; networking well and generously with accomplished writers who may share the name of their agent (or not) with you. The agent will find the publisher, not you.
3. SHARI: You spent time working as a senior editor for WorldBusiness in New York City. From an editor’s perspective, what do you look for in a pitch from a freelance writer? What will make you choose one story (and writer) over another?
CAITLIN: You want a feeling of authority, why this writer really knows the issue and can handle it well and stylishly. I want to see that they have a strong news sense and feel confident they will be able to both report accurately and deeply and write well, which is a rare combination. I would almost always choose a former or current newspaper writer over someone with no news background. There is too much PR puffery out there, and experienced journos know to ignore it and dig much more deeply when necessary. I’m interested in writers who think outside the margins, who may have lived a less conventional life, as they may ask different questions and see things from a less predictable perspective. I want someone who is culturally sophisticated and who understands the need for diversity when sourcing, for example.
4. SHARI: On your website, you have a whole list of “work tips” for writers. What are your top three favorite tips, and why?
CAITLIN: Hard to choose! In general: 1) expect and learn to handle rejection. It’s normal and awful and expensive and you are going to run into it at every stage of your career. Set aside savings for slow times and keep your ego in a box.
2) Remain (or become) intellectually voracious. Read fiction and history and biography and magazines and blogs and websites beyond what feels cozy and familiar or in your current specialty areas. Read Canadian and British publications and those in other languages to remember that we all do not see the world in the same way. That alone will set you apart from many of your competitors.
3) Rest, recharge, relax. We tend to run ourselves at an industrial speed and intensity that can easily lead to fatigue and burnout, or worse. Make time for exercise, friends, patting the dog, long walks in silence. Creative work demands a brain and heart that are both open and refreshed regularly.
5. SHARI: “Malled” has been written about by Entertainment Weekly, the Financial Times of London, and the Associated Press, among others. So tell me, what is “Malled” really all about?
CAITLIN: Work, identity, class struggle, corporate greed. What professional status means, and what happens when you don’t have it. The true underpinnings of easy catchphrases we never really question or challenge: “shareholder value”, “global supply chain”, “operations management.”These are the underlying/overarching larger themes of “Malled,” beyond its many anecdotes, interviews and statistics. I’m fascinated by how we work, and the trade-offs we make and why we choose to make or accept them.
6. SHARI: You guest-blogged on the Harvard Business Review about a lesson you took away from writing your book (why retail workers drive the customer experience). Overall, what is the top lesson/experience you took away from this project?
CAITLIN: That every single person working in retail can add value, from the invisible stock room clerk to the associates on the floor — despite the fact that most corporate managers refuse to pay them accordingly. The most productive, yet unrewarded, people are often effective and high-selling associates working face to face with customers, whose skill and warmth can make or break a brand.
7. SHARI: As a successful writer, author and journalist, what have been your keys to success? What advice would you give other writers to attain a similar degree of success in their careers?
CAITLIN: I’m flattered by your description. Thanks! Persistence is huge. I simply don’t give up; my first agent said I was the most determined person he’d ever met. Once I connect with someone who seems to find my ideas or work of value, I stay in touch, sometimes for decades; having a strong network of people who believe in you can help you achieve many goals, from getting recommendation letters for grants and fellowships to helpful tips.
One friend in Canada — who edited me when she was at a magazine years ago — told me about a Canadian lawsuit settlement for writers I knew nothing about; it netted me a healthy windfall!
Network, in a generous and helpful way, with accomplished writers, no matter at what level of their career. I’ve gotten help from some of my former interns (now doing well!) and colleagues 10 to 20 years my senior. Truly ambitious and talented writers with a heart know what it takes to excel; they’ll cheer you when you win and cheer you up when the going is tough — as you, of course, will do for them too!I’ve given away a lot of time and advice to total strangers who’ve emailed me…it all comes back eventually and in surprising and terrific ways.
I also serve on the board of the 1,400 member American Society of Journalists and Authors and on the board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund; I like giving back.Invest in yourself. Create and update a great-looking and informative website for your work and book(s); attend conferences, take classes, read books, hire professional help to maintain your edge and focus, whether researchers or coaches. I recently paid a speaking coach (I found her on LinkedIn, Christine Clapp) to help me prepare for the Diane Rehm show on NPR (2 m listeners, live) and her advice has given me much greater confidence for all media and public speaking. And I’d been doing it for years already.
8. SHARI: Tell me about a discouraging time during your career’s climb. Did you consider quitting? How did you get past this obstacle?
CAITLIN: There have been more than one. This is not a business for the faint of heart or easily bruised! I studied interior design in the 1990s and planned to leave journalism, but stayed in it. I’m addicted to finding and sharing compelling stories, so my enthusiasm for the content is undimmed, even as the mechanics of the field have changed substantially. I have multiple skills, from photography and interior design training to foreign languages, so I have enough ways to keep pulling in income that I don’t panic. I also maintain a low overhead and don’t have children, so living with lower costs allows me more creative freedom in my choices of when and how to work.I also think you have to be very clear with yourself in how you define “success”. I am thrilled knowing that readers in Hong Kong, New Zealand and Ireland, to name only three, read my books — but am not (yet!) earning the sort of income some might wish or expect.
9. SHARI: Can you share a few recommendations of others experts in the writing field, whom it would be beneficial to follow?
SHARI: That’s a good question. I’ve recently started reading and enjoying Betsy Lerner’s blog and Kristen Lamb’s blog. I think once you’ve mastered your craft — through classes, practice, reading great writers’ work and analyzing it — it becomes a larger issue of finding and polishing ideas. I focus less on the mechanics of how to write and more on people whose thinking inspires me, so I read blogs that include Seth Godin and Design Milk, which is visual.Because I write only non-fiction, I try more to read great NF books and figure out why they’re so terrific: voice, language, tone, pacing, anecdote, etc.
10. SHARI: Anything else you’d like to add?
CAITLIN: Stay focused! The world is filled with a million ways to ding your confidence and/or to distract you, but only you and your computer can deliver the goods. If you want to produce a non-fiction book, read widely and critically to determine what place you might carve in that marketplace; “save string” — i.e. read and clip everything of possible use for that project; talk to people who might be able to help you.
Decide what you want to achieve and what is realistic, given your talent, time, energy and finances. It may not happen fast, or fast enough, but a life of ideas can’t be lived according to the clock or others’ dreams.