Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Are "stringers" real reporters?- writing tip

Question: I took your blog's advice about becoming a "stringer" for my local newspaper. They seemed glad to have me and pay me $25 a piece, regardless of length or time involved -- just as you warned. It's been interesting and fun. But instead of congratulating me, as I had anticipated, someone in my writer's group made a remark that I wasn't a "real" newspaper reporter. Aren't stringers "real?"

Answer: Yes, and no. Every stringer MUST produce the goods just like a full-time newspaper reporter. If the goods aren't good enough the stringer will soon be unemployed -- just like any other news reporter. You are "real" enough for your current editor and you might want to ask him for some "Press ID" to carry and show it to your "friend."

You are also, to some degree, "freelance" and that is an advantage, not a detriment. It means you can reword and resell your stringer articles to another newspaper or magazine without compunction. Back in my stringer days, I interviewed a local boat builder for a B1 feature when he built a reproduction of a historic vessel. Later I took photos of the launch, and, using the information from the earlier interview and the photos of the launch, sold what was essentially the same feature, though rewritten, to a national boating magazine

The moral of that story is never throw your notebooks away. As for whether stringers are real...

Once at the newspaper we had a “stringer” who covered city council in a small town quite a distance from the county seat. Her lead was always the same, “The secretary read the minutes at the city council meeting in Hurlock on Tuesday.” Once when I was laying out the front for my (hung-over and nameless) editor, I pointed out to her that the meeting had ended with the mayor throwing a chair at the police chief and suggested she change the lead to “Violence erupted Tuesday night at the Hurlock city council meeting.” She told me not to be “interfering” and said her lead was right because the first thing that happened every week was that the secretary read the minutes.

The lead is the most important thing — not the first thing. Just like the regular editor, I changed the lead and went to press. Soon as they found another stringer who lived near Hurlock, that sweet lady came by crying because she’d been “let go” due to budget cuts. And she really thought it was due to budget cuts, too. But I didn’t think so. Do you?

The editor also bit the dust within the year. So it goes...

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