You can tell that Tina Firesheets is good at what she does. The well-spoken reporter from the Greensboro News & Record addressed our reporting class this week to tell us a little bit about herself and her job.
Nothing is more intimidating to a reporter than a blank screen–especially on deadline. As our class continues working on two big stories, a personality profile and an in depth investigative piece, something Firesheets said about the writing process really stuck out to me:
“You’ll start hearing themes from your sources,” she said. “That’s the nuts and bolts of your focus.”
Looking at folders of documents and data and more than ten interviews with sources, I decided to really search for the themes in my research and take it from there. When all the information you have for a story is overwhelming, it’s best to just keep it plain and simple.
“You just have to take a deep breath,” she said. “Just figure out how to get in the information that is most important to your readers.”
I’d have to say one of the most appealing things about Firesheets’ job as a general assignment reporter is that she gets access to places she might otherwise never see.
“I’ve been in some of the nicest homes in the city and some of the worst,” she said.
Of course “all access” isn’t always luxurious–the job can be dangerous. One of her friends, a little woman, she described, was out on assignment once and had a man come at her with a baseball bat. Scary? Yes. But exciting nonetheless.
For aspiring journalists who want an all access pass to “stepping into someone else’s world,” as Firesheet’s puts it, here are some of her top tips to help you get there.
1. Get an internship
“I can’t stress how important it is to do internships,” Firesheets said. Firesheets didn’t major in journalism, but with a communications degree and an internship with a New York Time affiliate under her belt, she was ahead of the game.
2. Learn to work fast.
“If you don’t like being rushed and having to do things really quickly, this isn’t the job for you.”
3. There’s power in persistence
Sometimes you can’t take no for an answer. Firesheets applied for a job at the News and Record a couple of times before she ever got the job. “Don’t give up,” she said. “There’s more than one way to get in.”
4. Be prompt
You never want to risk looking unprofessional by showing up late. In fact, Firesheets goes by the rule that being on time is being early.
5. Dress the part
You never know where you’ll end up as a reporter, and Firesheets says you’re sure to regret showing up under-dressed in a room full of businessmen. She recommends keeping a business suit in the trunk of your car. “How you come across is very important,” she said. On the reverse, she recommends you also stash an old pair of old tennis shoes in your car, for the occasional assignment that sends you somewhere messy, like a marsh.
6. Be over prepared
“The more ready you are when you come to an interview–the better,” she said. “It’s obvious when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
So remember, whenever you find yourself staring at a blank screen, keep these tips in mind and just take a deep breath.