Do you write more than you read? One way to become a better writer is to read more. Here’s how the Portuguese author Jose Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for literature, once described his writing routine: “I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.” Writers read to see how others do it–the words they choose and how they structure stories. But what if your goal is to become a better reporter? What should you read then?
Diana B. Henriques of the New York Times says the book that most influenced her when she first started reporting had nothing to do with journalism or literature. It was Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, first published 40 years ago. Writing in the IRE Journal, Henriques says she still uses the strategies she learned from that book when she was covering courts in Monmouth County, New Jersey. “Set a big, meaningful goal and identify the steps necessary to reach it; incorporate some of those steps into your to-do list each day,” Henriques advises. “If a step seems to big to handle, break it down into smaller tasks that can be done in spare hours or even spare minutes.”
Time-management is more important than ever for journalists in today’s hyper-busy newsrooms. So is source management, something Henriques says she learned from Barbara Walters’ classic How to Talk with Practically Anybody About Practically Anything. Collecting business cards is only a first step. “The next steps are regular follow-up calls, friendly banter with the phone-answerers, and careful notes about the source’s interests and career,” Henriques says. Staying in touch and building a professional relationship turns a contact into a source.
The Walters book also helped Henriques improve her interviewing, another essential skill for all journalists. They key is to be tough but courteous, she writes. “First and most importantly, because you almost always get better information that way. And second, because the dispassionate, fair-minded impression you deliver when you master the technique is your passport to credibility.”
Both of the books cited are out of print. Used copies are available, but there are plenty of other resources along the same lines. Spend an hour taking a free course on time management for journalists from the Reynolds Center on Business Journalism. Read this piece by Poynter’s Chip Scanlan on time management for writers. Check our posts on interviewing and Eric Nalder’s classic, Loosening Lips: The Art of the Interview.
Keep reading to become a better reporter, and if you have a book or resource to recommend, please share in the comments!