By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
One of the things I love most about being a writer in general, and a newspaper journalist specifically, is that I get to learn a little bit about a lot of different things. Everyone I interview teaches me a little something about what it is they do. All of that knowledge is valuable too. Knowing a little bit about a lot of different things often gives me a way to find common ground and begin grasping a concept that someone is trying to explain through analogy. It also gives me an in to explain things in a way that someone outside a particular field may not otherwise grasp.
It doesn’t make me an expert, by any means – I’m reminded that journalist and author John Keel allegedly had business cards made up that had his name, and “photographer/journalist” printed on one side and “Not an expert!” on the reverse – and sometimes it means I know just enough to, “be dangerous,” as my father would say.
But if you write for 20+ years, you’re bound to pick up lots of miscellaneous trivia, if nothing else, and possibly some modest skills in areas you have an interest in or aptitude for. My dad and grandpa called such generalized knowledge being a “jack of all trades,” with the follow-up, “a master of none,” thrown on to keep the knowledge-bearer humble, I suppose.
I’m sure such folks are handy on lots of jobs, and this is no less true in rural journalism. In large, urban newsrooms at daily newspapers folks will have specialized beats. There are sportswriters, and folks who cover the crime beat. There are political writers and technology writes and lifestyle reporters. But when you are a one or two person newsroom, you learn to be more flexible by necessity.
In a week where I covered city government, county government, business, community events, and football – in addition to sourcing arts, agriculture, and pet care content from contributors – this little piece, from this time 98 years ago, on what it takes to be a “successful newspaper man” hit home.
You only have to know a little bit about everything, and learn to make do on meager returns. As the November 29, 1923, item notes, “It’s an easy job.”
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