By Jubenal Aguilar
“Do you read, write, think?” Thom Chesney, Brookhaven College president, tweeted, promoting the fourth annual True Stories. Held April 6 in Room K234, the event featured writers, editors and photographers from Dallas-area publications including The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Observer and Central Track.
“This is, I think, one of the best bills that we have put together of local area media professionals,” Daniel Rodrigue, journalism professor, said.
Michael Granberry, DMN arts and culture editor, spoke about the importance of internships and the independence of student media.
Granberry attended Southern Methodist University where he was involved with the student newspaper. “I was very distressed to read this very morning that the SMU Daily Campus, the student newspaper that I grew up in … will no longer exist in a print form at all,” Granberry said.
Student Media Company, SMU’s independent student media company, will dissolve in May, forcing its student newspaper under the control of the school’s journalism department, according to the DMN. The newspaper will only exist as an online publication. Student Media Company also produces SMU’s yearbook and fashion magazine.
“This is a dreadful idea, dreadful,” Granberry said. “This couldn’t be worse.”
Granberry, who was a sports writer at SMU, said he wrote two highly controversial sports articles that opened the opportunity for him to intern at The Washington Post in the summer of 1973. One article reported on violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by the golf team coach and the other on an attempt by two assistant basketball coaches to have the head coach fired.
“If that had been the situation when I was an undergraduate, I would have never seen The Washington Post,” he said. “There’s no way those stories would have seen print if somebody had been overseeing them.”
Granberry said such stories are not likely to be published by SMU if the student newspaper is not independent.
Jason Janik, a freelance photographer, spoke on the importance of making connections and constantly working to improve. “It’s who you know [and] how much work you put out there,” Janik said. “The more you do it, the more prolific you’re going to become.”
Janik began working at Richland College’s student newspaper, which led him to work on the DMN-owned Richardson community paper. Through the DMN, Janik was referred to other publications and eventually had the opportunity to shoot the former voice of Big Tex, Bill Bragg, who led him to land his first independent major project.
“People don’t just find you and say, ‘Oh my God, this is the most amazing thing on Instagram,’” Janik said. It is important to meet and know people and make connections with them.
Janik said having multiple skills also increases a journalist’s value to publications. “The more you can do, the more of value you will be,” he said. Writing, editing and doing video are important, Janik said, but a person’s value increases if they can do all of those tasks and more.
“Just being a writer is not enough anymore,” Pete Freedman, founder, editor and president of Central Track, said. He talked about backpack journalism, where a single person can cover a story carrying everything necessary for conducting interviews, writing the story, recording audio, taking photos and video, and publishing it all online in their backpack.
Along with Obed Manuel, a former Brookhaven student and current Central Track associate editor, Freedman talked about what it takes to be a journalist for a small, online publication that aims to compete with the established local news media entities.
“If you’re trying to do something, you gotta start doing it,” Freedman said. “You can’t wait for it to just come to you.” He said Central Track looks for interns who have a genuine interest and can learn from the opportunity. “We want it to be a mutually beneficial thing,” Freedman said. “We want them to leave … with a greater skillset than what they came with.”
Freedman said to be successful, it is vital for a prospective intern to have some writing experience, whether it be writing for their school newspaper or writing on their own blog.
Three journalists from the Observer, Rachel Williams, social media editor; Paige Skinner, music and culture editor; and Danny Gallagher, freelance writer, shared some of their hard-learned lessons and advice for starting as freelancers.
Skinner said freelancers should begin working on their assignments immediately. “If I assign a story, then within 30 minutes you should have emailed a source and set up something or at least made that first initial contact,” she said. Sources may not always be available at the last minute when journalists are working on deadline.
Gallagher said it is important to be on time. He also said freelancers should keep in mind they will have a self-employment tax. The first year he worked as a freelancer, Gallagher said, he misjudged the amount of tax he owed to the IRS. It is also important to track expenses and sticking to a budget.
“You’d be really surprised that how not being a jerk progresses your trajectory,” Williams said. Being on time and pleasant will get someone’s foot in the door even if their writing portfolio is not extensive, she said.
“I will work with an eager person who needs more editing,” Skinner said. Freelancers need to be receptive to being edited and criticism and not have an ego about their writing.
Brantley Hargrove, a freelance journalist, spoke about his recently released book, “The Man Who Caught the Storm.” Hargrove’s book retells the story of Tim Samaras, a storm chaser, who died May 31, 2013 in El Reno, Oklahoma during a tornado chasing incident.
Hargrove shared his experience traveling with storm chasers to gather first-hand research and experience for the book, and working with an editor in the writing process.
Hargrove said his previous experiences in daily newspapers helped him in writing the book. “You learn to crank,” he said. “You learn to write even if you’re not inspired. You just have to do the work.”