Dobuzinskis is a hard news, municipal reporter covering the Santa Clarita beat for Los Angeles County's largest regional newspaper and the second largest paper for the MediaNews Group. The dynamic job changes depending on what's happening in the suburban region of L.A. County. “Right now, this involves going to county Board of Supervisors meetings in downtown Los Angeles and writing about what goes on there that might affect Santa Clarita [like] jail and zoning issues,” says Dobuzinskis. Most often he tries to get out in the field to see what's going on firsthand but sometimes relies on the phone for getting information from his sources. “It's not always bad to turn out a story in an hour and half by letting your fingers do the walking.”
Here is the big news: the most important thing you need in order to be a good reporter just might be common sense. “The funny thing about journalism is that the skills are very basic, which can sometimes make a reporter feel uneasy about job security because it seems that anyone can do it,” says Dobuzinskis. “With the Web, now more and more people are indeed getting involved.” But Dobuzinskis advises to take pause before moving into the blogosphere of citizen journalism without any acquired credentials. There are certain subtleties of the craft that should not be discounted. “Having seen the kind of schlock that gets posted online sometimes by moonlighting journalists, you start to realize that there are certain skills to being a journalist beyond typing fast and knowing how to look things up on the Web,” says Dobuzinskis. “Objectivity is a skill that has to be developed. So is the ability to ask good questions in an interview.”
So, should you go to J-school?
In journalistic writing, there are a few high standards that need to be adhered to that can be learned in higher education. And journalism schools are becoming increasingly specialized, offering concentrations in everything from art reporting to new media. But some reporters come to journalism from a different backgrounds and some of the skills required can't be taught. Dobuzinskis came to the career with a degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University (just like a wine sales rep featured in this blog). As with most jobs where you are so often dealing with the greater public, having a sense of confidence is imperative. “I've heard it said that a good way to see that a reporter knows what he or she is doing is to look at the quotes used in a story,” says Dobuzinskis. “Colourful quotes means the reporter got a source to speak to the heart of an issue during the interview, soft and boring quotes means the interviewer was probably a little too timid or didn't know who to talk to.”
Who is the boss?
While reporters may sometimes get the reputation of being ruckus starters, they actually have to deal with a lot of authority in their positions. Newspapers are multi-tiered operations with editors operating at various levels. Dobuzinskis deals mostly with the editor of the Santa Clarita edition of the Daily News, a roughly four-page “wrap” that is folded around the main edition of the paper and delivered exclusively to Santa Clarita residents. But his higher-ups also include the city editor for the main office in the San Fernando Valley and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.
Why you want this job:
This is a job for those who love their words and use them profusely, but who also are passionate about staying on top of the news. Dobuzinskis definitely has the writing bug. “It's fun to see something real that's happened and to write about it, or to write about an issue that's going to affect people.” And for people who get bored easily, journalism can offer a certain dynamism. “The other good thing about journalism is that you're usually writing about something new every day,” says Dobuzinskis. “Which is not to say that it still can't get monotonous sometimes.”
Why you might not want this job:
If you want to be a newspaper reporter, prepare to pound those keys. News doesn't always happen within business hours and the job can sometimes require long hours. “The workload is high,” says Dobuzinskis. “I often turn a story a day, plus two for the weekend.” Also, sensitive souls may want to avoid the slightly hard-edged reporter's life. “A person might not want this job if they have trouble keeping their personal feelings about something out of whatever it is they're writing about, especially when it comes to politics,' says Dobuzinskis.
How to get this job:
A sincere sense of curiousity is an essential prerequisite for this job. “The best way to succeed in journalism is to just learn about as wide a variety of topics as possible,” says Dobuzinskis. And it's never too early to start getting your reporting published. Dobuzinskis' golden tip:“starting with the local newspaper or a student newspaper, generating some good clips of your best articles and attaching those to a resume when you apply for your first paying gig.” Practicing some R & R is a good idea. Reading and writing as much as possible will pay off in getting into this industry. “Pay attention to how things are written in major newspapers or magazines and adopt some of those same techniques in your writing,” says Dobuzinskis. But he also advises on keeping a wide scope and maintaining career options within the different media forms. “It's inevitable that there are going to be a lot less pure newspaper reporter jobs in the future, and a lot more jobs where a person will need to mix different media, such as audio, video and writing, to tell a story,” says Dobuzinskis.
Okay, so what are the perks?
City newspaper reporters get an inside view of politics, city news and events. And, every day, they are interviewing interesting personalities. Dobuzinskis recently interviewed actress Jodi Foster about a home reconstruction project she had undertaken in the Los Angeles Valley.
Talk the talk:
Of course in this industry, lingo runs amok. But here are a few terms to get you started.
Hard news: the nitty gritty stuff. City news, politics, crime, etc...
A lede: the first paragraph of a news story that describes the who, what, when, why and how.
Nut graf: not to be confused with “nut grab” this is the paragraph of a story that contains the essence or theme. It should make the reader care about reading the whole article.
Kicker: the last sentence of an article that introduces a new idea or offers a quick sum up.
Walk the walk:
“There are some organizations that pair experienced journalists with novices for mentoring,” says Dobuzinskis. “Do that, and get plugged into things in your community by looking at calendar listings to figure out things to write about. Sometimes a conversation with a friend or a stranger can generate a story idea.”
There are a wide range of online resources for looking into starting a career in journalism. A couple to start the search are The Poynter Institute, The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Journalism Net, and Media Bistro.