6/22/13

Michael Hastings' Journalism Tips

I'm four days late to this, but want to stick a couple things about Michael Hastings in one spot. I never met him, but there were a lot of great remembrances from journalists who had. A recurring theme was the generous, eager advice Hastings gave young up-and-comers, which I imagine this, from his Reddit Ask Me Anything last year, captures fairly well:
1.) You basically have to be willing to devote your life to journalism if you want to break in. Treat it like it's medical school or law school.
2.) When interviewing for a job, tell the editor how you love to report. How your passion is gathering information. Do not mention how you want to be a writer, use the word "prose," or that deep down you have a sinking suspicion you are the next Norman Mailer.
3.) Be prepared to do a lot of things for free. This sucks, and it's unfair, and it gives rich kids an edge. But it's also the reality.
4.) When writing for a mass audience, put a fact in every sentence.
5.)Also, keep the stories simple and to the point, at least at first.
6.) You should have a blog and be following journalists you like on Twitter.
7.) If there's a publication you want to work for or write for, cold call the editors and/or email them. This can work.
8) By the second sentence of a pitch, the entirety of the story should be explained. (In other words, if you can't come up with a rough headline for your story idea, it's going to be a challenge to get it published.)
9) Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it's more important to you than anything else in your life--family, friends, social life, whatever.
10) Learn to embrace rejection as part of the gig. Keep writing/pitching/reading.
My Mother Jones colleague Dana Liebelson interviewed Hastings around the same time, when she was at the Project on Government Oversight. "Any advice for aspiring Rolling Stone reporters?" she asked:
My advice is basically paraphrased advice that Neil Sheehan [The New York Times reporter who obtained the Pentagon Papers] gave: Basically, first you have to f****ing know what you’re doing—you need to learn how to be a reporter for a mass audience, and that takes time. Second, you have to not give a shit. What I mean there, is not that you can stop caring about doing good journalism, but you cannot be worried about offending powerful people. You cannot be worried about what’s the best career move, or about being invited to a party, or about whether people are going to hate you. Good reporting is about challenging power.
If you’re going to do the kind of reporting that is against the herd, and is calling conventional wisdom into question, there’s a price you’re going to have to pay for that. But at the end of the day, that’s what the job is—and if you’re not doing it, you kind of suck. You’ve got to keep writing, and you’ve got to take risks.
And not advice, but an Iowa connection from Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone:
The first time I met Michael Hastings, he confronted me.
It was a New Year's Eve party for journalists in Des Moines, three days before the 2008 Iowa Caucus. Hastings suspected that I had published a leaked copy of the proposal for his first book, “I Lo[st] My Love in Baghdad,” a wrenching account of his fiancee's death in Iraq, in The New York Observer the year before. Despite his suspicions, I had nothing to do with the story. And after a contentious back-and-forth, we ended up chatting over drinks.
I wonder if I unknowingly crossed paths with him while I was at the Ames Tribune.

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