The results of their first reporting and writing assignments are in — and it’s time for me to get tough.
Again, it’s one thing if student-journalists struggle to ask not just “Why?” but “Why exactly?” Again, I know it took me years of experience before I fully grasped the need to really put my finger on “Why exactly does this person do what they do?” Or, “Why exactly is this situation the way it is?”
The truth is, your ability to explore and answer those two questions is the essential difference between more-serious and less-serious journalism.
So, while I hold that out as the ideal, I’m cutting them some slack in that it takes time to learn. However, I’ve hit upon a more troubling trend. Most of them veered from our reporting objective: “How do Hong Kongers feel about the Oct. 1 anniversary? Why exactly do they feel the way they feel?” Instead, most students pursued: “Will you participate in the anniversary celebrations?” At least some of them asked their sources why or why not. But this isn’t just a far-less-interesting angle, it’s off-topic.
My message to the students will be simple, but firm: if your editor or producer tells you to do something, you do it. Of course, it’s always important to make your boss happy. It’s also important that your boss not worry about your competence to follow instructions.
That’s no way to stay employed, in this or any other industry.