On Being a Reporter, by Tommy Miller

By Paige Williams

Tommy Miller

Tommy Miller

Still cleaning out files, and just came across this, from college, when I started writing newspaper stories for Tommy Miller and under the deanship of Will Norton and in the great big shadow of the incomparable Neely Tucker. Miller was an old UPI hand and a Houston Chronicle deputy managing editor, and we revered and adored him. He gave us many things, this among them:

On Being A Reporter

In order to be a reporter you must be more than a writer. You learn to adopt the personality of the reporter. Your whole approach to everything must be to portray the picture you hope to portray. The primary factors? Objectivity, seriousness, thoroughness, compassion, interest, accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.

Traits and characteristics you never thought important now are, especially if you’re covering a beat. You must wear well. You cannot afford to irritate. You must learn how to size people up and react accordingly. At the same time, you must adopt a code that is strong, professional, unswerving.

You will be evaluated by two factors: the impression you leave and the impression your stories leave.

Nothing will turn off a contact quicker than ignorance, unless it is uninterest (not disinterest). I emphasize that as a reporter you ought to be interested in everything. Everything. You should never even consider that there are things in this world that don’t interest you.

More important, you have to accumulate facts, figures, situations, etc., that allow you to be expressive in several fields — and that allow you to ask questions and understand answers on the level of the people who are making news.

The point is attentiveness. You should begin to assimilate information daily, all the time, until you can make the gaining of such information a part of your normal existence. Then you’ll begin to think in terms of news — what’s important, what’s worthwhile, what’s incidental, what’s interesting, what it takes to become a reporter.

This involves reading, reading, reading, listening, listening, listening, watching, watching, watching.

Develop a code of honor:

1. Be completely honest. Make this a reflex action. Don’t ever consider that you should shade or cloud things. You’ll get yourself entangled if you do. You’ll have a clean conscience and a good reputation if you don’t. Admit when you’re wrong and move on.

2. Be frank with everyone, especially yourself. Don’t be constantly apologetic. At the same time, don’t regard yourself too highly. Find the medium. Understand your strengths and limitations.

3. Adopt a high ethical standard of fairness, objectivity, and compassion in your reporting and writing. Don’t do anything for anybody. Don’t adopt a state of mind that is anti-anybody. Don’t reveal your personal feelings and attitudes about issues — in the field and especially in your work.