Ask A Pro
Deputy managing editor/visuals
monica moses ‘My deepest friendships are with people I’ve worked with at newspapers’
It had been a hectic day in the newsroom of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. I’d been dashing from one end to another trying to nail down the Sunday centerpiece. Meanwhile, my 20-year-old nephew Nick, who’d come to visit on his Thanksgiving break from college, waited in my office.
“Well, kid,” I said, finally taking a breath, “this is the newsroom. This is where I work.”
“Wow,” Nick said, looking from one end to the other of the giant, open room, “It’s like a party with desks.”
As we surveyed the room, I did see a party of sorts. Little knots of people, gesturing and laughing, talked over plans for the next day’s paper. I waved to my friends on the metro desk. As the art director passed by, I asked, “Got a graphic for me to look at yet?”
“Ha!” she replied. A sense of activity and conviviality was palpable. It was late afternoon, and the room was alive.
When you work in a newsroom, you are part of an unending, unpredictable, always stimulating conversation. You are surrounded by curious people who ask questions (often irreverent questions) and react to what’s going on in the neighborhood, the city, the world. You never lack for good companions. Banter and inside jokes are constant. Boredom is virtually impossible.
I didn’t know what journalism would be like. I didn’t go to journalism school, and never even thought of working for my high school or college papers. When someone suggested I apply for a copy editing job at a 35,000-circulation paper in Anchorage, Alaska, where I lived after college, I was wary. Aren’t there deadlines at newspapers? Isn’t the pace very fast? Isn’t there pressure to perform at a moment’s notice?
There are those things in every newsroom. But you learn quickly to live with them, to roll with the punches, to produce work you are proud of on a tighter schedule than you ever dreamed possible. You feed off that energy in the newsroom, and you surprise yourself. You learn to craft snappy, six-word headlines for complex stories in five minutes. To write astute prose with two people jabbering across your desk. To design the front page with the editor and the managing editor standing over your shoulder.
I had writer’s block in college. I’ve never had writer’s block in a newsroom. I’ve never had time. The discipline of putting out a paper every day makes you tougher, gives you stamina, and makes you quicker and more creative. You get to see what you can really do.
As a bonus, you get to know the people you work with better in two weeks than you would in two years in another industry. It’s hard to be superficial when you are doing journalism.
My deepest friendships are with people I’ve worked with at newspapers. You may move on, but you remember those hours spent with the photo director and the sports editor editing down 200 football photos to the perfect collection of six. You are changed by the experience of launching a new section. You work on an investigative project with a team and get to see your ideas influence others’.
It may be a year between my conversations with the photo editor with whom I created an award-winning newcomers’ guide some years back. But when we do talk, we pick up where we left off. We are bonded forever.
When you work as a journalist, you do important work. You’re not making widgets. You’re not calculating rows of figures. You are telling people about their communities. You are helping them live happier, more productive lives. You are connecting with readers and shaping the culture around you.
And you are doing it with lively, smart, inventive people. In the process of talking and debating and wondering with those colleagues, you may have the sense that you are becoming more interesting yourself, every day.
And, more often than not, that feels like a terrific party.
What advice do you have for teen journalists?
Become as well-rounded as you can as a young journalist. Write stories, yes, but also take pictures, learn to lay out a page and even make a graphic. Try copy editing. Do it all to see what really interests you. I know more visual journalists who started as reporters, and that experience makes them stronger now.