Got that ‘ear’ for news? A reporter’s takeaway covering the White House.
She worked in the belly of the beast as a reporter— in Washington DC — covering the Trump White House; a short internship that made Theresa Smith, now a teacher, privy to the frenetic competition for stories amid the clamor in the James Brady briefing room.
In this interview, and podcast I asked her what she learned from such an experience — what lessons could I pass on to my students in writing and publishing? After all, she was the proverbial fly-on-the-wall! (Standing by the door, right of the person holding up a camera phone.) Her responses are fascinating. I asked her also to weigh in on something all writers must start off with, understanding the ‘art of the Lede.’ Writing a school paper seems like a different world from writing for a publication. But as different as this seems, there is a connection.
“One of the differences between writing in school versus writing in the publishing world…is that your audience in the media doesn’t get paid to read the entirety of what you wrote. (The teacher, however, is paid to grade a piece of writing.) And so the Lede is really crucial; it’s the first piece of information your reader will read.”
In other words, a good Lede would is what encourages, or entices your reader to read more. It’s a craft that all reporters learn, addressing the basic Who, When, Where, What happened, Why and How questions. A week earlier she had told my students to keep in mind that news dictum, “If it bleeds it leads,” or “If it bleeds it reads.” She recalled a story lede that was based on a Steven Hawking statement when he said that “The Earth will Look Like Venus’ (If Trump exited the Paris Accord.)
But, that’s not all. Writing after all is not a mechanical skill. Theresa was quick to note that it’s important to develop not just an eye for the story, but an ear for it. (An update on that other anatomical simile — having a nose for news.) She shared an example of how she once followed up on a story at a White House press conference.
“It was actually something a reporter asked her the Press secretary. There had been a leak from the department of justice, and the press secretary’s response to that reporter did not get published.”
Theresa picked up on that, looked it up, and noticed soon after that the story had not been reported by anyone. She wrote about it and that story received a lot of views. Being in that stuffy room where it happens, is one thing. Developing that ‘ear’ for any story while everyone’s chomping at the bit to get his or her question answered is key, she told my students.
If you like this story, please listen to and subscribe to the podcast. It’s part of a series of podcasts used in my Writing and Publishing class at Benjamin Franklin High School.