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dani4450
06-17-2008, 06:52 AM
Hi, I'm writing about a woman who writes for a newspaper and have a couple of questions.

Reporters often get information regarding crime from the police. How does that work? Do they call the police and ask what is going on or listen to the police scanner?

If she lives in the building where the murder has been committed or is the victims neighbor , can she write the story or does the story go to someone considered more neutral?

If this is a big newspaper, would columnists and reporters meet or do columnists never enter the actual news paper building? Do reporters come in to work a lot or do they also work from home once they get their "assignment"? Who hands out "assignments" (Who decides who writes and what they write about)?

Williebee
06-17-2008, 07:11 AM
You indicate "big newspaper", so:

reporters get info from the police department PR department, from making nice with cops on the street, making friends with the dispatchers (always important, they control the reports and write up the "as it happens" report, as opposed to the smooth version the department hands out later.), and from sources in the DA's and Public Defender's office.
And yeah, they listen to scanners, but with cell phones, the good stuff will often not show up on the scanner.

As for being the victim's neighbor? Depends on where she is and the paper. These days, more and more of them will want that "gripping personal angle".

Whether columnists ever enter the newspaper offices depends on what kind of columnist and how long they've been at it, how high profile they are, etc. The who decides who writes what is largely an editorial directive, and, unfortunately, too often directed by advertising and office/community politics.

You might look into David Simon, the guy behind the wire. I heard an NPR interview with him awhile back that addressed a lot of your questions. Interesting stuff.

Good Luck!

johnnysannie
06-17-2008, 03:29 PM
Hi, I'm writing about a woman who writes for a newspaper and have a couple of questions.

Reporters often get information regarding crime from the police. How does that work? Do they call the police and ask what is going on or listen to the police scanner?

If you have the police beat, you will drop by the "cop shop" on a daily basis, call when you need info, and in most newspapers (and other media outlets) there is a scanner and it's on so you don't miss breaking news.

If she lives in the building where the murder has been committed or is the victims neighbor , can she write the story or does the story go to someone considered more neutral?

Depends. It is entirely plausible and possible that she could write the story - or not. Works either way.

If this is a big newspaper, would columnists and reporters meet or do columnists never enter the actual news paper building? Do reporters come in to work a lot or do they also work from home once they get their "assignment"? Who hands out "assignments" (Who decides who writes and what they write about)?

Some of both. As a freelance columnist, I seldom go into the office - true on both the present paper I write for and the previous one. I go, enough, however, that I do know most of the reporters and staff members. Some reporters go in every day, some telecommute. Back a few years, the big city and regional paper that I wrote for had reporters in each of several communities. They set them up with computers and access so that they could do most of their work from home. A great deal would depend upon the reporter's beat or area of assignment.

dani4450
06-18-2008, 11:50 PM
Thank you for your answers! Just a few additional questions:
If a woman is straight out of school, where would she start out at the news paper? How long would it take her to become a reporter and/or columnist and how competitive is it to get there?

Joycecwilliams
06-19-2008, 06:09 AM
Thank you for your answers! Just a few additional questions:
If a woman is straight out of school, where would she start out at the news paper? How long would it take her to become a reporter and/or columnist and how competitive is it to get there?

Believe it not, the first time I worked for a paper, I called up and got the job over the phone but that was years ago.

Most college students do internships... so perhaps your character did an internship at the paper,or met someone from the paper while doing an internship...

It depends on the paper.. Like I am sure the NY Times wouldn't hire me.:)

I am a columnist, but I know the reporters from my paper... It's a small community though. We often run into each other while researching etc.

dani4450
06-21-2008, 12:00 PM
That helps a lot. Thank you.
One last question.
Does a columnist get told what to write about or can he decide what to write about by himself or is it a mutual decision where the columnist pitches an idea and hopes that the editor will like the subject matter?

ComicSutra
06-24-2008, 05:35 AM
Hi, I'm writing about a woman who writes for a newspaper and have a couple of questions.

Reporters often get information regarding crime from the police. How does that work? Do they call the police and ask what is going on or listen to the police scanner?

Usually there's someone monitoring a police scanner in addition to doing their other work. Then a reporter either goes to the scene of the crime, calls their contact in the Police Dept., for instance, if they cover that beat regularly, etc. The police are used to getting calls from reporters. A good reporter who regularly covers a given beat will try to deal with a regular contact on that beat rather than the police dept.'s public information officer.

If she lives in the building where the murder has been committed or is the victims neighbor , can she write the story or does the story go to someone considered more neutral?

Back in the day, neutrality was preferred. Today? I've heard all kinds of stories I consider an embarrassment to the profession. Most likely, though, someone else is going to write the story but that writer will talk to the reporter/neighbor. Depending upon what she tells the person writing the story, she might be quoted in the story, like "Our metro reporter Jane Doe was Vicky Victim's next door neighbor. She said Victim was a nice lady who fed the neighbor cats. She had no idea Victim was the city's leading drug kingpin." If she's not quoted directly in the story, she might be listed at the end of the story as "Jane Doe contributed to this story."

If this is a big newspaper, would columnists and reporters meet or do columnists never enter the actual news paper building? Do reporters come in to work a lot or do they also work from home once they get their "assignment"? Who hands out "assignments" (Who decides who writes and what they write about)?

Nowadays it's a lot easier for columnists to work from home. Back in the day before laptops and home PCs, people were in the office.

Reporters and columnists tend to talk all the time, as schedules, personalities and office layout allowed. Someone else on this list mentioned David Simon, creator of The Wire, The Corner and author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which became the TV show Homicide. We both worked at The Baltimore Sun at the same time, though I was in a support position for the news department and did freelance writing for features and op/ed. Our two most prominent columnists at that time tended to hang out in the office. One was especially friendly so he'd chat with everyone. IMO, mixing with the rest of the office helps feed story ideas.

Reporters come into work. That's where they get assignments, swap info, if needed, with other staffers, etc. Columnists and critics might work in the office, at home or a mix (music critics tend to work at least partially at home because it's easier. That way they can listen to CDs in the optimum conditions without disturbing their coworkers). Reporters, however, primarily work out of the office. If they're doing an investigative piece or a series, they might do some work at home but generally for most reporters, it's in the office.

Editors hand out assignments along with deadlines and word counts. Generally reporters have a sense of the deadline anyway. Once you work their awhile, you know when a story has to be sent to the copy desk (for proof reading, fact checking, etc.), but sometimes an editor might want something earlier or be able to hold your story until last so there might be a little flexibility.

News reporters tend to work for the metro desk -- the term for local news in most places. If it's a large paper, there will also be a foreign desk/foreign editor and a national desk/national editor. At The Baltimore Sun there used to be a foreign editor and an assistant foreign editor and ditto for national. Considering the budget and staff cutbacks over the years, I don't know if that's still the case. There were usually a few metro editors or a metro editor and assistant metro editors. The Sun used to have reporters in foreign bureaus in seven cities, plus regular freelancers (called stringers) in others. Again, due to cutbacks, they're probably using more wire service material.

BTW, an assistant editor is very different from an editorial assistant. The latter answers phones and does misc. office work. An assistant editor is an editor's right hand person and will fill in for them when they're on vacation, out sick, etc.

Actually, if you can watch the final season of The Wire (it aired early this spring), it may help. Dave focused that season on the newspaper business and got permission to use The Sun's name. When I saw the photos, I thought they had also gotten permission to shoot there but I later read they replicated it. It looked dead on.

Two other tidbits that might be useful -- many newspaper people are slobs. Even if they dress neat, it's common for their desks to be overflowing with mail, papers, notebooks, etc. And even if they keep their desk neat, reporters, columnists and critics thrive on information so there are files, paper, etc. Electronic age? Ha! It seems to have just increased the paper. Remember what Meg Ryan's office looked like in Sleepless in Seattle (set at The Baltimore Sun). Ha! The used the exterior of the building and then the Signet Tower for the interior. Ron Howard's movie The Paper is more authentic looking.

Which leads to point two -- never, ever have anyone say "stop the presses." It's sooo wrong and a total cliche. Even back in the days when newspapers were thriving, they'd just do a new edition for breaking news. in today's world, they'll put it on the Web site first and just put it in the next scheduled edition. Yet the "stop the presses" cliche continues in stories, movies, etc. about the newspaper business.

I hope this helps.

ComicSutra
06-24-2008, 05:47 AM
Thank you for your answers! Just a few additional questions:
If a woman is straight out of school, where would she start out at the news paper? How long would it take her to become a reporter and/or columnist and how competitive is it to get there?

It's EXTREMELY competitive to become a columnist.

Where a person starts after school and how long it takes her to become a reporter depends on a few things. Is she applying straight for larger papers? Then she's probably going to start on the bottom. If she's applying for a job at a smaller paper, she might get a reporting job right away.

If she's from a major journalism program, she might have a little leverage to get a reporting job from the beginning. When The Baltimore Sun was owned by the company that also owned the LA Times (I'm blanking on the corporate name. It was later bought out by Tribune Media), they had a program for minorities in journalism where students got partial scholarships to study journalism, internships while in college and they were priority hires after graduation. They generally started at the bottom of the totem pole for reporting or copy editing BUT at least they were in line to move up. Other journalism students might end up as glorified go-fers answering phones and such as editorial assistants.

And, of course, contacts can help.

Oh, someone just starting out as a reporter is probably going to be doing grunt work like writing up minor news like the four or five paragraph robbery stories, obituaries, etc. The obit writer at most papers either tends to be someone brand new to the office or someone who's been there a long time and near retirement -- not a lot of in between. No one really starts out with hot stories in the beginning. Either you work yur way up or you use a combination of initiative and luck to do something that will put you on th emap -- and the latter is very, very rare today.

BTW, mystery writer Laura Lippman used to be a metro reporter for The Evening Sun, the now gone sister paper to The Baltimore Sun. Some of her mysteries feature a reporter named Tess. Laura's in my to-be-read pile because I used to know her but the bulk of the details about journalism should be right. Keep in mind though that most authors will tweak details for story purposes if needed.