Heading to Dallas, Then Back to St. Petersburg

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

During a time when many journalists are getting laid off or leaving the industry to further their education or enter a new field, I’ve been putting out feelers for reporting jobs. I like to think that despite the difficulties the industry is facing, there is hope for young journalists who want to enter the field. I get inspired when I see more than 20 young journalists enroll in Poynter’s six-week summer program, or when I see the new class of Chips Quinn scholars talk with excitement about starting journalism internships this summer in newsrooms around the country. Sure, I’ve been known to be overly optimistic, (I was voted “most optimistic” in high school), but I try to be realistic at the same time.

Part of being realistic is realizing that today’s journalists need to be versatile — they need multimedia skills, traditional reporting and writing skills and copy editing skills. It’s this realization, in part, that led me to accept an offer today as a copy editor at The Poynter Institute. In thinking about my decision to take the position, I considered the fact that editing and reporting are not mutually exclusive. My ultimate goal is to be a reporter, but I’m looking forward to taking some time to develop my editing skills and, in turn, become a better writer.

I’ve always believed that writers need to have knowledge about a lot of different subjects, hence the reason why I was so drawn to a liberal arts education at Providence College. Editing helps you to become more knowledgeable on a variety of subjects, particularly because you have to approach whatever you read with a certain level of scrutiny. Just as reporters should be curious about the world around them, so too should editors be inquisitive and ask questions about the copy they’re editing. The copy editing I’ve done so far has helped me to become a more focused reader, pay closer attention to detail and develop a greater appreciation for facts, accuracy and truth.

It has also provided me with an opportunity to improve the writing of those whose work I edit. Every day I walk past a piece of origami paper that’s hanging on my bedroom wall. It reads: “Being a good editor is about making people better.” I wrote down this expression after hearing National Public Radio’s Ellen Weiss say it during a talk at Poynter last fall. Weiss’ simple message stuck with me because of its great meaning. I would argue that the same message applies to reporters — being a good reporter is about making people better by telling stories that give a voice to those who may otherwise remain unheard.

Of course, the best way to be a reporter is to do actual reporting. I’ve made it a goal to freelance at least one story a month while I’m at Poynter and to continue writing personal essays. (Maybe someday I’ll write that memoir I’ve been talking about …) The wonderful thing about writing is that you can do it anytime, and anywhere. For three months this summer, I’ll be reporting and writing at The Dallas Morning News, where I have a feature writing internship. I have never been to Texas before, so I’m looking forward to exploring a new city and finding story ideas in a new community. I’ve often thought that one of the greatest ways to get to know a new city is to be a reporter. As a journalist, your job forces you to talk to people in the community, ask questions and find your way after getting lost on an assignment. (Not that this has happened to me …)

As the Naughton fellow, my beat has been the journalism industry. When I go to Dallas, I’ll be immersing myself in “my beat,” and I’ll be able to bring that much more knowledge of the industry back to Poynter. I’ll head to Dallas on July 26, at which point I’ll end my Naughton fellowship at Poynter. I’ll return to the sunshine state at the beginning of November with a fresh sense of the issues newsrooms are facing and the ways in which they are maintaining hope.

You can be sure I’ll post “Word on the Street” updates between now and the end of July and that I’ll blog about my road trip to Dallas and my experiences there. Stay tuned!

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