Monday, March 23, 2009

Walter Mears' Visit: Without Credibility, you have nothing

When I was younger, I used to wonder what the Associated Press was. I mean, I knew it wasn’t a person. I saw this mysterious AP as somewhat of a mystical creature- this omniscient force that reported on just about every national issue and made its way into just about every newspaper I opened.

Now that I’ve grown up, I know it’s a global news network- and it’s comprised of a lot of people.

And thanks to Walter Mears, seasoned AP journalist for over four decades, I learned a great deal more about it during his recent visit to our Critical Writing class.

Mears joined the AP in 1955, a year after graduating from college. Since then, he covered Congress, national politics and the White House. He won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1977 for his coverage of the 1976 presidential campaign and is also the author of Deadlines Past: Forty Years of Presidential Campaigning: A Reporter’s Story.

What I first noticed about Mears was the way he spoke. He spoke slowly, clearly and articulately. To me, he spoke like a tight news story.

Mears shared with us the history and evolution of the Associated Press as he witnessed it. He said most people, including many people in business, are unaware that AP is owned by a newspaper.

He said over the years, AP has changed. Rather than serving as a medium, it began doing a lot of its own reporting.

Something that most stuck with me was Mears’ discussion about journalists and their credibility.

“If you don’t have credibility you’ve got nothing,” he said. “You can say something till you’re blue in the face but no one will believe you.”

I completely agree.

When I write a story, I check my facts. Then double-check them.

Triple-check them.

I read the story again. And again.

If at least one part of a sentence is tainted with a bit of doubt in my head, I immediately call up my source and ask.

I then read it again. After constant layers of meticulous editing, the story is ready for submission.

And that, to me, is how you built credibility - every time. Credibility is invaluable.

Mears’ final point was the increasing importance of being entrepreneurial in today’s journalism field.

“We will have to utilize multiple tools that we are going to go sell to people,” he said. “It’s less likely that we will be working for a news organization than being a one bang man.”

This statement triggered somersaults within my stomach; I now recognize the severity of the state of journalism today. I can clearly see the enormous task that lies before me and other aspiring journalists to make a living out of our profession. In regards to what Mears stated, it takes hard work, resourcefulness and the ability to constantly stay on our toes to be successful and entrepreneurial journalists.

I’m ready for it.

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