Journalists: what do you love first, the Reporting or the Writing

A version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks ago. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

One of the first questions I ask younger reporters when I meet them is which is their first love: the reporting or the writing. Storytelling, as the form is euphemistically categorized, is very old. The ways we report and write, too, have old origins, but their forms adapt with the times. They change constantly. I bet your industry has a similar kind of split, subtly different pathways to the professional work.

Most reporters I admire are stronger in one of the two but clearly need both to find a story and then share it with an audience, no matter the medium. For me, it’s always been the writing first. I came to reporting late (only as an undergraduate using the old boxy telephones in my college newsroom). And though I found reporting fit my personality and passions perfectly (ask the questions that need to be asked but others find impolite), my love for ordering little words to translate an idea from my brain to the brain of someone else has endured.

This summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about how best to move forward as the new, inexperienced Publisher and CEO of a small digital media company. I’m really rather thrilled by it, and I have some ideas now I didn’t have just a few short months ago. One of those ideas is that I ought not drift too far from what excites me most about the work my organization does. So though I actually quite enjoy the leading, strategy, budget building and administration of small organization leadership, I still will invest some of my personal time into sharpening those skills that first lit my fire. I do plenty of things I wouldn’t say are my passions, but I’m learning, and that’s something I do love. Reporting and writing, though? I’d do both whether or not I was paid for the privilege. (Frankly, I’m honored I get a paycheck for what I do.)

I won’t do it often, but I’ll still do some reporting and writing for my news organization (both because I still think I have something to teach and because, even more so, I have lots more I want to learn). In the last few years, I began finding time again for the creative and fiction writing that captivated me as a kid, and this year, in particular, I’ve felt something closer to rediscovering my voice there. My writing (or reporting) won’t make my company more efficient or profitable, if anything it’s a distraction, but it does keep me close to our mission, our readers and fulfills me in a special way. You should do the same for yourself.

As a CEO I admire reminded me recently: a great founder is always her best chess piece.