The difference between reporting about policy and politics

In spring 2008 during my final interview for a prestigious post-graduate statehouse reporting internship, I got tripped up.

The impatient and inimitable Pennsylvania state government correspondent Pete Decoursey, a quirky Yale alumnus who passed in 2014, asked me to explain how I would approach my reporting on policy differently than my reporting on politics. I started. He corrected. I restarted. He interrupted. I faltered.

The truth was I didn’t yet grasp his point. He very carefully compartmentalized two kinds of government reporting: the legislating to solve problems and the campaigning to get elected power.

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How we speak signals education. But it is not the same thing as education: Robert Lane Greene

Language and the stories we tell about its origins are highly political. To understand one, you need to be mindful of the other.

That’s the main thesis of the 2011 book You Are What You Speak by Robert Lane Greene, who also writes a twice-monthly column on language in The Economist that I adore as a subscriber. I finished the book earlier this year as part of my continued assault on better understanding language’s history — read other reading notes of mine on language here.

This book helped cement my understanding that my favorite part of linguistics is philology, or the historical and comparative elements that seem quite cultural.

Below I share pieces of the book that stood out to me. But as always I encourage you to buy your own copy and read it; I only write nerdy posts like this when a book has really added to my worldview. So I strongly recommend it.

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A look at the $23 billion Search and Placement industry

The Human Capital Management industry is a big one. Many segment it into Search and Placement, still a $23 billion annual gargantuan that encompasses how companies hire the right people.

In the last several years, we at Technical.ly have continued to focus on how our newsroom can compete in this cluttered industry by leveraging the trust we have and aim to develop with hard to reach jobseekers in the communities we serve. We’re producing more content on the topic, and I’ve begun to do more speaking on the topic.

I’ve also been doing lots of reading and gathering of worldview, particularly in the last year. In cleaning out a notebook, I found a slew of trends and numbers I was poking around, so I decided to share them here.

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7 tips on writing from a collection of essays from the Oxford American

Here are seven high-level tips on writing from the Spring 2018 issue of the Oxford American, a quarterly literary magazine a friend gifted me a subscription to for a year. It was the august publication’s 100th issue.

With a subscription you can read the pieces in depth, which I recommend. Clearly there is vastly more but as a teaser below I share one lasting takeaway from each, which I consumed months after the issue landed in my mailbox.

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Do you know when humans first developed language?

Somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago, our ancestors likely first began communicating ideas through sounds in a more structured way than other species on the planet ever had before.

That’s the beginning of what we now call language, and on an evolutionary scale, it’s remarkably recent (for context, the earliest writing was some 6,000 years ago and we split from the Neanderthals some 700,000 years ago.)

In ‘The First Word,’ a 2008 book by Christine Kenneally, the research into the origins of language are unveiled. I read it earlier this year. Critics liked it when it first came out, and I enjoyed it myself. I read it for two reasons: both as part of my on-going resolution to reading books by women and people of color and to help kickoff a deep dive I’ve been doing into linguistics.

A few weeks ago I decided I just didn’t understand enough of how language developed — or how we’d figure it out. This book was an excellent foundation for me, and I was surprised (and thrilled) by how much evolutionary biology is involved in pinpointing the origins of language. For example, if chimps can do certain language-like things (like gesture, the beginning of language), then humans likely got that from our last common ancestor some four million years ago.

I was so taken by the book and many of the concepts, that I shared some notes below. Consider reading the book yourself, and use this as a jumping off point.

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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.

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Great beat reporting results in you negotiating when to break news you already have

If a journalist covers her beat well enough, one of the more frequent challenges she’ll face is negotiating when to report something, if a source is requesting an embargo.

That was one of the main points during a session I helped lead during the annual conference of the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) about finding and reporting a niche.

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Media is a mirror: what you see says more about you than you want to admit

What a simple and common reaction: get angry at the one telling you the story.

The true job of news gatherers is to reflect the communities they serve. Media is mirror. We can and should have a responsibility in pushing for a truer understanding and taking responsibility in making those communities better (however we define better) but we still must be representative of those whom we serve.

You are our source material. So you have more to do with our editorial mix than you might realize.

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Journalism is the process of helping a community near its truth

You might confuse journalism with some reported article or radio report or TV segment. That’s because these are among the most common units that make up the process of deploying journalism.

But when pressed to define journalism, as many do for the trade and the practitioners, it’s important to recognize that even the process of providing news and information to a community might not be goal enough. And there are lots more ways to deploy journalism.

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