Beat reporters: here are some tips for interviewing efficiently and effectively

For as important as a skill as we consider source interviewing, we don’t talk much about it as being something that has changed amid so many other changes in journalism and news gathering today.

In my experience working with mostly young reporters, talking about interviewing is very much an after-thought. The assumption is you got some instruction at school somewhere and some experience at college media and then refined elsewhere. But, gosh, looking back, we leave a lot of that to chance.

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Inbox zero: email techniques for more efficient knowledge workers (like reporters) [VIDEO]

For anyone who traffics in ideas, relationships and  communication (and reporters are certainly that), “one of the most important soft skills you can have is handling a high-volume of email,” said Merlin Mann in his well-trafficked 2007 “Inbox Zero” Tech Talk.

The idea here is that time and attention are irreplaceable, finite and the most valuable resources of knowledge workers. So, as silly as it sounds, managing efficiently your email is a major skill.

Yet we all get overwhelmed by the fire hose that is our email inbox (and don’t put any workforce development time to this). For an industry that needs to keep our sources organized and be able to manage relationships (and do so by emailing better), that’s a sin. As I’ve brought on a couple reporters, I’ve found myself working with my cofounder Brian James Kirk, a true student of email productivity, to coach them on better email practices.

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A reporter is only as good as his sources (are organized)

The old saying goes that a reporter is only as good as his sources.

To tell or find a story, one needs to have the resources and access to perspective and insight. In my few years as a journalist, I’ve taken considerable effort to build relationships and gather sources.

That mostly amounted to piles and piles of business cards. Thankfully, two tools have allowed me to take considerable control over that mess.

First, almost since the very beginning of my collecting sources in college, I have obsessively updated my contacts in my Gmail account, including emails, phone numbers, even birthdays and mailing addresses when possible. Taking it further, I include headshots and a description of when I first met the person and what their relevance is, to ease my ability to remember the person.

Second and most recently, with my first smartphone and Macbook following this and this,I’m able to sync those Gmail contacts to my phone, allowing me to have access to those contacts more readily, as I try to develop as many text and Gchat relationships, it’s proven a great tool.

Which is good, because as important as it is to have good sources, it doesn’t matter if you can’t find them.

How to be a freelance journalist: real advice from another young, unknown journalist on freelancing

I am not going back to freelancing.

Last month, I came on full-time with Technically Media, a company I helped launch and produces Technically Philly.

Still, going back on my own, in some form, has returned me to thinking about and combing through some of the advice I collected in 2009, during my year freelancing.

Too many of those perspectives and resources seemed valuable to not share.

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Freelancers: the rules and tricks of deducting your home expenses on your taxes

The federal tax deadline is barreling toward us. I thought I’d share what little I know and what I’m reading about deducting home expenses for those of us who have done just that this fiscal year.

It’s a great way to keep your home costs down, but, of course, the rules are a bit more involved than they might seem. Some great reading below:

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Lessons I’ve learned on writing better ledes

Beginnings say as much about who begins them as they do about what they begin.

Journalists and writers, of professional kind or independent and online, take very seriously the ledes they produce and how others see them.

It’s very likely that I have had harsher scrutiny for ledes I’ve written than for anything else, and it’s even more likely you’ve found the same. Thusly, I’ve gotten lots of lede lessons through the years, particularly those with a bite or two that are worth sharing.

Below, lessons I’ve learned about crafting a strong lede. Share your own, so I can add to this list.

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Can you still start a freelancing career?

After announcing I took a step away from freelancing, a legal aide with aspirations of a cushy freelance career shot me an e-mail.

“Can people still even start a freelance career?”

I did it for just a year and did so out of college, so I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert. Yet, as writing — like publishing — as a commodity falls in value (and the prices that come with them), I sure feel like it’s worth making clear my experience.

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Five rules of freelancing I found and didn’t always follow

I pursued lots of advice in my young freelance career. A lot of it has been good. A lot of it has been repetitive.

In fact, I’ve heard five pieces of advice perhaps more often than any others. Funny enough, they may be among the pieces of advice the ones I still have the most work to do on mastering.

In hoping you can do a better job than I can, below I share the fives rules of freelancing I have been told and failed to follow most often.

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Making a budget: how a young freelance journalist might look at the numbers

Budgets are fine things.

They can help set goals, limitations and create healthy habits.

Whenever I’m due for a relatively big change in my life — new income, new priorities, new costs or the like — I play with a wonderfully useful Budget Calculator from CNBC.

Suppose, you pulled in roughly $2,800 a month from independent contractor work — $700 weekly of income that doesn’t have taxes taken out from an employer and works out to be $36,400, a small fortune for some. A good rule of thumb is to put aside 30 percent of monthly income for taxes, so you don’t get yourself caught when paying quarterly or annual taxes.

$2,800 minus $840 (the 30 percent reserved for taxes) equals $1,960.

Now how do you break that down, according to the CNBC suggestions? See the graph and details below. (Above is the total for making $44,200, or $850 pre-tax weekly)

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How much I’ve made freelancing in 2009

Thought it was worth disclosing what I’ve made so far freelancing.

I’ve additionally done some landscaping and other side projects beyond proper freelance writing.

Total? Less than $8,000.

  • December 2008: $650
  • January 2009: $205
  • February 2009: $720
  • March: $1,880
  • April: $1,755
  • May: $250
  • June: $410
  • July: 290
  • August $125
  • September $285
  • October $830