Hey, young world

The New York Times newsroom / Marjory Collins

The New York Times newsroom / Marjory Collins

Having been on the other side of the editing desk for a few months–and, I hope, again soon–I have come to realize that the ability to cobble a specific number of words together within a specific time limit and churn out what is ostensibly an article is no longer something to be proud of. Not something to be too proud of, at any rate.

It’s probably a bias learned from years of trying to be a journalist, but fluff is fluff and pretty words are no longer enough. They’re enough to get you paid as a writer, certainly, but not enough to be really worth anything.

If, for example, I ask you–as any reader should–how you know a fact that you’re alleging in a story is actually a fact, citing general knowledge and Wikipedia will not be enough. There has to be a document or at least a quote from someone who actually knows about what you’re writing about to back you up, otherwise you might as well be making things up.

Sometimes all it really takes is doing an Internet search and reading up on a subject. Sometimes it needs an interview or two. Sometimes you’ll have to actually go somewhere to check something out. In all cases, a story needs something more than what you already know. Because, otherwise, what’s the point?

In the industry, we call stories like that salsal (or SS, if you’re shy). It’s slang for masturbation, which is pretty much what happens when you go through the motions of writing while adding nothing new to the discussion.

Worse than not contributing to the discussion, you might end up steering it in a completely wrong direction.

Minimal legwork means, for example, that you could be lionizing certain people who have actually been dormant and have lost standing in the community. Stuff you would have found out (and that they would have told you)  if you’d bothered to do proper research and had not relied on sweeping statements that sound great and play well but don’t tell the whole story. Or, for that matter, any story.

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