Checklist for being a “real” journalist

Think that j-school degree and a desk in a newsroom is all you need to call yourself a journalist? Think again. Journalists are made on deadlines. Here’s my checklist to see if you are truly a journalist.

  1. Written a 15-inch story in 30 minutes
  2. Corrected a loved one’s grammar in a greeting card
  3. Replaced one of the major food groups with coffee
  4. Own your own police scanner
  5. Eat in your car more often than you do at a table
  6. Gotten fired/laid off for no good reason
  7. Forgotten what it’s like to have the weekend off
  8. Can no longer read a newspaper without scanning for typos and errors
  9. Learned that being told to “fuck off “ and “go to hell” is part of the job
  10. Woke in a cold sweat thinking you forgot to change the date on A1
  11. Spend your down time coming up with the perfect lede
  12. Slept in your car and not because you were too drunk to drive home
  13. Found that fine line between harassment and persistence
  14. If you needed bail, the first person you would call would be your editor
  15. You analyze city council meetings the way sportscasters break down Monday night football
  16. You think it’s normal to work 16 hours a day for 8 hours pay
  17. Have conducted a phone interview while completely naked
  18. Can write an entire interview on a cocktail napkin
  19. Threatened to quit over an editorial decision
  20. You couldn’t imagine doing anything else


15-19 were recommended by readers on Twitter, Facebook, and the comment section. Thanks everyone!


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  1. Sharon says:

    Metal pica poles. Good back scratchers.

    • Dave says:

      Yes, they are!

    • Joni Golden says:

      But gently. I learned that one the hard way.

    • Jim P says:

      Here’s one more to add to the list. You are truly a real journalist if: you’ve filed a story bedside in the hospital where your wife was in labour.
      True story. I was working the early morning shift during an era when we had five daily editions. The day before I had a long shift and didn’t finish one of my stories. My wife’s labour came on early. We went to the hospital, but during the wait and riding out contractions, had time to file for one of the later editions. A story was born and so was my daughter.

  2. Paul Baker says:

    I’m the editor of a small daily in southcentral Pa. The other day I got called motherfucker twice in one day. Once it was by a the mother of a small child whose picture we took at a Salvation Army breakfast with Santa but did not choose to run. The other was by somebody who had called to complain that the type was too small on the church briefs. That night, I told my wife about it. She said that in her 30 years as a health-education administrator, she’s never heard the F-word uttered.

    • R-M says:

      Paul, I can so relate. Twenty-eight years ago today, having started a small Texas daily just a week before, the editor called me the F word and then a string of obscenities, essentially because I didn’t want to get him a cup of coffee. At the holiday party that night, the staff already knew the scoop. I’d called my mom that night and told her I might be home for Christmas after all. :0}

    • Deepthi MR says:

      Sometimes, we have to take things in stride I think. A few days, ago, someone mistook me to be a student and I had to bang on the official’s table to prove that I was actually a senior reporter of a reputed paper in India. And then he got even more mad at me. So, I guess, we just make people mad..

    • David M. Razler says:

      The F-Word – it must be the True Name of a Deity or high-powered shaman, you know, beings that must always hide their “true name” or lose power – a common human mythological trope, as in the allegedly “unpronounceable” Name of the Deity used in “source J”, one of the identifiable authors of the books that bexame of the Judaic Holy Book mislabeled “The Old Testament” by Christians – actually, given ‘standard’ Hebrew vowel pronunciation for a given consonant, it is possible to pronounce any chain of four consonants, that the English Intelligentsia of the Victorian-age English Empire, who pronounced every ‘native’ word wrong, pronouncing the four consonants “Jehova” and the researchers who have kept that name for a source, least they offend people who would never pronounce part of one of their Deity’s two “names”, by having to refer to the Y-Author” or the “Y-Word”.

      Damnit, it seems that a child’s trope of “I’m tellin, you said the [first letter of the [maladiction]-word” became universal during the Simson Trial – On TV comedy shows, racist character ‘Archie Bunker’ could say nigger to prove what a slime racist he was at heart. Saturday Night Live’s Chevy Chase (off camera) could say a series of slurs against blacks to on-screen Richard Pryor, who replied in kind) with equally-weighted slurs against whites, the final line of “Job Psychology Test” Chase (screaming) “nigger, nigger, nigger”, Prior, (who has clearly had enough) responding “dayed honky” – and of course, most reporters will notice if a frustrated colleague speaks Carlin’s Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV in the incorrect order.
      I am tired of trying to figure out whether a city councilman said “the n-word” or said “nigger” during a meeting, enraging his constituents, or that “the H-word” is “whore” – and especially what was said when someone speaking an ethnic or sexual insult was said to have “cursed” “cussed”, sometimes followed by “out” if directly to an individual with words neither curses, which can properly be spoken on TV or the street: TV “And you are damned and excommunicated for …” to “damn traffic”, one calling upon one’s deity to do something bad after death to said excommunicant, the second, to make traffic vanish and the clog causer suffer after death!

      If you must censor, one should say “he responded with a/series of ‘maladiction/maladicta”‘ which might confuse a reader, but might even educate one or two. Maladiction is “bad speech”, just as a benediction is “good speech”. Since it is straight Latin, like people who speak of data, bacteria, etc. the plural I prefer is maladicta, though “we speak English Now” lets one get away with maladictions, stadiums, bacteriums and datums.

      But the proper thing to do when someone in the public eye stands up in a public place and uses hateful, foul and objectionable language SHOULD be to quote EXACTLY what kind of (to cite the hypothetical example above, what kind of city councilman we keep in office.

  3. Grace says:

    #10 – DEFINITELY.

    • You analyze city council meetings the way sportscasters break down Monday night football.

  4. R-M says:

    You’ve every gotten into a long or heated discussion over the use of punctuation, spelling or word definitions.

  5. R-M says:

    BTW, No. 6 should be “laid off.”

  6. kat says:

    How about?
    You think it’s normal to work 16 hours a day for 8 hours pay, and you’re in fear of losing your job while on vacation or maternity leave.

  7. Mark says:

    Have to change the radio station every time Sting’s “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free” comes on because there’s a disagreement between the indefinite pronoun and its antecedent.

  8. Catherine Todd says:

    LOL but true!

  9. sarah says:

    oh man. no. 16 is especially true….alas…

  10. Victoria says:

    I wish there were more about broadcast journalists. Like turning a 130 page city audit into a 1:30 package with no sots or b-roll…in under 2 hours.

  11. stephy buhler says:

    have a bag with the following items in the trunk of my car at all times: notebooks, pens, pencils, batteries, baby wipes, cliff bars, bottle of water, clean pair of underwear.

  12. stephy buhler says:

    Took my dog to a crime scene to guard my car in the getto at 3 in the morning.

  13. OMG, after 20 years as writer and editor of dailies, these are too true!

  14. Dan Tyler says:

    Great topic and comments. I didn’t know how important cussing appears to be in the newsroom. If I’m ever interviewed I’ll make sure to start off by addressing the journalist as “mother fucker”.

  15. Doug Miller says:

    Funny, but I can’t help noting that this list skewed toward newspaper reporting is illustrated with a photo of Edward R. Murrow.

  16. Dave says:

    Yep, all but four of them. (not telling which ones)

  17. Ruth Dickens says:

    You forgot “didn’t get promoted/the big story/a raise because the boss (who can barely spell his own name) hired a “new guy” with no experience at an exhorbitant salary.

  18. editorialb says:

    All but a couple of these apply. Guess that means I’m a real journalist. Thanks for the laugh.

  19. Howard Owens says:

    Nice piece, but it’s “lead” not “lede”

  20. William Westbrook says:

    Edward R. Murrow believed smoking four packs a day was also key . . . of course, he died at age 57.

  21. Samra Bufkins, MJ, APR says:

    Slept in the office or the conference room. And now that I’m a journalism professor, I can say that many of these are eerily similar to teaching in a university.

  22. Lisa L. Rollins says:

    I was just thinking the other day about all the journalism skill I have that is no longer needed, such as counting headlines, how to use a proportion wheel, cutting ruby lith, et cetera. Awww, the good ole days.

  23. Judy Berman says:

    Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. On so many counts. I’m no longer a reporter, but I am still a “real” journalist. Loved this. So much of it rings true.

  24. Bryan Denson says:

    I’ve suffered all but two of the “15 things” list: I’ve never been laid off or fired from a newspaper job (although I was fired from virtually every other job I’ve held), and I never woke in a cold sweat worrying about changing the A1 date (because I’ve never been an editor), although I have woken many times in a cold sweat fearful I forgot to make a fix in a story or got someone’s name wrong.

  25. Steve says:

    At one point in your career you’ve had to choose between possibly getting arrested or possibly getting reamed out in front of the entire newsroom…and you’ve chosen the first one

  26. Kevin Howe says:

    Journalistic high point: meeting an FBI agent at midnight on a Monterey street to get the first mug shot of “General Cinque” of the SLA during the Patty Hearst kidnapping.

  27. Brian says:

    During a phone interview, told a congressional candidate you had another urgent call you had to take for just one minute so you could run into the bathroom to pee.

    I watched in horror and glee as a co-worker did that.

  28. Mark says:

    Perhaps you could add – Have heard “I could do your job” at least once a week for your enitire career. Twice, if you cover sports.

  29. Valerie says:

    If you’ve ever been told by your managing editor….”We don’t get sick around here. Ever. News happens all the time.”

  30. And the whole personal insults and cussing stuff? Just because it’s common doesn’t make it right. Not that I don’t have a potty mouth–I just don’t use it to insult colleagues (in person). :)

  31. Bob Kisiki says:

    ‘Guilty’ of all those, yet I am not a journo. But yeah, you can’t be a journalist and not experience those things.

  32. Ankit Adhikari says:

    like this one .. it is like being a real journo … hehe

  33. David M. Razler says:

    Filed – THEN gone to the ER.

    I always thought I’d be damaged on the way to a story or by a cop trying to stop me from getting the news. Na … 26 years in newspapering and, in 1999, at an Army/Air Force Dog-and-Pony show, I was knocked out of the game – or any other – forever – by a one-man-band* who decided to set up his stepladder behind me in the print-only area. Guy hauled his own weight in TV gear up to the top, then toppled, surviving and saving his gear by smashing the end of a looong telephoto on top of my head – repeatedly.

    Ended up with a chunk of titanium in my neck, torn nerves all over my right side and the inability to type for more than 15 minutes a day – on a good day – before the pain cut in. Insurance co. doctor who cut me off a med the manufacturer says should be withdrawn over at least six weeks cuts me off with a half-dose for one, then zip – leading to a gran mal seizure and a broken thoracic vertebra.

    My last day on the job: I’m taking down an assignment, after taking the biggest dose of pain killers you can take and drive (totally ineffective, too) when I fall to the floor in agony – city editor looks down and says “that’s the trouble with you, I just can’t rely on you.” Fortunately for him, I couldn’t retaliate.

    The NEXT hearing on my disability case comes up in February.

    (for those of you too young to remember the sound of an RO-19 Teletype sending over a 10-bell flash: “One-Man Band” – single-person TV ‘crew’: this one was carrying the longest c-mount telephoto I’ve ever seen, bolted to the usual heavy-steel-encased Ikki* head and a Sony BetaCam recorder, all on a shoulder-mount, running off battery belt, with sound gear, etc. sticking off anywhere it can be stuck. It probably outweighed him.)

    (for those of you who think a top-of-the-line HDMI camcorder weighs about a pound and a half, Ikigami used to make the best analog video camera you could barely carry- when attached to an industry-standard Sony, the best recorder in the field – total wight, properly outfitted, @120 lbs.).

  34. Adam Popescu says:

    when i’m good i’m good when bad i’m better

  35. John Ribbler says:

    I was all in down to #20. That’s why I’m an ex journalist.

  36. Erin says:

    Oh so true, down to the nude interview and all. But is it my fault people call back right when you’re getting out of the shower?!?

  37. Carl Eve says:

    Done an interview naked… at home, having got out of the shower and the phone rang. I think it was a copper and the story made the splash. Never revealed I was starkers as I wrote the notes down in my pad.
    As for the “fuck off” – definitely… invariably by detectives or council press officers!

  38. David Bro says:

    Getting a trio of “meals” to keep in the car, like fig newtons, pop tarts and oreos, because you know that in the next 4 months you are going to need them.

  39. juegos says:

    Nice posting in Checklist for being a “real” journalist | Blog. I loved reading this article. If you want, please visit my website.

  40. Jim says:

    If you’re a sports writer, you have to explain to people that you can file a 650-word column 10 minutes after a game is over by writing in reverse, with the lede the last thing written.

  41. Matt Paust says:


  42. Matt Paust says:

    That “huh” was in response to some coding that’s since been deleted. I concur with what Jim posted. I’ve done it many times with trial and election stories.

  43. JN says:

    #2 and #8 are occupational hazards of being an English teacher!


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