In the simplest form, the role of a newspaper is to record the history of an area as it happens, but making that happen is never quite as easy as it sounds. There is no “typical day” in the life of a journalist because the news never stops. It never sleeps, it follows no schedule.
A normal day in the newsroom of The Daily Tribune News will begin before 8 a.m. and end sometime between midnight and 3 a.m. There will be stories to write, photos to take, pages to design, phone calls to answer, emails to send, visitors to assist and all of it on deadline.
Hot off the press
How the 10 of us Photographer Skip Butler, Family & Living Editor Elizabeth Cochran, Sports Editor David Royal, Associate Sports Editor Andrew Adler, Business and Environment Reporter Matt Shinall, Education Reporter Mark Andrews, Features Editor Marie Nesmith, Copy Editor and Designer Chike Nwakamma, Government Report Jason Lowrey and myself, the managing editor — came to be in journalism varies from person to person.
Among our reasons you will find common themes — a passion for people, a talent for writing, a connection to community.
Cochran began with The Daily Tribune News at the age of 17 and has spent 54 consecutive years with the company, beginning with setting type and cutting stencils, eventually becoming the Family & Living editor.
Royal said he got into newspapers to meet people and tell their stories, adding with a laugh that he never really did because he served as an investigative reporter and news editor.
For Nesmith, it is all she has ever done.
“I majored in English in college and my first job was with The Dahlonega Nugget, which was the small town newspaper in the same town that my college was in, Dahlonega,” she said. “That was in the ’90s and I’ve stayed there ever since.”
Andrews and Lowrey shared a love of writing that led them both to newspapers.
“I got into news writing because I’ve always been told I was a good writer, and I wanted to have a job where I worked with the community and kind of stayed neutral,” Andrews said. “… I’ve always felt like I was kind of a fly on the wall. I’m kind of always looking at other people living their lives and this is an opportunity for me to do that for living and kind of just observe people.”
For Lowrey, journalism ranked behind fiction, short stories and even automotive journalism on his list of career choices.
“Once I started getting my feet wet …, I realized I did enjoy it because I started thinking of something one of my professors said … It’s really fun when you go out and do a story because basically for one day you are an expert on something. You know, you go to a meeting, you do an interview with somebody, put the story together, and for one day, you are the best informed person on that particular topic until the next comes around and you get to do it all over again,” he said.
Shinall said he always wanted to write but he stumbled into newspapers.
“…When the time came after I had been graduated — I guess the first summer after I graduated — I had been looking for opportunities in my hometown, in Cartersville, and wanted to stay involved in the community, and this opportunity presented itself. So I pursued that and that’s been the combination of being able to write and stay involved in my hometown,” he said. “It has been perfect. It’s really a marriage of those two things.”
Among the newsroom, I am the only one who did not want to be a writer. I came in from the design side, beginning with The Red & Black at the University of Georgia as a copy editor and designer.
“I did not want to have to walk up on the scene of a crash or walk up on the scene of a murder or of a fire where people had just lost everything and have to stick a recorder in those people’s faces on the worst day of their life and ask them to talk to me,” I told the newsroom during our group interview for this story. “... I came here to Cartersville and I got thrown into a tumbler of being a jack-of-all-trades. The more you meet people you do realize that we have the opportunity to tell stories and to tell the truth. We hold people accountable, we inform people, we meet some really cool people and I honestly could not imagine doing anything else. It kind of found me instead of me finding it.”
Similarly, photojournalism found Butler.
“When my dormitory caught on fire at the University of Georgia, it launched my photojournalism career. I took a photo of firefighters on the dorm roof that won me first place in a UGA photojournalism contest and a small scholarship from Georgia Power,” he said. “‘Finally,’ I said to myself, ‘I have found something I am good at.’”
The joy of journalism
The fluidity of the news keeps our lives interesting. We have covered natural disasters, battled flood waters, donned hard hats for business announcements, been thrown into the middle of developing school board contentions and told the heartbreaking stories of the terminally ill.
In all of that, we see the best of the community. We work with the men and woman making a difference in the community. We encounter the children who are the future.
“I guess the fondest memories I have are the incredible people that you get to meet. Sometimes it’s in the most unlikely places,” Shinall said. “Last Friday I went to a site where volunteers were helping an Army veteran. They were doing work on his house, and he was an incredible guy and the people helping him were incredible. …
“You get to meet governors, CEOs and things like that and that’s neat but it’s the everyday heroes who are probably the most meaningful.”
Andrews said seeing the children and focusing on the accomplishments of local youth is a bright spot in an area that can become cloudy with politics.
“I really enjoy being able to meet with people, meet the kids at the schools and highlight what they’re doing because so many times the kids might go home and the parents may ask, ‘What did you do today?’ ‘Nothing.’ This is an opportunity for the parents to pick up a newspaper and see what their kids are doing, the taxpayers to see what they are doing and to get out and meet the people who are shaping our kids’ lives. It sounds cheesy but children are our future,” he said. “… It’s nice to be able to go see some kids smiling and giving you high-fives and being able to kind of be a part of that life and kind of get away from the negativity that’s unfortunately associated with education.”
I am blessed to have what I say is the coolest job in the world. I meet the people shaping our community and I have the opportunity to immerse myself in their world.
“Today I can be a cop and tomorrow I can be a firefighter and the day after that I can be a veterinarian. Every day I have a different job,” I said. “I like feeling like we are making a difference, that we are improving somebody’s life or some organization’s goals or a school or a business.”
When all the aspects of a story come together, that feeling of making a difference brings satisfaction to Butler.
“The best part of the job for me is when I have successfully collaborated with a reporter on a story that makes a difference in helping someone get through a tough time in his or her life. Sometimes it is an illness or a death of a family member,” he said. “I also get satisfaction when the newspaper is able to give someone a voice on an issue when they may not have one.”
Stop the presses
With the good comes the bad — the ever-changing nature of the business, the constant distractions and interruptions, and a frustratingly regular train through downtown Cartersville.
A newspaper is born six days a week out of combined efforts of numerous people. The only constant? A looming deadline.
“We have deadlines,” Cochran said. “I know a lot of people know that but then a lot of people don’t. They think they can give you something today and it can get in tomorrow’s paper, which that’s not the way it is all the time.”
“Some days will be smooth. You’ll be able to work on your story, maybe get some other interviews done,” Nesmith said. “It’s learning a lot of times you have to multitask as far as working on a story for the next day, doing multiple interviews for multiple stories in the future, also answering phones along with everyone else in the office answering phones, if something comes across the scanner and you are the only one in the office you’re going and everything else is on hold.”
The typical day in the newsroom begins with a plan. Reporters have a plan for stories and Butler has a plan for photos. Sports will plan for games. But, as Lowrey points out, Murphy’s Law reigns.
“You walk in here. You know at some point, even though you have your day laid out, you think, ‘I’m going to interview this person, send out these emails, type this up, format that.’ You know at some point, somewhere along the line, the ceiling is going to fall in on your head and then you’re going to deal with it somehow,” he said.
Take, for instance, the interview I am conducting with the newsroom late on a Thursday afternoon. In the roughly 45 minutes it takes to finally abandon our attempts, we are interrupted once by a train, I receive four phone calls and the reporters field three or four more.
“A normal day for me? I come in and sift through emails and voicemails and then I might start research for a story and future stories before lunch. Then probably transcribe, if I have done an interview yet, and then right before and then right after lunch, I try to do my interviews if possible and more transcribing and more research. I guess it’s crafting the story and editing,” Shinall said. “In the meantime, in all that, nothing ever goes as planned. In between all that, there’s eight other people in an open office doing stories and interviews and there’s people walking in and the scanner is going off and there’s a train in the background.
“There’s constantly things that are vying for attention and there’s constantly something else that needs to be done. The phone is constantly ringing for someone … There’s trying to plan for future stories and trying to plan for photos to accompany stories. Putting all those things into a normal day is where it becomes difficult, fitting everything in and all the interruptions and distractions that might seem like interruptions but that’s just a part of it. It’s unavoidable.”
Butler begins his day the day before.
“Planning is the key to getting good photos. One must have the right equipment, sometimes the right clothing and a plan,” he said. “The night before, I look over the next day’s photo assignments and decide what equipment I need to bring from home, what extra clothing I may need, and what I might need to clarify with the reporters concerning what they have told me on the assignment sheets.”
For me, there is no “normal” day and no day off. My job requires answering calls, emails and offering direction or support to the newsroom. I write and occasionally take photographs. And I handle the responsibilities required of a department head.
“On the weekends when I’m home, on the days I’m off, the hours I’m not working, it’s constantly reading the news. I never know when the phone is going to ring,” I said in the group interview. “When the building in White burned, I’m dead to the world, and my phone is going off at 2:30 in the morning with people saying, ‘Hey, this building is on fire. You need to get here.’ Or it’s 6 o’clock in the morning and the smoke alarms or fire alarms or burglar alarms go off at a bank, I’m going on vacation and I’m somewhere in Macon and my phone is going off with things that need to be handled here.
“… There is no typical day. There is no day in our life. It could be a peaceful Tuesday and a woman is stabbed to death and your day changes, your focus shifts. You have to be very, very flexible in this job, very fluid. … The news does not happen on my schedule. It does not happen on this newspaper’s schedule. You don’t know when tornadoes are going to rip through the county. You don’t know when a building is going to burn. You don’t operate on a normal [schedule].”
“You always have to have a plan B story and sometimes you have to go to that story at 2 or 3 in the afternoon,” Nesmith adds.
As public servants, the newsroom often encounters those unfamiliar with the operations of a newspaper.
Newspapers consistently rank at the top of research surveys as the most reliable news source. That could be because, in an age of growing news sources Internet, mobile technology, social media, the legal ramifications for inaccurate reporting by newspapers remain high.
Reporters are required to have documented proof, a recorded meeting or interview with a source to back up a story. There is no room for rumors, hearsay or bias.
“I would say the hardest part of my job is walking the thin line of being a public servant working for a private business and staying neutral because people will come to you with information about the school board that they want reported and you have to look into that information. You have to ask questions from both sides,” Andrews said. “You might run a story and people are upset with it because it didn’t cater to their interests, but they don’t understand just because they come to you and say, ‘You think you’re going to be a crusader for the community,’ you have to be a neutral crusader.”
Lowrey echoed Andrews’ statement.
“I just want people to know we don’t have an agenda,” he said. “… We try to report on what’s going on here in as unbiased way as possible. When people come to me and I say I can’t report on something because it is hearsay or there is nothing to substantiate it or I don’t have a physical piece of paper in my hands from a reputable source that I can use as fact and they get angry at me because I can’t use that, I can’t bow to everyone’s viewpoints or what they expect of us just because they want us to.”
At the end of the day
When the day is wrapping up and the pages of your newspaper have come together, we are moving forward, thinking automatically of the next day.
“I may have an assignment that puts me wading in the middle of the Etowah River, in an operating room during an actual operation at Cartersville Medical Center or during breaking news where I am chasing a suspect - from a safe distance - in downtown Cartersville who has committed an armed robbery,” Butler said. “I try to put Daily Tribune News readers in the best seat in the house. I strive to provide a view that readers don’t normally get. I try to serve our reader, not the reporter or the person or organization the story is about. I believe if you can provide the reader what they need then that will take care of all the story’s stakeholders.”
For Cochran, how The Daily Tribune News handles the people we serve speaks to our role in the community.
“I really think the way we handle people, deal with people is our most important job.”