10 pieces of journalism advice from Paul Crawley

I try to use the Telling The Story blog — and accompanying podcast — to provide advice journalists and storytellers often do not receive.

Or, if the advice is similar, I try to find a unique vessel for it.

My latest podcast guest, the newly-retired Paul Crawley from my station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta, is such a vessel.

As I recorded the podcast, I could not help the appreciate the perspective Crawley had gained from more than 40 years as a TV reporter, the final 36 of which came at 11Alive.

I felt like the wisdom deserved to be written, as well.

And so, much like I did after my podcast with Michael Driver, I want to offer the ten greatest kernels from a guy with a lot to give:

Thank goodness for the Internet: “The Internet was the second biggest communication revolution behind the printing press. Prior to the printing press, only a handful of people knew what the Bible said.”

But you have to use it right: “The problem now is that there’s so much information out there that it’s hard to sort through it all. We still have to worry about verifying it ourselves. That’s when somebody makes a mistake and it gets perpetuated by everyone.”

And be sure to utilize your own memory: “I remember I was at a news conference not long ago where a long-time politico trying to make a comeback announced for sheriff. And in the back of my mind, I remembered he had voted down police raises at one time. So I just sat in my car and started Googling and came up with all this great stuff. I went into the press conference and tore him to pieces.”

Get it right over getting it first: “It’s like someone took a sledgehammer and hit a tomato. This technology that has been so marvelous for us and fabulous for journalists has also become an Achilles heel, where people immediately re-Tweet and re-post without checking it out.”

But you have to get it, and quickly: “For the first time, I read, television set sales are down. We’ve gone HD, and we’ve got the best-quality picture ever now, and we’re watching on our palms. It’s like getting Lasik surgery and buying bifocals. But people want information instantly; they’re not gonna wait. So we have to remember that the 6 o’clock news is one of many platforms we have.”

DO NOT ASSUME: “The most important thing for me is not to make assumptions. Assumption, it’s been said, is the mother of screw-up — that’s the polite word for it. My motto is, ‘I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it, and I don’t have the T-shirt.'”

Embrace the novelty of your job: “The best comparison I make is, I feel like a real-life Walter Mitty. It’s been fascinating. I love to go out and sample life. I will miss being able to ask the governor impertinent questions and get paid for it. I will miss stuff like that.”

The secret to lasting in journalism? Curiosity: “You have to be 1) nosy, and (2) a blabbermouth. When you’re standing with your friends and something happens across the street, and everyone’s debating what happened, you’re the one that says, ‘I’m gonna go over there and find out.’ And then when you get back, you want to tell everybody.”

We have a dangerous responsibility: “One misplaced fact can destroy someone’s reputation. The pen is mightier than the sword; the Tweet is mightier than the sword. You can do a lot of damage if you’re not careful. You can’t lose your integrity, because if people don’t believe what you say, you’re done.”

If you like it, stick with it: “You will learn early on if [journalism] is your cup of tea. Once the excitement wears off, you need to decide, ‘Is this what I want to do?’ Most important, be careful about what it does to you personally, because it does take its toll on you. If you do it, don’t take any shortcuts, make sure to get it right, and be careful.”

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Leave a comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

One thought on “10 pieces of journalism advice from Paul Crawley

  1. Andrew says:

    As a former print journalist the best advice I ever received was “follow the story, don’t lead the story”.
    Unfortunately, far too many journalists ignore this fundamental principle.
    Matt, you are one of the very few reporters I actually enjoy watching (along with Craig Lucie).
    Still, topics are beat into the ground nowadays. I seldom turn on the news any longer. It’s just not worth watching.

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