Writing left handed

Confessions of an Accidental Journalist


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It’s Wednesday.  At least right now it’s Wednesday; it will probably be Thursday by the time you’re reading this.  Nonetheless, Wednesday starts with “w” and writing starts with “w” and so, without further ado: my naiveté as a journalist often astounds me.  Earlier this week, I logged my fifth magazine piece—no, that’s not the right word.  Earlier this week I finished my fifth magazine piece? Emailed? What’s the verb for “spent the entire Thanksgiving break hunched over my laptop, thereby completing my story a full 48 hours ahead of schedule, only to remember that there’s no internet access at the Martini Bar Soiree and that I’d have to wait till I returned to Philadelphia to email the finished piece to my editor?”

I know there’s a word for it.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a word that a freelancer ought to know.

Fielded my story?  Fixed? (I’m going through the dictionary now.)  Filched? Aha! Filed.

Yes, filed.  Earlier this week I filed my story, thereby completing my fifth magazine piece.

The sad thing is that my point of reference here is that scene from The Holiday where Kate Winslet’s editor pops by her desk during the office Christmas party (only to find her chatting with Rufus Sewell’s character) and asks, “Iris, have you filed your story?”

It’s good to know that watching The Holiday six billion times has finally come in handy (what with the wonders Jude Law’s character did for my expectations of the “average” British man) but still: that fact that my entire knowledge of the writer’s craft comes from The Holiday and Under the Tuscan Sun is rather pathetic.

This is because I was too much of a wimp to venture into the English department in college, and because until the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference this past summer, I was also too much of a wimp to even talk about writing with other writers.

I have since joined a writing group (by which I mean I’ve been to one meeting, and suspect that I may actually find the courage to speak at this Saturday’s session) but I’m still rather green.  (Hence the fact that I can’t remember words like “file.”)

I wasted an ungodly amount of time trying to schedule interviews for this last piece because A) I hate making phone calls (which, by the way, is a really great quality for a journalist) and B) because it never occurred to me that when trying to contact an important person at an important museum for the purposes of writing a magazine article one should head straight to the “Press” section of said museum’s website.

Instead I spent two and half weeks dillydallying with various the departmental email lists, hoping against hope that someone would return my inquiry so I wouldn’t actually have to follow up and go all Investigative Reporter on them.

I don’t really do Investigative Reporter.  I do nice sentences, lovely anecdotal introductions and decent nutgraphs (now that I finally know what a nutgraphs are), but I’m missing that killer instinct, which is why I tend to go weak at the knees when I actually have to pick up the phone and call someone.

Fortunately, I’m learning how to compensate for my lack of investigative savvy.  Today’s lesson?  Name drop.  When you finally stumble upon the press contact page, send the press person a nice email in which you just happen to mention the other museums you’ll be featuring in the article.  Drop a few hints about the quality of their programming, and then end with something along the lines of, “I’m on a tight deadline but I might be able to squeeze in a quick mention of your institution if you’d be so good as to put me in touch with your programming coordinator.”

And presto!  Said coordinator will be contacting you within minutes—literally minutes—delighted to be included.

Now why didn’t I think of that in the first place?

9 Responses to “Confessions of an Accidental Journalist”

  1. Your Landlord

    You’ve never watched “The Holiday” with me??? How did I miss out on this one? None of the Echevarria/Richter’s have the Killer Instinct, not a bad quality, after all we’ve never started any wars 🙂 Can’t wait to read the article~

  2. mynakedbokkie

    I actually used a similiar technique yesterday- i said to someone that the reason i asked for them, is because i know that they provide the best service!! It worked.

    Now, on a different note- are you a writer, or a school teacher…..or both?


  3. Catherine

    A: I love the Holiday. Good recall.
    B: I work in PR. We LOVE LOVE LOVE when people write complimentary pieces about our clients. You should always do what you did just then. Even better, do a quick search for the company and see who the contact is for their press releases. Call that person. That person will make water turn to wine for you, if it means that you write a good piece about their organization. And, you don’t even have to threaten to include their competitors as well. Let me know if you ever need some advice on working on this side of things – been representing companies and trying to get positive news coverage for 5 years now, so I do know a few tricks of the trade.

  4. wordofsoia

    FYI thought you might like to know I lived in the town where the holiday was filmed in the UK. The scenes of her in the shop drinking the wine out of the bottle was across the road from my house on Godalming High Street 🙂
    PS. Love the variations in your blog still even if i do slightly miss the dating updates. But I understand, one of the dates I went on googled me and read my blog. (even though he said he didnt lol)

  5. katekatharinaferguson

    Oh how this speaks to me. I too lack the nefarious journalistic instinct! I console myself with the thought that charm, witticisms and quirks make up for lack of practical know-how: all hail the killer anecdote and prettily composed sentence! 🙂


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