100 things newspapers should not do

November 17, 2009

Poynter is using Twitter to publish a list of the 100 things journalists should never do (inspired by a New York Times list about restaurants). I think it’s a great, interactive idea. I challenged myself over the last couple of days to compile my own list of things newspapers and staff should not do. I didn’t use the word “never,” because a wise Jedi once said that only the Sith deal in absolutes.

1. Newspapers should not forget what they do is for their communities.

2. Newspapers should not sit idle as circulation numbers decline. Do something!

3. Newspapers should not bash social media. Embrace it or remain out of touch.

4. Newspapers should not use social media sites to dump links to stories.

5. Newspapers should not just tease to the Web site. Use the Web to tease to the newspaper.

6. Newspapers should not consider themselves newspapers, but news organizations.

7. Newspapers should not publish print stories online for free.

8. Newspapers should not feel stale. Stories should be focused on what’s next.

9. Newspapers should not view wire copy as filler. People buy newspapers for the package.

10. Newspapers should not yell at customers over the phone.

11. Newspapers should not patronize readers. They realize budget cuts and staff reductions don’t improve the newspaper.

12. Newspapers should not expect readers to understand journalism. Explain it to them in small doses. Viva transparency!

13. Newspapers should not refuse to promote from within.

14. Newspapers should not make decisions on whims, but become data-driven organizations.

15. Newspapers should not endorse candidates. Yep, I said it.

16. Newspapers should not use valuable space above the masthead for “Happy Holidays” messages. Save your glee for the people who buy the newspaper by stuffing those messages inside.

17. Newspapers should not let staff buy coffee (OK, this one is personal).

18. Reporters should not come to work without a daily game plan.

19. Reporters should not focus merely on the day ahead. Plan weekend and enterprise stories well in advance.

20. Reporters should not work alone on enterprise stories. They should work with editors and representatives from the copy desk, design team and Web site.

21. Reporters should not keep editors in the dark about stories. Bringing them in early helps flesh out ideas.

22. Reporters should not go anywhere without toting a pen and notepad.

23. Reporters should not wait for stories to come to them. They have to find them.

24. Reporters should not rely on the same sources for stories.

25. Reporters should not forget to think visually.

26. Reporters should not cover games or meetings without doing their homework.

27. Reporters should not assume.

28. Reporters should not deceive sources.

29. Reporters should not engage in gossip with sources.

30. Reporters should not bed or wed sources.

31. Reporters should not accept gifts — only feedback.

32. Reporters should not settle for “no comment” without asking the question a different way.

33. Reporters should not lead sources on. Say no if you can’t get to something.

34. Reporters should not make promises to sources. A lot of things are out of your control.

35. Reporters should not assume the math is correct.

36. Reporters should not end interviews without asking people to spell their names.

37. Reporters should not end an interview without asking who else would be good to talk to.

38. Reporters should not use only one source.

39. Reporters should not fib.

40. Reporters should not plagiarize.

41. Reporters should not generalize. No, not everyone feels the same way.

42. Reporters should not use the word “seemed.” Just give us the facts.

43. Reporters should not use the word “plethora.” Keep it simple.

44. Reporters should not use the word “essentially.” If what you’re writing is not essential, then stop wasting time.

45. Reporters should not write in passive voice.

46. Reporters should not overuse quotes.

47. Reporters should not stack quotes unless they’re writing a narrative.

48. Reporters should not let jargon from their beats trickle into their writing.

49. Reporters should not bog readers down with process when it’s not necessary. The judges’ scoring criteria in the town’s Little Miss Cupcake Pageant is not really important.

50. Reporters should not overstuff leads. Introductions of 35-plus words tend to make eyes bleed.

51. Reporters should not turn in a story without double-checking the spelling of proper nouns.

52. Reporters should not turn in copy without reading it aloud.

53. Reporters should not rely on editors to catch mistakes.

54. Reporters should not shortchange themselves by allowing little time to write.

55. Reporters should not be late.

56. Reporters should not go through the motions, turning in half-assed work.

57. Reporters should not expect feedback. They should demand it.

58. Reporters should not lash out at editors who try to help strengthen their work.

59. Reporters should not leave anonymous comments on their online stories.

60. Reporters should not rely on management for training opportunities.

61. Reporters should not use awards as incentive for pursuing stories.

62. Reporters should not pursue the same stories the same way every year.

63. Reporters should not take the same way home. Going outside the routine leads to great stories.

64. Reporters should not go a day without reading a newspaper.

65. Reporters should not let their desks become unmanageable.

66. Editors should not view themselves as executives, but people.

67. Editors should not avoid conflict or confrontation.

68. Editors should not keep their doors closed all day.

69. Editors should not let e-mail serve as their primary means of communication.

70. Editors should not hold in feedback until the annual performance appraisal.

71. Editors should not interrupt. Listen.

72. Editors should not restrict anyone on staff from contributing ideas.

73. Editors should not let an opportunity pass without reinforcing their vision for the newsroom.

74. Editors should not throw staff under the bus. Own up to mistakes.

75. Editors should not complain in front of subordinates.

76. Editors should not introduce new initiatives as corporate mandates. That kills buy-in.

77. Editors should not let the holidays arrive without having a plan to fill space.

78. Editors should not let key people go on vacation without delegating some of their workload.

79. Editors should not let key people leave the newspaper without absorbing as many of their contacts and as much of their knowledge as possible.

80. Editors should not let standards slip, even when the newsroom is undergoing change or cutbacks.

81. Editors should not ignore calendars and listings when it comes to consistency.

82. Editors should not go into a story with the goal of rewriting it.

83. Editors should not go a day without reading the competition.

84. Editors should not let their coverage be overtaken by press releases.

85. Editors should not let reporters forget to follow up on great leads.

86. Editors should not leave social media or technology up to staff.

87. Copy editors should not be afraid to take design and style risks.

88. Copy editors should not steal a reporter’s thunder by having the headline echo a well-written lead.

89. Copy editors should not butt headlines.

90. Copy editors should not send a page to the printer before performing a spell check.

91. Copy editors should not use the same headlines for stories that appear online and in the newspaper.

92. Photographers should not stage action shots.

93. Photographers should not go to an assignment without the expectation of talking to people.

94. Photographers should not take photos from the back of the room. Get in there!

95. Photographers should not manipulate images.

96. Photographers should not use the same caption on multiple photos.

97. Photographers should not leave designers with just one photograph to use.

98. Clerical staff should not bother news staff with walk-ins. Instead, give walk-ins business cards and request they call or e-mail to set up an appointment.

99. Clerical staff should not give callers more information than they need to know. Avoid making promises or giving bad information.

100. Columnists should not make pop culture references that are several decades old. That confuses people under 40.

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