Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.
Breaking news smells like bagels and coffee.
This speaks to me so much, coffee, bagels and the news!
Us, too! Three of our favorite things!
The St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times, hired you away from the Star-Banner in 1968. Tell me about your early days with the Times.
I worked a beat that was best described as, “Roam around Florida and cause trouble.” I was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1982 and won in 1985. We took out a sheriff. I did a background check of all of his employees. One in eight had a criminal background, and not just DUIs or traffic problems. They were real criminals.
The sheriff was running for reelection and he put out a bumper sticker. A woman called me and said he was handing out this bumper sticker and all it had on it was my name, with a nail next to it. A nail? Why a nail? I asked her, could that be a screw? The “Screw Lucy Morgan” bumper sticker became something of a collectors’ item. He lost that election, by the way.
You were once sentenced to eight months in jail for refusing to reveal a source, a case that made it all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. How did that happen?
We had done a series of stories on public corruption. The year was 1973. The state attorney took some of the issues to the grand jury. I was outside the grand jury room, watching who went in to testify. The grand jury presented a bill of particulars but they didn’t make it public. I wrote a story speculating on what might be in it, apparently quite accurately. The state attorney wanted to know who gave me the information in the story.
So a judge ordered you to reveal your sources?
Yes. I took a color-coded copy of the story to the hearing. I colored the part from a source I would not name in green. What I had observed, I colored blue. What the state attorney himself told me was purple. He didn’t like that much.
Some choice selections:
Men vs. Women
What [New York Times publisher] Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has said publicly is that he had problems with my management style. The whole issue of how women’s management styles are viewed is an incredibly interesting subject. In some ways, the reaction was much bigger when Politico ran this hatchet job on me [the profile by Dylan Byers called her “stubborn,” “condescending,” and “uncaring”]. If there is a silver lining, it was the giant reaction from other women journalists. These women editors at the Chicago Tribune, who I have never met, sent me flowers after that article.
Is it hard to say I was fired? No. I’ve said it about 20 times, and it’s not. I was in fact insistent that that be publicly clear because I was not ashamed of that. And I don’t think young women — it’s hard, I know — they should not feel stigmatized if they are fired. Especially in this economy people are fired right and left for arbitrary reasons, and there are sometimes forces beyond your control.
I did cry after reading [that] article about me in Politico. I don’t regret admitting I did. The reason I wanted to do this interview is that I think it is important to try to speak very candidly to young women. The most important advice I would still give — and it may seem crazy because I did lose this job I really loved — you have to be an authentic person. I did cry. That is my authentic first reaction. I don’t regret sharing that.
A lot of younger staffers just asked me to coffee. There’s a way to do networking that isn’t overly brown-nosing. I was fine if someone just said, “I want to have coffee and talk about my career.”
I taught at Yale for five years when I was managing editor and what I tried to stress for students interested in journalism, rather than picking a specialty, like blogging or being a videographer, was to master the basics of really good storytelling, have curiosity and a sense of how a topic is different than a story, and actually go out and witness and report. If you hone those skills, you will be in demand, as those talents are prized. There is too much journalism right now that is just based on people scraping the Internet and riffing off something else.
The new streamlined application process for becoming a 501(c)(3) might help nonprofit news startups — at least small ones — get off the ground more quickly.
Editor: “Somebody could have died just to keep my average up.”
Walked into the office this morning for my second metro shift in two days to find my name on the front page of the Post.