actorartathleteauthorbizcrimecrosspostcustomerservicedirectoredufoodgaminghealthjournalistmedicalmilmodpostmunimusicnewsworthynonprofitotherphilpolretailscispecialisedspecializedtechtourismtravelunique

Journalist-LiveHi there! We’re /u/washingtonpost. More specifically, we are seven journalists who work at The Washington Post and who post (or lurk!) on reddit often for work and personal use. Ask Us Anything!

May 17th 2017 by washingtonpost • 45 Questions • 965 Points

Ask us (almost) anything about how we do our jobs, the journalism industry, how we use reddit, or what The Post will be doing with our user profile. Or just chat with us about reddit and the internet -- we love both things as much as you do.

Here’s who's answering questions today, and what they cover:

We’ll be replying as this account, but we’ll clearly mark who’s saying what. Now let’s talk. Ask us anything!

Proof: Group selfie of six of us

And here's Chris who works out of the office.

UPDATE: It's 3 p.m.! But we're having so much fun we'll keep answering a few more questions, and even check back later today too.

Thanks to everyone for the great questions and conversations. We all had a ton of fun and we definitely want to do this again. And swing by the /u/washingtonpost profile and let us know what you'd like to see! /u/GenePark will now post an AMA request thread. Let us know who you'd like to talk to.

And don't forget: Next week Friday, May 26 at noon, David Fahrenthold will host an AMA on r/politics! Chat with y'all later. - /u/GenePark

EDIT: How rude of me. Forgot to thank r/IamA for being such gracious hosts.

Q:

What's your opinion on using clickbait titles?

A:

That's a really good question! Headlines are a tricky thing, because you're competing for someone's attention. It has to be interesting enough that they want to click on it, but also accurately communicate what they're going to get when they do. We really try to stick to the premise that a headline is a promise and the story has to deliver on that promise. So if the headline says "and you won't believe what happened next!" what happened next better be unbelievable. Clickbait is when a headline is tricking you into clicking something that turns out to be not what the headline led you to believe. If the headline is getting you excited to read a story that's genuinely exciting or interesting, that headline is doing its job.

-- Jess


Q:

I'm a DINFOS grad (1991) and headlines today look nothing like what we were taught to write back in the day. We learned brevity and clarity. Today, thanks to all the space the internet gives for free, they look like books!

A:

Yep. Writing headlines for digital is a completely different school of thought then making them fit for column inches.

As someone who did learn in the old school for a while, those were fun to write. They were like mini-haikus. - /u/genepark


Q:

haiku - the plural of haiku is haiku.

A:

Correction: /u/washingtonpost regrets the error. See? Everyone needs an editor. - /u/genepark


Q:

haiku - the plural of haiku is haiku.

A:

lol I feel like it sounds like we all coordinated these answers, but I swear we didn't!

-- Jess


Q:

Why is Chris Ingraham so terrible at everything?

A:

Agreed, Chris is the worst. Have an upvote, Philip.

—Brian


Q:

is it awkward if one of your reporters is ever the subject of something you have to cover -- like eyebrow meme reporter? who's gonna be the next staffer who becomes a meme?

A:

This is a really good question, and one that I think about all the time. I actually talked to Ashley Parker i.e. the "eyebrow meme reporter" about this right after it happened to her. Going viral seems to come with some universal awkwardness, but Ashley had a good answer about whether it would negatively impact her reporting or not in this case, which i think its the bigger question here:

"I always try to be fair in my coverage and respectful in my relationships with the White House (and anyone I cover, for that matter), and I think (I hope!) that matters more than a random raised eyebrow that happened to go viral."

I haven't become a meme, but I've interviewed a bunch of people who have. I think, whether you're a reporter or not, the extent of the awkwardness, joy, or misery of becoming a meme has a lot to do with the context of that meme, how its shared, how it's covered. That being said, I really hope I'm not next. Please meme /u/cingraham instead. Thank you. -- /u/aohlheiserWaPo


Q:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?


Q:

What's your advice to young journalists? I've been at a local paper for two years now and am looking at what my next moves may be, but the market is discouraging from my perspective - it seems like the NYC/DC circles can be really insular, leaving those of us who aren't in/can't afford to move to big cities out of the loop, and there are always 50 applicants for every one open position. Please, I need help before I give up and go to PR.

A:

/u/genepark: Oh man I feel this question hard. I've only been at The Post for 2 years, otherwise I've only worked in a small-medium size market. Spent 8 years in Hawaii (if you ever stop by /r/hawaii tell'em I sent ya).

What's the market like in your area? How's your local paper in digital media? What I did: I worked to become a market leader in social media to distinguish myself not only from the competition but also from my peers.

I decided to take a risk and jump from the major metro local paper to a small online startup where I felt like I could make a real difference in their work, and my work too. It was constantly rewarding, and if I didn't move to DC to be at the Post, I'd probably still be there, having fun.


Q:

Thanks for the quick response! I'm actually in a very unique position - we're a small daily in a northeastern region with a mix of small cities and very, very small towns (my beats have included three towns, at last count, with fewer than 10,000 residents, two of those below 5,000). And we're actually an afternoon paper with almost a complete lack of focus on digital in any way, shape or form from the top down, which makes it difficult to hone non-reporting skills in an increasingly online industry. Our main competitor, a much better funded paper, de facto controls the local digital market. So my situation's quite a bit different in a few ways with some major hurdles. I have some social media presence and built my own website, but it's rough going. I'm also a GA reporter, which is good for diversifying my coverage ability but bad for developing specific skills on any given beat.

For now I'm going to keep trying to put out good work (four clips in today's edition alone!) and keep the search going. Hopefully I can outpace the debt monster that looms in the distance.

A:

Hey there! I hope you're able to stay in journalism. I also worked at a local community paper for the first few years of my career, basically GAing (4 stories in one edition wasn't uncommon). I actually think being a GA can really help you, too, because you're getting experience that reporters who start their careers at big metro dailies or elsewhere can't get. I got to write about city councils, budgets, the police department, crime, schools, features -- and all of that will hone your reporting chops and make you a better reporter, regardless of what specialty you develop. Good luck! -Elahe


Q:

Thanks for the quick response! I'm actually in a very unique position - we're a small daily in a northeastern region with a mix of small cities and very, very small towns (my beats have included three towns, at last count, with fewer than 10,000 residents, two of those below 5,000). And we're actually an afternoon paper with almost a complete lack of focus on digital in any way, shape or form from the top down, which makes it difficult to hone non-reporting skills in an increasingly online industry. Our main competitor, a much better funded paper, de facto controls the local digital market. So my situation's quite a bit different in a few ways with some major hurdles. I have some social media presence and built my own website, but it's rough going. I'm also a GA reporter, which is good for diversifying my coverage ability but bad for developing specific skills on any given beat.

For now I'm going to keep trying to put out good work (four clips in today's edition alone!) and keep the search going. Hopefully I can outpace the debt monster that looms in the distance.

A:

Carve out a niche for yourself that sets you apart from your colleagues. For folks in local/regional markets, one hugely underserved area right now is data reporting -- there's a massive trove of data on cities and counties (from sources like the Census) that's often overlooked by the papers covering those areas.

The Census alone can provide trend data on everything from demographics to economics to businesses in your area. Learn what these trends look like and work them into your existing stories.

Even better, get handy with some common charting tools so that rather writing 1,000 words to describe 30 years of demographic data, convey it in a single charts and save your words for the more meaty, analytical stuff.

If you really want to stand out, dig more deeply into the visualization side of things (mapping, etc), or learn how to do some basic statistical analyses with software like R to be able to draw more complex conclusions: what's the relationship between age and education in your area? What are the crime trends in the fastest-growing areas of your city? Where do the richest people live, and why?

This is just one path, of course, but these skills have been incredibly useful for me and it seems that they remain in high demand.

-- /u/cingraham


Q:

Thanks for the quick response! I'm actually in a very unique position - we're a small daily in a northeastern region with a mix of small cities and very, very small towns (my beats have included three towns, at last count, with fewer than 10,000 residents, two of those below 5,000). And we're actually an afternoon paper with almost a complete lack of focus on digital in any way, shape or form from the top down, which makes it difficult to hone non-reporting skills in an increasingly online industry. Our main competitor, a much better funded paper, de facto controls the local digital market. So my situation's quite a bit different in a few ways with some major hurdles. I have some social media presence and built my own website, but it's rough going. I'm also a GA reporter, which is good for diversifying my coverage ability but bad for developing specific skills on any given beat.

For now I'm going to keep trying to put out good work (four clips in today's edition alone!) and keep the search going. Hopefully I can outpace the debt monster that looms in the distance.

A:

Fellow Style reporter Ben Terris (He’s great! Look him up!) got a dream assignment and naturally came back with a fantastic story. He spent time on the set of “Veep,” including with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and producers, to get a look at the challenge of making political satire in this current climate. (He opens with an anecdote of filming on set as cast and crew kept track of election returns)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/what-happens-to-political-comedy-when-the-real-world-goes-beyond-satire-veep-is-about-to-find-out/2017/04/07/bd4be4e6-0281-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.31df5e0e58fc

-Elahe


Q:

Do you ever feel pressure to present a specific view of your story, rather than an unbiased objective view? Further than that, do you believe that there is such a thing as unbiased and objective reporting? Should there be?

Not meant as a slight towards your news organisation, i'm genuinely interested in how the system works!

A:

Echoing my colleagues: these are both great, and very different questions.

Do I ever feel pressure to present a story in a particular way, from a particular perspective? Sure, I think spokespeople from outside organizations do this regularly as part of their jobs. And it's part of my job to not let that dictate what I write.

Separately, I write a lot about memes and Internet phenomena, and sometimes I think that there's an inherent temptation to write about that stuff in the same way -- the way it's being shared already online. Sometimes, that's because the story is simply the phenomenon itself. But when there are opportunities to do it, I try to find new ways into those stories. For instance: I wrote this about a college roommate fight that went viral as "epic" or whatever, to try and just lay out the effect all this had on the real human beings involved in it.

My particular job does sometimes involve writing with perspective, so I feel like my answer might be influenced a lot by my beat and particular job here. But in general, again echoing my colleagues, I try to be aware of my own biases and blind spots, and to work as hard as I can to tell fair, accurate stories anyway. -- /u/aohlheiserWaPo


Q:

Do you ever feel pressure to present a specific view of your story, rather than an unbiased objective view? Further than that, do you believe that there is such a thing as unbiased and objective reporting? Should there be?

Not meant as a slight towards your news organisation, i'm genuinely interested in how the system works!

A:

Yes, great question! Naturally you will face pressure from outside forces (flacks/spokespeople) -- whether you're covering Congress or a celebrity -- to put a particular spin on a story. And it's integral to a reporter's job to be aware of this and not be swayed at all. What I try to keep in mind (as a way to orient myself) is trying to be as close as I can to a mirror that reflects the realities of things. Like Chris said, this involves being aware of your own blind spots and biases, which we all have as humans. A few principles that are key to objective reporting: let the facts be your grounding and your guide, and approaching stories with a measure of humility (you have to be open to being wrong in your assumptions and comfortable with asking questions that may seem dumb). -Elahe


Q:

One way to think of it is to split it between stuff targeted at WaPo fans (your user profile) versus general reddit users. If you're doing AMAs that are general interest, you want to share it with all of reddit. If you're doing links to content roundups, looking for feedback, looking to talk in detail with fans, then the user profile page fits better.

A:

You nail it. We're definitely taking that route for now. Here's hoping more folks find out about our user profile! If you know of any others that have a great user profile presence I'd love to see them. I'm sure we'll be seeing more in the coming weeks. - /u/genepark


Q:

Do you ever keep in touch with people you interview or do you forget about them as soon as the story is finished?

A:

There was a gentleman who was killed on a beach several years ago just because the killer (who was convicted of manslaughter, not murder) thought he was looking at him the wrong way. It was a run of the mill crime story. But I did speak to his mother, who lived out of state.

I kept in touch with the mom from time to time, and she actually gave me a beautiful closer to her son's story: Her son was an organ donor. His organs saved the life of a bank teller who was on the verge of death, but she received a new lease on life thanks to his organs. I interviewed her, and I interviewed the mom. I remember getting tons of reader email about how they cried, and it was one of the more fulfilling stories I've done. Obviously I remember it to this day.

So yes, we do keep in touch with folks from time to time. And staying connected can result in even better stories. - /u/genepark


Q:

That's a very touching story Gene, thank you

A:

Gene's answer to this is really wonderful. But wanted to hop in and note that there was once this dairy farmer guy in New Zealand whom I interviewed for a story about Dog Twitter. I still talk to him from time to time. For instance, when he logs into Reddit to ask a bunch of questions during an AMA.

Seriously, however: I ended up getting to know a bunch of people from New Zealand Twitter as a direct result of that interview, and it's been one of the most delightful things that has ever happened to me on the Internet. I wrote about it a bit here. -- /u/aohlheiserWaPo

(edited to add username, whoops)


Q:

Christ, he sounds annoying

A:

We put our heads down and just keep working. Our executive editor Marty Baron wrote in Vanity Fair in November:

The ultimate defense of press freedom lies in our daily work. ... The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done."

/u/twpinoy


Q:

What was your favorite event that you've covered?

A:

The presidential debate last year was really cool. I've never worked at an event at that scale before. It was such a trip to see thousands of journalists from all over the world crammed into a tiny little auditorium on a university campus (UNLV in my case) all speaking different languages and covering the same thing.

I also loved covering E3 (twice!) as a games journalists like a decade ago. Can't wait to see what's announced this year! - /u/genepark


Q:

how do I become a journalist?

A:

A broad question and I'll try to answer as specifically as I can: Write or produce journalism is the best way to do it. Are you looking for training? Do you have training? You don't need to major in journalism to do it. You just need to learn things like ethics, language style, a good strong portfolio of work examples.

These days it's easier more than ever to engage in "acts of journalism." But it's always good to find yourself a mentor who can guide you.

Also, join a professional journalism organization. The Online News Association is a good place to start. - /u/genepark


Q:

Has journalism changed as a result of online and instantaneous distribution of articles and reports vs not showing up until the next morning?

A:

I'd say that journalism itself -- the principles that we are trying to achieve every day -- have not changed at all. But the pace has definitely sped up because you can't just wait to publish something at the print deadline. The other big difference, especially in what I do, is the ability to reach and interact with audiences across a bunch of different platforms (as opposed to just via a daily paper) -- Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, video, etc. I'm not sure our predecessors could have ever imagined that.

I think all of us on this AMA, though, are of an age where we've never experienced journalism before digital was part of it, even though we've seen it grow and change over our careers.

-- Jess


Q:

Awesome! I'm doing both those things already in my 1st year in college, glad to see I'm on the right track.

A:

One other thing I'd suggest: don't be shy about reaching out to professional journalists, especially in your area, to grab coffee and pick their brains. Journalists, in my experience, can be very open to mentoring. -Elahe


Q:

Awesome! I'm doing both those things already in my 1st year in college, glad to see I'm on the right track.

A:

As someone who attended a local state university, I started by writing for the school paper, just like what Elahe and Brian said. Reach out to your local community paper. Find a mentor. I think you'll find that many journalists are eager to teach our craft.

In fact I visited my campus just a few weeks ago, visited the old college newsroom with students who are just about to get their start. Met a lot of promising, smart folks. - /u/genepark


Q:

How do you think new technology (AI, AR/VR, blockchain, reader analytics, etc.) will transform the media/news business?

A:

It's really difficult to gauge how much AR/VR will transform news because it hasn't yet been fully adopted by the general public. We've toyed around with VR on a few projects to much success but I'm interested too to see how it will play it out in the next 5 years or so.

As for AI, The Post has already implemented some AI into our business.

We launched automated storytelling during the Olympics last year generate short sentences for readers

/u/twpinoy


Q:

Why had WaPo been complicit in the cover up of New Zealand's ban on gardening? I know you have a dedicated NZ correspondent in Abby yet she had completely ignored this breach of basic human rights.

A:

Kreg, I'm not falling for this again. -- /u/aohlheiserWaPo


Q:

What's your favorite subreddit to waste time on while you're supposed to be working?


Q:

What's your favorite subreddit to waste time on while you're supposed to be working?

A:

/r/nintendoswitch because there's not enough content for the console so I might as well keep talking about it. - /u/genepark


Q:

We're glad to have you! We waste a lot of time there too :)

-/u/kyle6477, moderator for /r/nintendoswitch

A:

yooooo thanks for running a great community :) - /u/genepark


Q:

Has a post or comment on reddit ever given you the idea for a story?

A:

Usually I find the best stories come from just talking to people. Maybe they'll mention something they know off-hand that would be news to others. Or maybe they drop a really interesting idea that connects to some other stuff I've been writing about lately. In general, much of my job involves connecting dots that people haven't thought to connect before.

—Brian


Q:

I provide IT support for a newsroom. Some of the security practices are quite concerning to me. I very much understand the overworked and underpaid nature of the business. Do you have any recommendations on how to support and encourage other journalists to practice better IT security?

A:

Put it in terms they'll understand. Explain how the use of better security will help protect their sources and methods and help the journalist do his or her job, rather than act as an inconvenience.

—Brian


Q:

Does it bother you that journalism has moved from a "be accurate and honest" to a "be first and fuck the facts as long as we get the almighty clicks" mentality?

How much pressure do you see to get a story ready now as opposed to right?

A:

The principle is that we should ALWAYS focus on getting the story right. If it means not being first, so be it. - /u/genepark


Q:

Bullshit

A:

It's like an Apple store in here. Tons of natural light, lots of wooden surfaces, glass everywhere.

—Brian


Q:

What made you want to become a journalist?

A:

Oh! Good question. For me, it started with an interest in writing and developed from there into a passion for trying to present a clear, accurate picture of the world to readers, based on solid reporting and in a way that serves to enlighten and elevate understanding. I've covered different beats in my time (police, Congress, arts, etc.), and one of the best parts of being a journalist is you get to learn about new, vastly different things every day. -Elahe


Q:

What made you want to become a journalist?

A:

I haven't beaten Ringed City yet. Too stressful atm. - /u/genepark


Q:

What made you want to become a journalist?

A:

/r/fo4. I actually gave up on that game and got really bored, so I don't think I was ever involved in that sub. - /u/genepark


Q:

What made you want to become a journalist?

A:

I created a separate reddit account for this AMA, but on my other account I have a ton of posts over on r/thedivision. The game has its flaws, but the lore and setting are right up my alley. Big fan of dystopian and tactical things over here.

—Brian


Q:

What made you want to become a journalist?

A:

no but if that's the case I also try to interview the person about it -- /u/aohlheiserWaPo


Q:

How much pressure do you feel to provide news in a fashion that is slanted in one direction or the other?

I'm not accusing you of that, I'm just curious how much legitimate pressure there is to do it.

A:

Hey there! Great question. Some of us touched upon in here: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/6bq6yz/hi_there_were_uwashingtonpost_more_specifically/dhoo0m0/

-Elahe


Q:

/u/b_fung: Brian - how do you prefer to deal with PR or just general advice? Saw you were covering WannaCry yesterday -- are there stories you want to write or be pitched?

A:

Reporters often get questions about how to be pitched. For me, email's best. If I don't reply, I'm probably swamped or not interested — no insult intended!

If you're offering up a source, slap a quote from that person in your pitch to give me an idea of where they're coming from, or include your source's direct contact information so we can follow up ourselves and save time.

Thanks!!

—Brian


Q:

How similar or dissimilar is the Zoe Barnes character from House of Cards to reality?

A:

I had to stop watching "House of Cards" halfway through the first season because her character was so annoying and upsetting to me. I found it to be a very inaccurate portrayal of being a female reporter on the Hill, which I was at the time. Marin Cogan wrote a great reported piece about this: https://newrepublic.com/article/112486/psycho-sexual-ordeal-reporting-washington

-Elahe


Q:

Will I ever have as much fun as I did working at The Daily Reveille?

A:

Only if /u/npersa1 is in charge.

/u/twpinoy


Q:

How do you feel when Trump at his commencement speech said "He's the most unfairly treated president in US history by the media"?

A:

I cover the Internet so technically it's all work for me, right? -- /u/aohlheiserWaPo


Q:

How much material has the current president given you to work with?

A:

I wouldn’t refer to him as “giving material,” but my coverage certainly includes a good deal of Trump. I cover pop culture (celebrity, TV, movies, music, comedy), so these days I find myself often writing about the president because, just as with so many other aspects of public life, this pop culture itself has become consumed with politics and the president. Trump is also a product of pop culture, in a sense, especially the role reality TV led to his wire. While my grounding and perspective is rooted in pop culture, Trump has become a dominant theme in everything from late-night comedy to award show speeches. These shows and jokes take on even greater relevance when the president himself comments on them. -Elahe


Q:

Hello!

I have two sets of questions for you: serious and non-serious.

Serious:

Given the current landscape of the industry in general, what do you think is the most important class that journalism schools are currently, or should be, teaching?

Non-serious:

What do you think of onions?

A:

Serious: Lean towards classes that will get you well prepared for digital media, data visualization, coding, multimedia skills. All of those skills will make you an attractive, compelling job candidate.

Nonserious: Onions make everything better. - /u/genepark