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Under-cooked hamburgers and the under-appreciated skill of listening

By Kathleen Coleman

S-R Media

Spokane, Washington, USA


There’s a very seriously silly yet seriously hilarious Twitter and Web video series someone once shared with me.

Its title (if you’ll pardon my French): “Shit Girls Say.” It was created by Canadian writers Kyle Humphrey and Grandon Sheppard, and pokes fun at female conversation.

The art of listening may be parodied, but it is an essential skill for reporters, especially at a time when everyone is being rushed.
The art of listening may be parodied, but it is an essential skill for reporters, especially at a time when everyone is being rushed.

Listen (“Listen. Listen. Listen.”) in. 

To be brief (because as I blog, dear reader, it’s a holiday weekend), remember one primary rule to succeed in the art of newspapering (if you’ll forgive the decoupage-like term). That, my friends, is to listen. (“Listen. Listen. Listen.”)

My husband, a retired editor, shook his head when, at a lakeside café today, the waitress delivered a so-pink-it-was-almost-mooing hamburger to me, when I had ordered it “well done. Very, very well done.” Back to the grill it went.

Usually I get descriptive to the point of ridiculous when ordering something “so well done most people would throw it in the trash.” But today I thought I’d try for simply instructive. Bad fail on my part, and a worse (pink) fail on hers.

As he ate his fish and chips while I waited for my refried burger, my husband opined that no one had trained or coached the (otherwise very nice) waitress to listen. Because it is our way, we quickly applied the lack of listening failure to reminiscing about reporters and editors we have known over the years.

For example, he recalled sending a reporter out to cover a weekend community event around the theme of “unity.” Said reporter turned in a story with a recitation of the number of booth participants, the name of the sponsor, an estimate of attendance, and a quote that added nothing to the colour and texture of the day. Not only a listening fail, but an asking fail in this case: “Why is unity important to you (attendee X, Y, Z, booth A, B, C)? What does it mean to you?”

Likewise, when we miss the boat on a story by (fill in the blank) going in with an agenda, underreporting, rushing to publication, and a host of other journalistic ills, our readers and advertisers will tell us.

Do we listen (listen, listen, listen)? The best among our journalistic flock do, perhaps at the very least by running an explanation of our decision-making for the edification of our subscribers, or, when appropriate, running a retraction.

The rock star reporters and editors (and there are many) are the very best at listening. They quietly put two and two together from a source that others may have overlooked or ignored. They humbly listen and apologise to readers after a staff member bombastically reports a story we published without careful and thoughtful editing. They promise to have a reporter show up the next time 1,500+ people gather in their town to hear about a social ill and raise money to fight it.

They listen to their internal compass when their newspaper’s mission statement (if they have one) seems faraway or forgotten. They listen until their journalistic mission) is well done.

About Kathleen Coleman

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