In the newsrooms where I have worked — in the old independent Berkshire Advocate and at the Berkshire Eagle — I have absorbed a set of guidelines for journalism. I’ve been lucky: I’ve learned the craft in places that believe in integrity. We believe that anyone reading anything we write should know who we are, who we talk to and why we think they are good people to talk to. When I say we, I mean the journalists who taught me ethics and anyone who shares them. Many people do — but we don’t always explain what those guidelines are.
Let me explain here, then, so you will know what to expect from the stories on this site. And you can hold me to it.
- You never write a story because someone pays you.
Why? Because no writer can write fairly or objectively this way, and no reader can trust a writer who is being paid. This means I will never write a story because someone advertises. This site is free and unsupported now, and I offer this as a general statement. Advertisers buy an audience — they buy visibility. They do not buy editorial content.
- Feature stories are objective.
In a story based on interviews, the sources are the experts — the story is about their thoughts and opinions, not about mine. But it is my job to get perspectives and evaluate them and to tell the story. This means on the one hand, I will not write a feature about a person or organization I am deeply bound to, and if I have connections to anyone or anything I write about, I will share them, so that you can take them into account. On the other hand, it means the people I write about will not see a story before it runs. If you think about this, it should make sense. If the mayor could read a news story and react to it before it went to press, how could a journalist write freely, and how could a reader trust the newspaper?
I say feature stories above because stories come in more than one kind. A word, then, about the kinds of stories you may see on this blog.
A story based on interviews, talking about a person or an event, is often called a feature. At a newspaper a feature may be longer than a news story and sometimes more descriptive — letting the reader get to know a band or a cafe. A feature story may involve investigation and analysis as well, so I use it here to mean that I am not an expert; I am talking with experts. And I have no vested interest or hidden connection with anyone involved.
A column shares the writer’s thoughts and experiences. In a column, the writer is the expert, or at least the narrator. Columns come in the first person and often draw on specific knowledge. When I walk up Cheshire Cobble or explore a back road and tell you about it, this is a column, and you know any observation or opinion in it comes from me. I may talk about a friend, family member or enthusiasm in this kind of a story — but you will always know how they relate to me.
A review specifically analyzes and gives an opinion. The writer watches a play or samples a meal and shares the experience, thinking carefully about it. When I worked at the Eagle, Jeff Borak and Charles Bonenti told me in their view, a reviewer has to be honest — you have to say plainly what you think — and you have to explain why. For me, explaining why is absolutely key.
- Press releases
You will never see a press release simply posted here. But they may contribute information to a roundup of weekly events or places to pick apples, so let me set out what they are and how I may use them. In a press release, an organization announces an upcoming event or achievement: A theater may write about a play, or a band may highlight a new album. That means the theater or the band has written the release or had it written. These become a useful tool for editors looking for story ideas and calendar information. But they are not objective, and I’ve seen many take paragraphs word for word from an artist’s website or from wikipedia. I may gather information from a press release as a starting point. What you read here should be my work, not someone else’s.
You know who I am and where to find me. Whenever I can, I will talk to people, and I will always want most to talk with the people closest to the creative work involved — the musicians, actors, potters, chefs, gardeners — and ideally to more than one.