Laura Leslie covers state government for WUNC radio, and she also blogs about that topic at Isaac Hunter’s Tavern. Leslie is the president of Capitolbeat, the national association of statehouse reporters and editors. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Leslie talks about her blog, her use of Twitter and the state of journalism.
Q. You’re a broadcaster and a blogger at WUNC. How do you balance those roles?
A. Broadcasting comes first. It’s our primary purpose, it reaches more people, and it’s what I get paid to do. The online work is sort of a labor of love.
I pushed for the blog for almost two years before my bosses agreed to let me try it as a volunteer effort — I don’t get credit for the time I spend working on it, and I’m still expected to produce just as much radio as people who don’t blog. But their attitude toward it has warmed some as it’s taken off. None of us, especially me, expected it would find such a big audience.
When I started writing it, I was thinking it could be sort of an extension of my notebook — I could just slap my radio scripts up there and build them out with the extra stuff there wasn’t time for on the air. But I learned pretty quickly that doesn’t work. It’s a different style of writing, aimed at a different audience, and it offers a much richer palette of storytelling tools – links, graphics, etc. — than radio does.
One surprising outcome is that the blog has helped me become a much stronger radio writer than I used to be. The best way to write for the radio is to write like you talk, in your own voice. That’s harder than it sounds. I think writing the Tavern has helped me develop that skill because that’s in my own voice, too.
Q. You’re also active on Twitter. What do you like about that format to “broadcast” the news?
A. I love its immediacy, of course, and its portability — I tweet from my phone at events or from my desktop at the legislature.
It also forces you to boil it down. When you’ve only got 140 characters to work with, you’ve really got to focus on what you want to get across. It’s like writing a good headline a dozen times a day.
When I live-tweet an event, I treat it like my notebook. When it’s over, I can go back and build radio stories or blog posts out of those nuggets of information.
I also love the way tags allow you to follow a range of people at different events in real time. At the legislature, if you follow #NCGA, you can see what’s going on in various committee rooms – it’s like being able to track six meetings at once. Plus, you get the benefit of multiple perspectives. When you’ve got lobbyists, lawmakers and reporters all tweeting about an event, you get a lot more information about what’s at stake and why it matters.
Q. For your blog, how do editing and headline writing work? Do you have someone read back on your posts?
A. I don’t get an edit before it goes live. In the beginning, that was because our platform wouldn’t allow for that. Now, it probably would, but we’ve just settled into doing it this way.
I write a post, I come up with a header of some kind, and I let my bosses know about it. They go back and look it over for typos or mistakes, sometimes a day later.
My most dependable editors are my readers. They’re quick to let me know when a link doesn’t work or I’ve misspelled something. I always say thank you when they do, and I mean it.
Q. What advice do you have to student journalists who want to go into the field nowadays?
A. Number one, learn every medium or platform you can, as early as you can, even if you’re not sure how or when you’ll ever use it. I can’t say that strongly enough.
Audio, video, blogging, Twitter — these are all tools for storytelling, and who doesn’t want a bigger toolbox? Even more importantly, get good at learning new media, because you’re going to be doing it on a regular basis as technology evolves.
I think the smartest way to think about our field these days is in terms of what we do, not how we do it. A journalist is a journalist, regardless of your mode of communication. We aren’t “print” or “broadcast” or “online” anymore. We’re doing it all.
That’s a change some older journalists have had a hard time accepting. You hear a lot of complaints: “Why should I have to do X? It’s taking time away from my reporting. ” No, it IS your reporting now.
We have better tools than ever to be smart, absorbing storytellers. The journalists who succeed will be the ones who focus on the potential of those tools, not the drawbacks.
UPDATE: In January 2011, Leslie took a job as a multimedia reporter at WRAL in Raleigh.