A note to journalists in Ferguson: ‘You are living up to your responsibilities’

Richard H. Weiss is a former reporter, editor and writing coach at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and one of the founders of the news nonprofit St. Louis Beacon, which recently merged with St. Louis Public Radio. He operates WeissWrite LLC, a writing, editing and coaching service for students, journalists and anyone with a story to tell. (He’s also a former co-worker of mine.) He posted the following note on Facebook on Monday night. We are reposting it with his permission.

I was out of town the past week and not physically present for ‪#‎Ferguson‬. Watching from afar, I was so proud of the work of my friends and former colleagues. I was glad to see many getting national recognition. But with that said, I would like to offer just a bit of advice from someone taking this in as a consumer of news. This is not the time to let people know how many hours you are working (which is a way of bragging that you are tireless) or that you are scared (which is a way of saying you are really brave) or that you are appearing in 15 minutes on BBC or CNN (which is a way of saying you are special) or that your news site got 10 zillion hits or tens of thousands of viewers or listeners (which is a way of saying you are more interested in your brand than in what’s going on) and it’s not even the time to praise your colleague for his/ fine work (which may be appreciated by that person but will be construed as tribalism by others.) Rather stick to your knitting… let your fine work speak for itself. Send your colleagues your appreciation back channel. For my money, those are far more meaningful even if not so widely distributed. Retweet those great stories, to be sure. But tell us what’s in them that’s worth reading. In other words, continue to inform. I worked for Jim Millstone, perhaps the finest journalist I have ever known. He walked the streets in the wake of the riots after Martin Luther King’s murder and reported it all out effectively and elegantly. I only learned this after his death. I cannot ever remember a time when he shone a light on himself. He was also incredibly sparing with his praise for others and to great effect. We felt affirmed when he would say, “I have no major problems with your story” and over the moon when he would say, “nice work.” I don’t think he ever used the words awesome or amazing. So I can’t say your work is awesome nor amazing. You are living up to your responsibilities. Beautifully.

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