Back in college, I studied journalism and spent so many hours learning all of the proper rules of writing: Grammar, sentence construction, AP Style, you name it. As a result, I’ve been ingrained since pretty early on to think first through the words that I get out on a page in front of me.
However, the older I get, the more I’m realizing this: While it’s okay to think through writing, it’s also essential to be able to succinctly convey thoughts orally as well. That’s how you get buy-in among your colleagues.
On the surface level, these may seem like two different skills: The people who write well aren’t necessarily also naturally gifted orators. But the problem is, if you can’t convince anybody that your idea is a good one, you won’t get the opportunity to write it at all.
I think back to a conversation I had with a journalist who covered the 2016 election as a reporter. His beat had been on the Trump campaign trail, so he visited dozens of cities and towns and heard that stump speech again and again and again. He told me how amazed and surprised he was to see the raw hype of the crowds who would attend those rallies; how he saw people get turned away because they often weren’t at capacity; how there was something about the energy of his campaign that just felt…different.
When, back in the newsroom at his publication, in weekly pitch meetings, he would hear writers and editors, more senior than himself, discuss the week’s coverage on the campaign trail. Even then, he heard the eye-rolling disbelief that Trump’s campaign was a serious one. Time and time again, the stories of his coverage were minimal at best. They spent more of their time focusing on exploring other candidates.
Why didn’t you speak up? I had asked. Why didn’t you tell them what you were seeing on the trail? How you noticed something big happening?
He didn’t have a great answer to this and shrugged a little in response.
I felt bad for pushing him on it. I know what it’s like to feel like the odd one out in big, important meetings like that. But of course it’s easier to see these things in retrospect. It’s much harder to be the only one in the room, the most junior one in the room, and have a dissenting story to tell. If he were to speak up, what could he have said to get their attention for real? Who else would he have needed to convince in advance of that meeting in order to get the advocacy and sponsorship that would have given his idea a chance at moving into the consideration phase?
It’s not enough for journalists to be training in writing today. It’s more important than ever for journalists to know how to pitch their ideas too. These moments don’t always happen with a pad of paper in front of you — I imagine more often than not, they don’t. But the art of persuasion doesn’t start and stop with a blank page. Even after crafting the perfect story, it won’t get in front of the audience it deserves without a well-crafted communication strategy behind it, too. That’s the essence of what it means to be a full stack journalist today. And it’s a more important job than ever.