The media today: Better than an advice column

I’ve got a confession: I love advice columns. Like a lot. As a young lass, I penned letters to Dear Abby, though she never got back to me. In high school, I flipped through the pages of Seventeen magazine and CosmoGirl for any advice they might offer this socially awkward teen. And, today, Dear Sugars, Ask Polly, and Dear Prudence are all part of my regular media diet (as were the philosophical musings of Andrew W.K. in his one-time advice column for the Village Voice).

We could all use some guidance, but sometimes we don’t want it from our friends, parents, and therapists. And so we turn to the internet. Some to Yahoo Answers, Quora, and Reddit (beware the trolls!), others to advice columns now accessible with a few clicks. It’s a medium with enduring appeal. Back in the late 17th century, a British periodical called The Athenian Mercury started what would become the modern advice column. A sample question at the time? “Is it proper for women to be learned?” The “advice” looks wildly different today, but the premise remains the same: Readers send questions, and columnists respond.

At CJR, we decided to put a twist on the advice column. Instead of readers sending in questions, though, we kept it simple. We reached out to an array of prominent journalists, from veterans and legends (Margaret Sullivan! Gay Talese!) to up-and-comers (Wesley Lowery! Jen Sabella!) We asked them all the same question: What’s the best advice on reporting you’ve ever received?

The answers run the gamut. Lowery, a national reporter at The Washington Post, says making lists has become his obsession. One of his first editors told him “that he wanted me, at all times, to be thinking of story ideas and writing them down.” Now covering ISIS, New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi decided to start small after connecting with an editor at The Boston Globe. He told her to get a job at a small newspaper with a boring beat: “You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and it’s best you make them at a small paper.” A former New York Times reporter told Jaweed Kaleem of The Los Angeles Times a simple piece of advice: “Write every story as if it is for page one.” And ProPublica’s T. Christian Miller says he got crucial tip from legendary journalist Terry McGarry: “This can be an honorable profession—if you’re an honorable person.” More on advice columns and journalism below.


Other notable stories

  • For CJR, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer writes that it’s time to stop using the term ‘alt right’: “Journalists can’t allow agents of hatred to set how they are defined. Their rebrand is little more than a cover-up for white supremacists to continue to commit foul acts of disrespect, intimidation, and violence.”
  • Looks like The Daily Stormer needs to find a new home: GoDaddy tells white supremacist site to find a new domain provider (and it looks like Google booted them, too).
  • Wesley Lowery, national reporter at The Washington Post, turned to Twitter to understand what journalism they want to see done re: Charlottesville. What follows is a fantastic thread of suggestions, from how universities and colleges are preparing for subsequent rallies to the role of women in white nationalist rallies.
  • Also in The Washington Post, Callum Borchers writes about how Trump’s response to Charlottesville was softer than the reactions of Breitbart and Infowars. On Monday afternoon, the president finally condemned the violence, but was it too late?
  • ICYMI: The New York Times has a great series examining how the Trump administration is reshaping regulations, including this one about Sinclair Broadcast Group.
  • NOT REAL NEWS: The AP has a weekly roundup of some of the most popular, but completely untrue, headlines of the week.
  • The New Yorker profiles Julian Assange: “Whether you see Assange as a ‘fallen man’ depends on how you viewed him to begin with. He has detractors who believe that he is a criminal, or a maniac, or both, and supporters who consider him an immaculate revolutionary.”
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Meg Dalton is a freelance journalist and audio producer based in Connecticut. She's reported and edited for CJR, PBS NewsHour, Energy News Network, Architectural Digest, MediaShift, Hearst Connecticut newspapers, and more. Follow her on Twitter: @megdalts. Find her on Twitter @megdalts.