“Be vigilant about accuracy. Double-check all facts and the context you’re putting them in. Build trust over time. In each story, explain how and where you got your information. Explain your staff’s credentials, such as with bio lines on stories.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing John Schlander, managing editor at The Penny Hoarder, which Inc. Magazine named as the nation’s fastest-growing private media company.
How did you get started in journalism?
I grew up loving newspapers, especially my hometown Pittsburgh Press. I wrote for my high school newspaper, wrote and edited for my college newspaper at Penn State, interned at the Pittsburgh Press and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I was fortunate to quickly land a copy editing job at the St. Petersburg Times, now called the Tampa Bay Times. I spent the next 32 years there in a variety of roles, ending up as digital general manager. In 2016, I moved to a thriving startup: The Penny Hoarder, based in the same city. We later moved into the same building that houses the Times. I feel kind of like Robert De Niro in The Intern. He goes to work for a new company in the same building where he spent a long career.
“Fake news” means different things to different people. Stuff that’s indeed fabricated is often believed by many people, even after it’s debunked by reputable journalists, including fact-checkers like PolitiFact. It’s amazing how falsehoods spread across the internet with social media. As journalists, we’ve always questioned things and strived to be as accurate as possible. Now our spidey senses for fakery need to be more acute than ever. Don’t take anything at face value. Check and double-check. Be careful about sources who may, perhaps innocently, repeat falsehoods or misleading information. Years ago, I nearly fell for a hoax planned by a local charity for publicity. Fortunately I was warned in time.
It goes back to the fundamentals: Be vigilant about accuracy. Double-check all facts and the context you’re putting them in. Build trust over time. In each story, explain how and where you got your information. Explain your staff’s credentials, such as with bio lines on stories. At The Penny Hoarder, we also personally try many products, services, apps and financial methods and tell our readers the results. We try to be like a knowledgeable friend advising you. One recent headline: We Broke Down the Top 5 Grocery Delivery Services So You Don’t Have to.
Depending on the type of story, journalists should choose credible sources and confirm who they are, such as with online searches and record checks. At The Penny Hoarder, we write a lot about ways to make and save money, so we often are able to try the tips or action steps ourselves to confirm they work well. For interviews, we either take good, detailed notes or we record with our iPhones, TapeACall app or other tools. We sometimes use the Rev platform to transcribe recorded interviews.
Use credible sources, and if the source isn’t well-known, explain the background. Attribute your information. Present different viewpoints if there’s a controversy. Acknowledge if all facts aren’t clear.
Our mission at The Penny Hoarder is a little different than other media organizations, so while we have deadlines, we don’t feel pressured to rush anything. We’re all about helping people put more money in their pockets, not breaking attention-grabbing news. We indeed want to grab attention, but we strive to do that with creative writing that our readers find useful, entertaining and/or compelling in some way.
Be scrupulously accurate. Nothing will get you in trouble faster than sloppy errors. At the start of my career, a reporter friend of mine was fired after several mistakes such as wrong names. I never forgot that. So do this: Develop a system of double-checking everything you write. Read a lot and emulate the best stories and writers. Listen to your editor.
See the other person’s side. Instead of spending so much energy making our own points, spend some time summarizing the other side’s case. Do it in conversation, on social media, maybe even in regular media. It might help everyone see the various sides to an issue and understand each other a bit more. And build trust that we’re having an honest, well-intentioned conversation.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” This quote, often attributed to Oscar Wilde, has always struck me as funny and true. There’s certainly value in discipline, but I always try to remember it’s OK to cut loose sometimes. And have fun with words, like the quote does.
This interview is part of an interview series by TapeACall, the original iPhone call recording app.
Originally published at medium.com