Five Timeless Business Skills from — Newspapers?!?

The long, painful death of the newspaper industry as we know it continues to make news itself. But anyone who thinks newspapers have outlived their usefulness overlooks the substantial skills the business infuses into the people working in it. Old school print journalism has been the foundation for many a communications career.  And the skills bred best at newspapers can turn into gold for other businesses when journalists branch out – whether by choice or the force of circumstance.

Here are just five of the best lessons I learned working at a newspaper:

1)      Adapt – Newspaper reporters learn fast that things are seldom what they seem, and that often includes assignments that start out as one thing and end up something else. Learning to switch gears to handle new information — to refocus on what matters NOW — is crucial for any business undergoing change, or any worker tackling an unexpected but critical assignment.

The newspaper Clark Kent loves. From DC Comics, 1988


2)      Be thorough – Understanding that there is more than one side to every story is key to good journalism. It’s also the beginning of the process of thoroughly researching your subject matter. No matter what business you’re in, if you’re called upon to investigate and report your findings, you need to know how to dig beneath the obvious to uncover great opportunities, or unseen dangers you and your company need to avoid.

3)      Ask the right questions at the right time – Good reporters don’t just shout indiscriminate questions at interviewees, despite what you see depicted on television. Newspaper reporters know that in order to write a solid, correct account of anything, and in a timely manner, you have to start by asking the right questions to the proper people, and, in the best case scenario, at the time and place they’re most inclined to answer.  If you’re responsible for gather intel for your company, that’s a skill you need to have on staff.

4)      Integrity matters – Yes, the journalism profession has had its share of bad apples – as has every business, unfortunately. But the values of speaking truth – even to power, defending the disenfranchised and the oppressed, and giving the people light so they can find their own way (a paraphrase of the slogan of my old company) still beat in the hearts of most journalists. It’s just smart business to employ honest people. If you think I’m being naïve, ask yourself: how many SEC investigations, grand jury indictments, or successful lawsuits resulted from a company having too many employees with integrity.

5)      Observe deadlines – Time is of the essence when you’ve got to get information to your city editor, and when she needs to get it to the copy desk, and when they need to get it to production, so they can get it to the press and to the customer. No matter what else has changed in the news business, deadlines still matter. That’s also true of most businesses, but few build it into the culture with the relentlessness of newspapers.

The old newspaper business model is, in the main, going the way of the dinosaur, but smart communicators adapt. Wherever they end up, the lessons learned from an education in the newspaper business are timeless and portable.

Newspaper work teaches far more lessons than these. If you’ve had the good fortune to work in the business, what did you learn that other businesses can benefit from?


Author: nickpattersonfreelance

I'm a professional reporter, writer, editor, teacher, storyteller. A former travel and features editor for Southern Living, I started Velleity because people keep offering me travel stuff and you may as well benefit from it.

One thought on “Five Timeless Business Skills from — Newspapers?!?”

  1. I learned to stay up late, and sleep even later; write “more than 4” instead of “over 4,” and to never rely on spell check (or you could end up with pubic instead of public). Maybe we should start a club for those of us who started in newspapers. Would be a grand, and oh-so-interesting, group of folks …

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