Journalism: “Playing a bad hand well, over and over again”

By Amelia Carpenter, President

I just finished reading the last chapter in “Make it Memorable” by Bob Dotson. Dotson is the national correspondent for NBC News Today Show. His LinkedIn profile sums up his interests and reporting style:

Courtesy of ronaldhole, Flickr

“I search the neglected corners of our country, seeking the extraordinary in ordinary lives. I look for the kind of guy who may never run for mayor, or go to the moon, or transplant a heart, but whose story may touch a viewer’s heart. My reports, “American Story with Bob Dotson,” are seen on the TODAY show and other NBC News programs. Over the years I’ve saved more than 6,000 original story tapes, whenever my bosses, looking to save space, tossed them out. He preserved not just the stories themselves, but every field cassette. For three decades, they were maintained at my own expense in air-conditioned rooms – first in his basement then, as the collection grew, in warehouses. NBC donated that archive to the Oklahoma Historical Society. All are now available to scholars at the Society’s new 64 million dollar museum next to the State Capitol.”

Dotson includes a Reporter’s Checklist at the back of his book I think is worthwhile for Miami journalism students to know about if you have or will not take JRN 314 with Joe Sampson.

Some of the questions Dotson asks himself during an assignment: (The following excerpt can be found on pages 99 through 101).

  • How can I make this a compelling story with universal values that appeal to a wide audience?
  • Is my writing strong, tight, free of information that people would already know?
  • Does the story build to a close?
  • Are there elements of surprise within the visuals or sound to attract and hold viewers?
  • Is the subject matter interesting, concrete, important – not just another fluff piece?
  • Does my piece meet and answer the “So what?” test? Does it contain historical perspective that defines the story’s larger context? Does it address a larger issue?

… the list continues.

Dotson’s final though was most powerful for me, and I hope it sparks some inspiration for other aspiring journalists:

“Just remember – success in this business does not depend on being dealt a good hand. It’s playing a bad hand well, over and over again.”


November Update

  • Mark of Excellence Awards: All SPJ members must submit at least two entries. Apply online by Jan. 25, 2012. And, tell your friends! Entries are $9 and must be from the 2011 calendar year.
  • Check out our regional award winners from Miami University last year!
  • Put this on your calendar: SPJ Dinner Date, 7 p.m. Nov. 17 @ Fiesta Charra