If you pay attention to our classified ads, you may have noticed under “Employment” that the Methow Valley News is looking for candidates to fill a vital role at the paper: reporter.
That single word connotes a lot at a small weekly newspaper. The job usually requires not only news reporting skills and a clear writing style, but also the ability to cover almost anything that happens in this community — news, features, sports, routine items, complex topics, often on a moment’s notice. The job description typically includes photography, editing, proofreading and in some cases design experience.
The hours can be long and include nights and weekends. Our reporters write for all of our special publications as well as the weekly paper. They face rigorous deadlines so we can get our paper to the press on time. They are under constant pressure to make sure their stories are fair, accurate, complete and timely (I use the acronym FACT to remember those points). If you require order in your work day, this position isn’t for you. It’s a demanding job with the expectation that the highest journalistic standards apply.
On the other hand, we have fun, the work is fulfilling, and we’re doing something important for the community. Also, we get to live here.
Community newspaper jobs in non-urban markets come with another consideration: There is no anonymity here, and everyone is part of the community. We interact with each other in a variety of ways, in overlapping roles. The person you are interviewing as a source may also be an advertiser, a supplier, your doctor, your pharmacist, your restaurant server. You may be involved in activities with nonprofits or other community organizations that pose potential conflicts of interest. We’re used to that.
Hiring is hard anywhere, if you do it right. Over the years, I’ve made great hiring decisions and ones I still regret. So how will we go about finding the right person for this very important job in a small, remote market? With determination and care. It’s a big deal for us, and for the Methow Valley.
I believe in the “pebble in the pond” methodology when hiring for a position like this. We have ads on journalism-related hiring boards and websites. I’ve reached out to colleagues in the business to spread the word. Make enough waves, and you’ll start to get responses.
We have generated responses, including local interest, for which I am grateful. Finding someone in your own back yard is always desirable. But it doesn’t always work out that way, particularly in places where there may be few if any candidates who meet the qualifications. We’re also seeing interest from around the country. In some cases we’ll reciprocate that interest; in many others we won’t.
How do we sort all that out? In addition to the requisite skills and some demonstrable experience, I consider other factors: Attitude. Motivation. Curiosity. Outside interests. Long-term goals. Willingness to learn. And the intangible of personality. Our small staff works in close quarters and we interact with each other a lot. Teamwork is important, and so is the face we present to the public.
I’ve had to apply for jobs many times in my career, partly by choice and partly because of layoffs in the newspaper industry that left me looking for the next opportunity, so I have a lot of empathy for the people who are applying for the position. One person is going to get the job, the rest will (probably) keep searching.
Layoffs at newspaper around the country have escalated dramatically in the past decade, as tens of thousands of journalists were thrown out of work. You’d think that would create a deep pool of good candidates. But many give up on journalism and find something else, or can’t relocate. And there is still something of a bias in the newspaper reporting field against working for weeklies rather than dailies.
My response to that, which our reporters are probably tired of hearing, is to “behave as if” — that is, we always operate on the assumption that our work here is as important as the work being done anywhere else, and we are entitled to the same access and consideration as larger publications. Our reporters embrace that notion, and because of that they have set a high bar for performance.
Sometime in the next few months we’ll introduce our new reporter to you, with confidence that they will be a good fit for the newspaper and the community.