It’s Just Chasing Good Stories

By Bill Mead

In my 40-some years in journalism, I could never persuade some people—readers—that journalists are motivated by pursuit of a good story. Not a cause. Not a prejudice or a political goal. Just a story that people will read and be glad they did.

The story can be entertaining or enlightening or surprising or some combination of those qualities. Doesn’t matter. A good journalist instinctively recognizes an event or person or idea that, with diligent reporting and editing, can make a good story. Or can turn a good story into a great story, such as what happened when two young reporters followed up on a 2:30 a.m. break-in at the Watergate office building.

Anyone in the news business takes this for granted, but I can’t count the frustrating conversations I’ve had with people who assume an ulterior motive. I used to play golf with a distinguished surgeon who told me that to get a job with the Washington Post or New York Times, a journalist had to prove that he or she was liberal, while the Wall Street Journal required proof of conservative beliefs. I politely told him that I had spent most of my working life as a journalist and that his theory was flatout wrong. No, he said, it’s true. Trying to make a point, I told him that all surgeons drank heavily. Ridiculous, he said. What do you know about surgery?

He didn’t catch on. I pulled out my six-iron and changed the subject.

Bill Mead worked many years for UPI, as bureau manager in Detroit and as a reporter/editor in Richmond, Chicago, and Washington. He then moved into magazine work, as Washington correspondent for Money magazine and then as a writer and editor for The Washingtonian.  He has authored six books on baseball history.

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