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Old ways still ring true

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BY BRENT FRAZEE
OK, I admit it. The closer I get to my 60th birthday, the more I realize I am well on my way to becoming a grumpy old man.
A lot of it has to do with this era of modern technology and gadgetry.
I’m proud to say that I don’t tweet. I don’t send text messages on my cell phone. I don’t have a Facebook page. I don’t have an iPad or an iPod. Heck, I don’t even use a tape recorder when I interview someone. I still scrawl my notes in a notebook.
The younger generation might shudder at such admissions.
“How can you function in a modern society – and in your field – without such technology?” they might ask.
I do just fine with my old-fashioned ways, thank you.
Call me a dinosaur if you like, but I think I can make a case for a traditional approach to journalism and life in general.
I look at modern journalism’s race for immediacy and I shake my head.
Grown men and women make fools of themselves, relying on an anonymous source for a breaking new story, posting it on a website and proudly proclaiming, “You heard it here first.”
There’s only one problem. Often, there was a reason that source didn’t want to go on the record: He or she was wrong. That means the reporter was wrong.
No problem. In our era of journalistic immediacy, that transgression is quickly forgotten.
Life goes on, and so does the race to see who can first post the breaking news.
When I came to the Kansas City Star 30 years ago, I thought I had really done something if I could get some outdoors news one day and get it in the paper the next.
In today’s world, that item is old news by the time someone reads it in hard print.
Sure, it’s great to get the news out faster than ever. But often, old-fashioned tenets of journalism are sacrificed.
What happened to checking facts and making sure you have multiple sources before sending a story to press?
That’s what bothers me about the Internet. Anyone can post something as fact and get away with it, never facing accountability.
I know the newspaper business has taken its shots in recent years, but I still think editors demand factual integrity.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Some stories based on anonymous sources still make their way into print. But at least there are standards.
Sorry, this grumpy old man doesn’t see those same standards on the Internet. Please understand, I’m not damning all websites. I have seen plenty that are factual, include good feature writing and are pleasing to the eye.
I see way too many young journalists who use modern technology as a shortcut. Whatever happened to the basics of good, solid journalism? In my eyes, it’s not always who posts the story first. It’s who comes up with the most interesting way of telling the story.
With that in mind, I believe outdoors writers can still fill a niche role at newspapers despite what some will tell you.
Think about it. The sports pages are filled with stories about local pro teams and their big games, superstar athletes getting in trouble and the minutia about the national scene.
But those stories are reported by many different outlets in an only-slightly varying style.
When an outdoors writers comes up with a feature about something unique – maybe a kid with cancer who chose to go fishing as his last wish or a 95-year-old man who is still deer hunting – that’s unique.
The reader isn’t going to get that story anywhere else.
It’s good old-fashioned journalism.
It’s relying on sources you’ve met over the years to provide tips. It’s keeping your eyes and ears open when you go to area bait stores. It’s regularly talking to wildlife biologists and conservation agents to see if they have seen anything unusual.
That being said, I’m not condoning all of the old-fashioned ways. The old “Me and Joe” stories are an example of an outdated way of writing.
Sorry, that’s lazy journalism. So are the brag pieces some writers put out time after time, lobbying for the readers’ vote as outdoorsman of the century. Do you really think the reader cares about that? I don’t.
He or she wants to be informed, entertained and transported through words to the place where the writer was.
Challenge yourself to write in a lively, descriptive style. Feature the person who is taking you fishing or hunting and learn as much about him as you can in your short time together.
Immerse yourself in your beat, the outdoors.
Resist the urge to sit inside and learn via tweets, text messages or Facebook posts. I reluctantly admit they might help in some instances. But they’re still no replacement for being “out there.”
Take it from a grumpy old man.♦
–Brent Frazee has been the outdoors editor of The Kansas City Star for 30 years. In that time, he has won more than 30 national awards for his writing and photography. He also serves as the president of the Outdoor Writers of Kansas and is currently the head of the newspaper section of OWAA. Contact him at bfrazee@kcstar.com.
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