Friday, August 19, 2022
Aug. 19, 2022

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From the Newsroom: We’re on a hiring spree

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

We’ve been busy in the newsroom lately, interviewing reporter candidates.

I will be the first to admit that in our industry, this is a little unusual. Employment at U.S. newspapers has declined precipitously in the past decade, and although I haven’t seen 2021 figures, my guess is that the trend continued last year.

So it is a privilege to be adding to staff, thanks to donations to our new Community Funded Journalism initiative from local philanthropists and our readers.

We’re in the process of hiring two reporters to cover issues relating to homelessness and affordable housing. These will be “big tent” beats, documenting problems and their many root causes. A significant part of the job will involve looking for answers and driving community discussion on what we can do to get people off our streets and into safer, more productive and comfortable lives. We call this approach “solutions journalism.”

Our third new reporter will focus on transportation and related issues such as commuting. The Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project will be a big part of this beat. Once again we hope to use a solutions journalism approach to help the community understand and debate complex issues.

Finding the right people will be key. For the homelessness and affordable housing beat, we are looking for candidates who have experience working with homeless people, and/or people who are members of groups who experience homelessness at greater than average rates. For transportation, the ideal candidate will have written about that topic or other complex, and political, topics.

We’ve been doing interviews as a group, using videoconferencing software. Besides myself, Metro Editor Mark Bowder, Innovation Editor Will Campbell and Assistant Metro Editor Jessica Prokop have been asking the questions.

We start by asking the candidates to talk about themselves and why they want to work at The Columbian. This is relevant information, of course, but I am also listening to see if they can tell a complete story. People who can’t tell good stories about themselves are probably not going to be great at telling stories about other people.

One of Mark’s favorite questions is to ask candidates about news stories they are particularly proud of, and ones that didn’t go so well. We’re looking for learning experiences. Many years ago, I covered a dinner feting Al Reser, the Oregon entrepreneur who turned his mother’s potato salad recipe into a deli foods empire. Reser said that when an employee failed, he would tell them that failure is OK; they had just earned another degree in the School of Hard Knocks. “Just don’t earn the same diploma twice,” he added.

I figure that almost anyone we hire will earn a couple of Reser’s figurative diplomas. Most job candidates these days are fresh from college. Ten or 20 years ago, midsized dailies like The Columbian hired from feeder papers, small dailies or weeklies where rookies got their starts. That’s not so true anymore. Those small papers have folded, shrunk, or burned out their reporters so much that they change careers rather than move up.

Even with rookies, we’ll look carefully at samples of their work. I always read the lead paragraph to see if it draws me into the story, then deep enough to look for a hook. What sources were consulted? Is the story sophisticated or shallow? Does it appear to be accurate? Is it fair? I give extra credit to anyone who found an unusual perspective or a unique topic.

After the interviews are over, the four of us chat. If we like someone enough to want to work with them, our HR professionals, Denise and Sam, will check their references and refer them for a pre-employment drug screening. If we’re undecided, one of them will interview the candidate.

If it all looks good, we call the candidate and make the offer. It’s a lot of fun to offer a bright person a reporting job, something I wish was happening more in our industry.

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