The benefits of working as a journalist

Sunday, July 10, 2022


Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, author of "The Other Dr. Gilmer"

I was reading the featured article in a recent marketing newsletter from an author. A writer submitted a piece about how working as an editor for a small-town newspaper had helped her become stronger in the craft. I could relate, because working as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines is also what helped me become a better writer. And the bonus? I’ve met some interesting people over the years, and learned about food, culture, travel, fashion, history, and home design. 

Here are a few memorable assignments I can think of off the top of my head that have stayed with me: 

This past March, I researched and wrote about important historical female figures from my community, including artist and sculptor Dr. Selma Burke. I also explored the more difficult historical roots of my town’s history by interviewing a playwright who interviewed the Black residents in our town and created a play for our local community theatre based upon their experiences. (Spoiler: We still have a long way to go to heal some of those wounds). Some of my interviews are just plain fun—like last month, when I interviewed a local teen on how she manages her dog’s growing Instagram account for our pet issue. 

Flexing my interview muscles has also enabled me to branch out and interview true crime authors for my podcast, "Missing in the Carolinas." One of my most recent interviews featured author Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, who wrote the fascinating book “The Other Dr. Gilmer” after appearing on NPR’s “This American Life.” As a magazine editor, I also get to “curate” each issue and help develop the story ideas within each theme. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an issue come together, with story ideas I brainstormed written by talented writers and enhanced with local photography. For example, one year I discovered a local woman who started her own business connecting buyers and sellers for classic cars. We called her a modern-day matchmaker, and it was great to showcase her business in a world often dominated by men. 

When sculptor Tom Clark from our town passed away this year, we decided to put together a feature article and asked readers to let us know if they had collections of any of his pieces. The response from the community was so overwhelming we made it the cover story for that issue. Some days it’s easy to find myself overwhelmed with my to-do list of articles to write and assign to others. Then I stop to remind myself that every article published helps me become a better writer and creator. I probably would not have had the skills necessary to create a stand-alone podcast without the years of experience. 

Here is an article I wrote for WOW! back in 2017 about how to make your feature articles stand out. 

Have you conducted any interviews for articles that made an impression on you? I’d love to hear your experiences! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I've never done an interview--while an adult--for an article. As a kid, I was a writer and the head editor for our school paper, so I know I did interviews of new teachers or featured students. Although they have long faded from my memory, I imagine as I did the interviews, I felt a bit self-important: armed with a notebook and a pen (after all, this was in the 70s), I had the responsibility of framing a "portrait" of this person. To a 13-year-old, that was kind of heady. I'm sure I puffed up in pride, at least internally.

Your community is so lucky to have you, Renee. For Tom Clark, you've caught his persona and his work in amber--he lives on. For others, you're encouraging them to continue. Keep it up, 'cause it sounds like everything you do--every freelance assignment you take on--makes your toolbelt more sophisticated.

Thanks--as always--for your post.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I imagine being a monthly print magazine editor is such hard work, Renee, but I'm glad it's rewarding! I agree with Sioux; your community is lucky to have you at the helm. You're one of them and highlight what's important. The piece you did on the playwright brought much needed awareness, and I love that you reached out to the community about the sculptor and showcased his life's work! What a beautiful tribute.

I was lucky enough to interview Rue McClanahan before she passed away. She's such an inspiration, and a down to earth, funny woman! I also interviewed Amy Tan at her hotel before a big show and that interview was so much fun. There have been so many talented authors I've interviewed and feel lucky to have learned from them all. I fell in love with interviews at an early age. When I was in high school I subscribed to Interview magazine - mostly because I was an aspiring artist and it was Andy Warhol's mag, but then the interviews got me. I thought, gosh, this is a great way for an introvert to engage in intimate conversations. Talking to other writers has taught me so many invaluable lessons about the craft.

Sioux ~ You've never interviewed anyone? Well, maybe it's time you dive in and do an interview for WOW! Let me know if you're interested in an assignment. :)

Nicole Pyles said...

I interview writers for my blog occasionally and for WOW and one of the things I like asking are the questions that evade me as a writer. I always ask writers about their revision process and how they know its done. I'm so addicted to that question.

One memorable interview was with a lady who had won a WOW contest and had been inspired to write her story from a woman she knew who had basically left it all to travel the world. I had to laugh when she commented "How can you choose a life that doesn't have reliable medical and dental insurance?" I'm paraphrasing the exchange a bit but this always serves as a reminder to look at those around me for inspiration, especially in terms of how they live their life different from mine.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

When I was reviewing for the Post-Dispatch, I got to interview Neil Gaiman whose picture book Wolves in the Walls had just come out. He heard Jared in the background and wanted to know what Jared's favorite books were. I honestly responded that they were the Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant. Silence for a beat and then he pointed out that most interviewers would have said him. Then he laughed. I nearly fell out of my chair.

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Thank you. I've lived in this community for almost 20 years and started out as a freelance correspondent for our city newspaper so I've had so much experience interviewing people over the years. You never know how these "big" ideas will work out--sometimes they're great and sometimes they fall flat!

Ang--That's a great point about interviews being a good way for an introvert to engage in deep and meaningful conversation with a source. I'd never thought about it that way! I'm so impressed (and envious) that you got to interview Rue and Amy!

Nicole--I love that you use the interview opportunities to make yourself a better writer. I admit I'm guilt of having done that, too! I also find reading the winning stories and essays through WOW! are a great way to brainstorm new ideas.

Sue--I love that Neil Gaiman story. I'm dying! I would have done the exact same thing as you, though.

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