Quick: Which movie studio recently had thousands of emails and confidential documents hacked? Who is the chairman of that studio?
What is the name of the Portland school that was the scene of a shooting on Friday?
What movie topped the box office this weekend?
What phrase did various NBA players wear on their warmup shirts to protest a grand jury’s decision in the case of an unarmed black man being killed by a white police officer?
Can you name one of the three teams tied for the best record in the NFL?
If you work in news, you need to know all of these things, and then some.
One of the most important skills you can have as a journalist is a working knowledge of a wide variety of news. You should know about politics. You should know about international events. You should know about sports. You should know about entertainment. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these fields, but you should know enough to carry on a conversation.
Like an old broadcasting professor once told me, you don’t get a seat at the bar if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Know what’s happening in the world around you. In a given week, you should be familiar with the top stories around the world. What are people talking about? What is important to people that week? You should be just as familiar with the presidential candidates as you are about who was cast as the next Spider-Man.
You’ll be a more versatile reporter because of it. As I’ve mentioned before, stories can come from anywhere, so if you are familiar with a wide range of topics, you’re more likely to find a unique story to report on. When you’re in an interview, you can ask more relevant questions, because you read up on the subject, or know about a subject your interviewee is interested in. Talking shop about the Oregon Ducks can help you create a bond with your interview subject, or knowing who won Dancing With the Stars could help you strike up a conversation with a reluctant person.
It’s also going to be expected by news directors when you are looking for a job. Bosses don’t want people who work in a vacuum, they want people who are hungry for news – and who can recall it immediately. It’s not enough to simply know how to Google information – you should know it on the spot. Time spent on search engines is time you could have been on the road gathering a story. So be prepared for a current events quiz during your in-person interview. Bosses will throw them at you to test whether you can handle a curveball, and to see if you actually know your stuff.
Unfortunately, it’s something younger journalists struggle with when they start out. A news journalist might not be a fan of sports, or an entertainment journalist might not know politics. I’m only interested in news, why should I care who won Sunday’s football game?
I’ve heard college journalists admit it. “I don’t really care about sports.”
News is news. It doesn’t matter what kind of category you try to put it in. It’s all connected. You can’t operate with single-mindedness. As a news reporter, you should know which movies are big at the box office, because a bomb could lead to layoffs at the studio, which could lead to stock prices falling, which could lead to big business moves and takeovers. As a sports reporter, you should know who the movers and shakers are on Capitol Hill, because politicians can run college football conferences, and can influence funding for school athletics, which could cause major impacts for recruiting and even affect the professional leagues.
Sports reporters should know how to submit public records requests to find out the criminal history of a potential coach, or to find out where the money is coming from to fund a new stadium. News reporters should know who the top teams are in the NBA and how the local team is doing, because big games or big transactions can become big front page stories.
In fact, do not think of yourself as a news reporter or a sports reporter or a business reporter or an arts reporter.
You are a reporter. Find the facts in everything.
You don’t need to be a die-hard sports fan, or a stat geek, or a Washington insider. But you need to know the top stories every day. Follow current events and consume news wherever it is found.