Creative Discrimination: A good look at the First Amendment and anti-bias laws related to business

The Supreme Court is set to hear the case of 303 Creative v. Elenis, which touches on the issue of what the government can and cannot compel businesses to do in relation to discriminatory actions against specific groups in society. The suit will assess whether the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act violates the First Amendment rights of website creator Lorie Smith , who wants to expand her business to include wedding websites, but said she will not design them for LGBTQ couples.

In this case, the argument attempts to rely on the speech aspects of the amendment, arguing that the work Smith would do could be considered “artistic expression.” Therefore, according to Smith, any law that forces someone to do nor not do something with “artistic expression” in it would violate the First Amendment.

As is usually the situation, this case isn’t about one website or one wedding cake, but rather the degree to which discrimination can be cloaked in the cover of an individual’s right to free expression. Although the courts have allowed the “expression” protected under the First Amendment to go far beyond speaking and printing newspapers, they have also put limits on what could be protected here. Child porn, true threats and other forms of “expression” have been deemed to have no value, and thus receive no protection.

Courts have also ruled that time, place and manner restrictions do not violate the First Amendment, as long as they don’t disadvantage a particular point of view. My favorite case involved a Wisconsin worker who would drive past the governor’s house every morning, flip the bird at the house, yell “RECALL WALKER!” and honk his horn. The courts split the baby on this one, allowing him to yell and gesture, but the horn was considered a bridge too far.

Trying to sort out what does and doesn’t get covered, or how courts tend to view these things can get really complicated. David Cole, the national legal director of the ACLU, has an opinion piece in the New York Times which picks through the issues of expression and discrimination and how cracking down on the latter, doesn’t mean we violate people’s rights to the former. To whatever degree you side with either group, Cole’s piece is worth a read, as it is both straightforward and clear in its explanation of how and why these two concepts can coexist.

Is memorization a necessary skill for college journalism students?

I know this might seem like a click-bait headline or like I have the answer to it, but this is an honest question for my fellow J-folk out there.

The reason I ask is because I heard a number of students grousing in my writing class about a gen ed course they all are taking that requires them to do (what I consider to be) an insane amount of memorization for tests. The exams are between 80 and 120 questions each and are to be completed within two hours. They also allow no aids, such as notes or books.

Since most of my classes are skills-based, I tend to avoid multiple choice questions or exams that go this route. However, since I let the students pick their poison when it comes to in-class exams, we do have a mix of “write this” and “pick this” kinds of questions, including multiple choice. However, I let them have the AP style book and whatever notes and homework I’ve turned back to them. My rationale is that the point of this course is to help you improve your writing/editing/reporting/whatever, so learning from previous successes and failures is par for the course in our field.

However, I have plenty of colleagues who teach large pit classes with more dates and places kinds of stuff who do use the “choose A, B, C or D” kind of questions, some of whom allow notes while others don’t. Is one better than the other? I don’t know. That’s the point of my question here.

Here are a few caveats for the discussion:

  • I know some fields need memorization because looking everything up at the time in which the information is needed doesn’t work well. If you’re majoring in a language, fluid speaking, writing and reading are crucial, thus, memorization is at the core of what we do here. Also, when it comes to the medical field, I don’t want to hear my doctor or nurse saying, “I don’t know… Just Google it!”
  • I used to be of the “what if you CAN’T look it up” denomination of our field. The idea of quick recall mattered when you didn’t have an AP style book at hand or you couldn’t get to the clip files to look something up. Now, we all carry computers with us that can tell us everything we need. (And if you’re going to make the “What if you don’t have service?” argument, I’d counter with, “You’re probably going to be eaten by the “Hills Have Eyes” people, so not knowing when the Council of Trent happened is probably not a priority.”
  • I also used to be of the “You need the basics of our bible” kind of person as well. That meant a lot of AP memorization or at least knowledge of where to go in the book. I still force the kids to read the actual book in early classes so they know where stuff is or what is in there, but now everything is searchable for a reasonable subscription fee on AP. We also have dictionaries online. (It also makes less sense to memorize AP these days, since it seems like AP is changing rules at a maximum volume every year.)

What I’m looking at is the idea of forcing memorization in journalism classes and requiring gen ed classes of our majors that rely on this kind of approach to education. Is this the best path forward for our students? If so, why? If not, what should we do then?

I look forward to your thoughts in the comments or via email.

Jargon or Vocabulary? 3 ways to determine which one you’re using

The use of simple language is the bedrock of what we do in journalism. Introductory writing courses pound the idea of eliminating complex terminology, removing unknown acronyms and generally cutting anything that might be considered jargon.

This approach makes a lot of sense when it comes to general-interest, mass-media publications, in which a wide array of readers who might be unfamiliar with the verbiage of a particular field come together to understand a complex topic.

However, the media isn’t always so “mass” these days, which means writers are serving thinner slices of narrower target audiences with content on niche topics. To that end, what might be “jargon” to a broader group of readers is merely “vocabulary” to the people who are reading, watching or hearing it.

Here’s a fun example from one of my favorite movies, “Dazed and Confused:”

In less than 15 seconds, Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) proudly describes his beloved car, Melba Toast, to Clint (Nicky Katt) in a form of shared “gear head” language. Clint clearly isn’t impressed, but he’s also not confused.

(If you are confused, here’s a general translation of what he said. If you don’t care, skip past the bullets and pick up after them to get to my point):

So, how do you know if you’re relying on shared vocabulary or burying people in jargon? Here are some helpful hints:


When it comes to writing for your readers, you need to have a strong sense of who is out there and what they know or don’t know about your subject. This might require you to do some additional research about the people who are in your target audience before you start whipping around insider terminology. It might also require you to write various versions of the same piece for different groups of readers.

For example, in public relations, you might do some internal PR that explains some changes to the way in which your company’s factory will be dealing with the creation of certain product lines. If the readers are all coworkers who fully understand the ins and outs of the old process, some company-based shorthand and shared verbiage is probably fine. However, if you then have to put that information in a press release for general media outlets or shareholders who don’t have those same insights, you need to rework your writing to meet their needs.

In the blogging class, I find myself working with students who write about competitive swimming, sorority recruiting, offensive line play, k-pop and “mumble rap.” In each case, I am reading at a level well below what the expected audience will be, but I’m still expected to be able to help the writers reach those readers.

Thus, I often ask, “Is this a word/concept/process your readers would understand?” I then ask them other questions, like “At what level of swim do you learn this concept?” or “Is this a term that sororities use outside of UW-Oshkosh or even outside of Wisconsin?” After we poke at that idea for a little bit, it either stays or it gets a rewrite.

Not every reader will be able to follow everything you write, regardless of what that topic is or for whom you are writing, but knowing who you’re trying to reach can help you make the first cut on the jargon versus vocabulary decisions.



Probably my favorite story about this came when I was reading a draft of a final project story one of my reporting students was doing on the concept of raw milk. The student was a farm kid, who saw firsthand the various people who had angles on the topic, including farmers who wanted to sell it, organic fans who wanted to buy it, legislators who were for its legalization, legislators who were against its legalization, milk conglomerates who opposed, food-safety administrators who had concerns about its safety and more.

I’m reading through this thing and I’m learning a ton about this, as the writing was complex and yet clear. I had heard about this concept before, as the local newspaper had covered it, but not to this extent. With that in mind, I suggested to her that she should get it published, but that she should target one of the farm publications that dotted the newspaper racks around here.

When I mentioned those publications, she looked at me the way that a parent looks at a small child who just said something adorably innocent.

“Um…” she began. “This is a little… basic for people who read those papers…”

I still laugh thinking about that moment because it perfectly captures the concept of writing at the acumen level of the audience. For me, she had to make certain things a bit less (OK, a lot less…) complicated in how the farming stuff worked. She get more detailed with the legislative stuff, because it was more universally understood. However, she used the right words to make her point based on how educated her audience was on the given topic.

As mentioned in the earlier point, not every reader is going to be at the same level as every other reader in your audience, but understanding the level at which you should be writing will make life easier on everyone involved. For example, if you’re writing about something like car repair, you might be targeting people with Wooderson-level acumen or people who want to be able to solve a few basic problems to avoid going to the repair shop for everything.

So, if you’re writing about what to look at when it feels like the gas pedal isn’t working, you need to determine how much knowledge your audience has in advance. For the regular folks, you might say, “Open the hood of the car and look at the right side of the engine, next to the big plastic piece that says ‘NISSAN’ on it for a small half-circle of black plastic with a silver cable attached to it. Have a friend step on the gas pedal and see if this moves at all. Also see if the cable moves but it doesn’t rotate that half-circle.”

For a gearhead, you might  say, “Look to the right side of the engine block and find the throttle body. Rotate it to see if the engine responds. Check the throttle cable to see if it has become dislodged or detached.”

This kind of thing applies a lot for student media outlets because some things are universally understood by students from the first minute they hit campus while others might be common knowledge to seniors but new concepts to freshmen. (I once went to a summer camp at a university where I was the only person from outside of that state. The students kept saying “I’ll meet you at the duck,” so I went looking for a statue of a duck or a pond. Eventually, I found out it was the DUC, which stood for Dobbs University Center.)

Everything from what you call the transcript of your classes as you move toward graduation (the STAR report at UWO) to the nearby off-campus housing (the J-Slums at Mizzou) is up for grabs based on how well your readers know your topic.



Regardless of how much you know about your audience or how smart those folks are, you still want to create readable content. When you start tossing around a boatload of acronyms, abbreviations and inside lingo, you can really find yourself sounding less like a storyteller and more like this scene from “Good Morning, Vietnam:”


As with most things in writing, the discretion of the writer and the editor come into play here, but make smart decisions when it comes to which items get the shorthand and which ones get some additional explanation. For example, “mph” is pretty much understood university as “miles per hour” so that car blog would be fine using it regardless of any user. However that CFM abbreviation might need expansion for some audiences and almost no explanation for others. Either way, when you find yourself writing something like, “The CFM determines the MPH or KPH based on the RPMs, IMA, MJ, CAT and the presence of an HIC.” you want to do a significant rewrite.

Washington Post Senior Editor Marc Fisher took time out of his busy schedule to crap all over student journalists at the University of Virginia for being humane in the wake of a mass shooting

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post has more than 30 years in at the paper, a fistful of Pulitzer Prizes and a resume that would leave most journalists, and journalism students in awe.

Which is why it’s a damned shame that he decided to punch down at the staff of the Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia for what he considered to be a terrible approach to their coverage of a mass shooting on their campus:

If you haven’t been following the news, UVa student Christopher Darnell Jones, Jr. is accused of killing three Virginia football players and wounding several other students while returning from a class field trip Sunday. Jones was on the run for about half of a day and the school was on lock down during that time. Following his arrest, the campus went into a state of mourning, with multiple tributes made to the victims and sports activities being cancelled.

The school’s paper, the Cavalier Daily, had dutifully and professionally covered the initial incident and the subsequent fall out with stories like these:

Apparently, that wasn’t good enough for Fisher, as he lambasted the students for not going door to door, rooting out grieving fellow students and demanding answers as to how they’re feeling about all of this. When the twitterverse asked him to look at what he was ACTUALLY doing (punching down, pontificating, acting like an arrogant jerk), Fisher doubled down with a loud sniff:

In a situation like this, there are MANY ways to gather and assess information. In the case of the ongoing investigation, the students are doing just that: finding out what is going on and telling people on campus about it. In less than three days, they’ve punched out at least a half-dozen good stories on this issue, including a breaking-news piece. That’s on top of all of the other things that the Marc Fishers of the world no longer have to do, like attend class, work a service-industry job to pay the rent, study for tests and keep up with their other school responsibilities.

And, of course, they spent time calming down their own parents, who are likely freaked out of their minds that their kids are on a campus in which a fellow student seemingly randomly stood up on a bus and killed three people and shot at several others.

It’s also worth noting that this is not whiny snowflake of a paper. It’s one of the best in the country, in which its student journalists have repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way to get the story. For example, here’s a look back at the series we did on how the Cav Daily covered the “Unite the Right” rally back in 2017, gathering information among marching white supremacists,  while dodging public brawls and gagging on tear gas.

Y’know, journalism.

It’s really hard not to curse like a sailor with his hand caught in a blender right now, primarily because these students deserve praise for behaving like professionals, covering an untenable situation with dignity and providing their readers with both important information as well as a respectful amount of space to process their own grief.

To that end, here are three key points I’ll end with:

COVERING DEATH TAKES PRACTICE: I have told every student I’ve taught that it’s impossible for me to adequately teach them how to cover crime and breaking news because we can’t emulate it. I can take them to a city council meeting to practice meeting stories or a ball game to practice sports stories, but there is no parallel for crime journalism. Until you have to ask someone about a dead friend lying on the ground in front of them or approach the parent of a dead kid in the hospital for a quote, you have no idea how you’re going to do at it.

I started covering things like that when I was the age of these Cav Daily kids and it really messed me up a lot. I can still remember the name, age and cause of death of every dead kid I ever covered. I can remember how some people would want to talk to me for hours about their loved ones and how others would say such foul things about me and how “your mother didn’t raise you right,” that I wanted to shrivel up and die myself.

I got better at it and one piece of advice stuck with me, years later, from Kelly Furnas, the adviser of the Virginia Tech newspaper back when that campus experienced the deadliest mass shooting of its kind: When you have to cover something like this, you offer people the opportunity to speak. If they choose not to, that’s fine, but you offer. That’s what the kids did here, even if it wasn’t exactly the way that Marc Fisher thinks he would have done it.

JOHNNY SAIN WAS RIGHT ABOUT GUYS LIKE THIS: The Johnny Sain Axiom on Old Timers’ Day applies perfectly here: “There sure is a lot of bullshit going on around here. The older these guys get, the better they used to be.”

I have no doubt that Marc Fisher is a fantastic reporter, editor, writer and more. That said, when you get to a certain point in life, you can really forget what it’s like before you became all of those really great things.

According to his bio, Fisher graduated with an AB in history from Princeton in 1980. That would put him there roughly in the latter half of the 1970s, which means we don’t have a true sense of what he was actually writing or reporting on back then. (I lack the time and resources to head to New Jersey, pull down some old dusty bound volumes of the Daily Princetonian and dig around for his clips.)

What I can say is that I know a ton of award-winning journalists who I had as students or worked with at college media outlets who were nowhere near as good back when they were in school as the kids at the Cav Daily have been in their coverage of this situation. I can also say that I’d rather look back at photos of me in god-awful polyester suits as a kid than go back and read what I wrote for the student newspaper in college.

We all sucked at some level as student journalists, which is totally understandable. We were learning the craft by making the mistakes that made us better. We were trying things because we saw other people doing them in their writing and we found out the hard way that it wasn’t easy to emulate the great ones. We made choices we’d cringe at in our later years, asking ourselves, “What the hell were you THINKING?”

If Marc Fisher is honest and actually took a look back, I bet he’d find out he wasn’t as great as he remembers himself being.

DON’T BE A DICK: I have yet to come up with a better way of expressing this, so I apologize to those with more sensitive disposition. However, it’s the best way I can get at the core of what’s bugging me the most about this.

Marc, believe it or not, you are an aspirational figure for a lot of these kids. I bet they’ve read your stuff, seen your books, caught your act on some round-table show or in some other way come in contact with what you do. What you say MATTERS to these people because you have done a lot with your career and it is a hell of a career at that. A snotty tweet, picking on a staff of students for what you perceive to be a journalistic faux pas (which it actually isn’t) does absolutely no good.

When you hold a position of value, people remember their encounters with you, even long after you have forgotten about them. I still have students to this day tell me things I’ve told them that meant a lot to them, even when I have absolutely no recollection of having said those things.

I also know what it’s like to be on the other end of this, and how a kind and supportive word from a person  you deeply admire can make all the difference. In 2000, I was working the night desk at the Columbia Missourian when we got a tip that Gov. Mel Carnahan’s plane had crashed during his campaign tour for a U.S. Senate seat. I had about two years of experience as an editor at that point and I was scared to death that I was going to screw everything up.

I scrambled to get staffers in, connect the dots and build the story. In the middle of all of this, my boss, George Kennedy, called in to find out what was going on. George wrote the book I learned from and the book I taught from. He had decades of experience and he was like a god to me. The first words out of his mouth that night were, “So… you’ve got kind of an interesting night, don’t you?”

He asked me to fill him in, which I did, before I asked him if he was coming in. I figured he would want to take the wheel on a story like this and make sure it was exactly perfect, especially since we were tearing the front page to shreds on deadline and we still weren’t sure if the governor was alive or dead. I’ll never forget what he said next:

“Why? I’ve got you.”

Then he hung up.

To this day, nothing meant more to me than that did in terms of building my confidence and making feel like I could do this job. Kennedy could have said, “Well, if you promise not to suck like you normally do, I suppose I could stay home,” or “Sure. I doubt you could do this without me.” Instead, he made me feel like a professional and an equal. I STILL would step in front of a bus if George Kennedy asked me to because of this.

THAT’S the kind of impact people like you have, Marc, over people who are still finding their way. What you might see as a tweet in passing has a lot more of an impact than you might ever know.


UPDATE: A friend forwarded me this while I was driving home with the line “Looks like his bosses pressured him to delete his tweet.”

For such a gifted wordsmith, Marc Fisher really sucks at saying, “I’m sorry for being a chucklehead.”

Hey YOU! A brief discussion of using second-person writing in news stories

My subdued reaction when my students use second person in their news stories…

One of the more difficult habits to break for beginning journalists is the use of second person in news stories. Although they tend to mix first, second and third person into their work, it’s usually easy to kick “I,” “We” and “Us” to the curb after a few sessions. Third person generally becomes the default option for them, based on the years of research papers that demand the detachment not found in first or second person. However, for some reason, second person seems to show up without rhyme  or reason within news stories, particularly news features.

This concept took on new relevance for me this weekend when Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote an epic story about his colleague, Mary Kay Cabot. Cabot has covered the Cleveland Browns for 31 years and was recently inducted into the The Press Club of Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. His story begins this way:

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Thirty-one years.

You’re Mary Kay Cabot, and you’ve been covering the Cleveland Browns for 31 years – the same team you watched on TV every Sunday while growing up in Lakewood.

Your dad was Joe Cabot, a Lakewood fireman and a Korean War veteran. He always had a game on of one of the local pro sports teams. But the Browns … the Browns were special. Your father “lived and died” with the Browns.

To see his daughter cover the Browns, that was as meaningful to him as if you had played quarterback for the orange helmets.

“If I ever run into that (Mike) Trivisonno, I’ll take care of him,” your father told you. He had heard the late WTAM talk show host rip you on the radio. To this day, you love that story.

Now, they’re your Browns, the team and the job that has loomed over you for three decades.

“It’s the Browns and our three kids,” is how you describe your life with Bill Murman, your husband of 29 years.

I’m not going to second-guess Terry Pluto, who has won more awards, published more books, covered more sports and done more amazing writing than I could ever hope to, when it comes to the use of a literary device. What I will say is that when I read this thing, I found the approach mentally jarring. It was like my brain was fighting against the way the whole “you” thing kept trying to make me a married, middle-age woman in Cleveland with a dead father.

The first time I ran into this kind of cognitive dissonance was when I was about 17 and I was going through an “’80s nihilistic authors phase” in my reading habits. Jay McInerney, a brilliant writer who has penned some of my favorite novels, used the second-person approach for the entirety of “Bright Lights, Big City,” which begins this way in a chapter titled: “It’s Six A.M. Do you know where you are?”

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might become clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not…”

So there I was, a teenager from the Midwest who had yet to take an illegal drink, trying to put myself into the shoes of a coked-up magazine copy editor who is trying to get laid in a New York City night club at the crack of dawn. It didn’t work out all that well, despite my best efforts.

In both cases, the writers were skilled professionals who were taking calculated risks, based on a variety of factors they seriously considered before stepping into the “you-niverse.” As we have said here before, if you learn the rules well enough, you can figure out when it’s best to break them. (In short, you earn the fungus on your shower shoes.)

That said, most of my students haven’t earned that right yet and tend to use second-person missives as a writing crutch.

To figure out if second person is the way to go, consider these questions:

  • How will your audience respond to this? Like most things we talk about in media writing, the audience should be front and center when you decide if you should go with second person or not. If the readers aren’t at the forefront of the decision-making process, a lot can go wrong with second person. People don’t like being told what to do, especially if it seems like you’re coming at them from a higher moral position. Thus, telling them “You should give money” or “You should donate blood” or anything along those lines can feel off-putting. Second person is also something that readers aren’t used to in certain formats and platforms, so using it can be really jarring to some folks. In thinking about my experience with Pluto’s story, I would be really interested in what the general Cleveland sports audience thought about the Cabot piece and the use of “you,” especially because Cabot is such a rare gem in the field.


  • What is the tone of your media outlet? “You” has become a staple of television news over the years, as has “I,” because broadcast is an interpersonal medium. When done well, broadcasters make viewers feel a one-on-one connection that is less like a news report, and more like shared information from a trusted friend. Columnists and bloggers often get away with “you” as well, in that the format is less formal and more conversational. To pretend to carry some sort of objective detachment feels fake or even snobby. More traditional or general-interest outlets still need that sense of detachment, primarily because the audience is so varied and the tone of formality has been ingrained over time.


  • What is the tone of your piece? Standard news stories tend to have multiple angles and facets, thus it’s hard to know which one  “you” the reader will connect with. Even a story about a landlord evicting poor tenants on Christmas Eve has multiple facets, and second person can make it look like you’re taking sides. Conversely, “how to” pieces on niche blogs or websites might need a lot of “you” moments to guide readers along and reassure them that they can fix the garbage disposal or Bedazzle a jean jacket.


  • Are you just being lazy? In the case of the two authors noted above, the use of second person was a clear, conscious choice that they stuck with all the way through the piece. They decided to ride or die with second person. Most of the pieces I’ve read that contain second person don’t take things to this extreme with this kind of forethought. It’s a case of a writer shifting into second person because they don’t want to take the time to rewrite a sentence in third person. Using second person as a literary device is worth a shot here and there. Using it as a writing crutch is just plain lazy. If you can easily rewrite a sentence into third person and the majority of the piece is in third person, take the time to do it. If you have a clear and coherent reason to go into the “you-niverse,” take the risk if you have worked your way through the points above.

Like most tools in your writing toolbox, second person can be useful in certain situations. If you use it for the right reason, you can do a lot of good for your readers. If you use it for the wrong ones, you can undermine the value of your piece and annoy your audience.

Time once again to give thanks for journalists who avoid holiday cliches (A Throwback Post)

With Thanksgiving mercifully two weeks away, I’m sure most of us are ready for a well-deserved break in the semester. What we’re probably less ready for is the deluge of cliches that accompany it, and the rest of the holiday season.

Given that we’ve just gone through an election in which well-worn phrases have pelted us like a hail storm (red wave, radical agenda…) that it feels like we won’t get a break from this kind of stuff unless we all pitch in to prevent this kind of thing.

With that in mind, here is a throwback post to the cliches we tend to see the most this time of year:



‘Tis the season to kill these 17 holiday cliches that will land you on the naughty list and get you coal in your stocking

The holiday season brings a lot of things to a lot of people, including family, gifts, joy and faith. Unfortunately for journalists, it also brings a ton of horrible, well-worn phrases that sap your readers’ will to live.

I tapped into the hivemind of jaded journos who were nice enough to come up with their least favorite holiday cliches. Avoid these like you avoid the kid in class with a cough, runny nose and pink-eye:

Turkey Day: The event is called Thanksgiving, so give thanks for journalists who don’t use this cliche. In fact, it took almost 300 years for turkey to become a staple of this event, so you might as well call it “Venison Thursday,” if you’re trying to be accurate.

T-Day: Regardless of if you are “turkey perplexed” or not, you’re compounding the problem with the above cliche with simple laziness. That, and you’re really going to create some panic among distracted news viewers in the military.

‘tis the season: According to a few recent stories, ’tis the season for car break-ins, holiday entertainingto propose marriage, to get bugs in your kitchen and to enjoy those Equal Employment Opportunity Commission year-end reports!

The White Stuff: Unless you are in a “Weird Al” cover band or running cocaine out of Colombia, you can skip this one.

A white Christmas: The only people who ever enjoyed a white Christmas were bookies, Bing Crosby’s agent and weather forecasters who appear to be on some of “the white stuff.”

Ho-ho-ho: It’s ho-ho-horrible how many pointless uses of this phrase turn up on a simple news search on Google. None of these things are helped by the inclusion of this guttural noise.

On the naughty list: The toys “on the naughty list” in this story “all have some type of hazard that could send a child to the hospital. The majority pose a choking hazard but parents should be aware of strangulation, burns, eye injuries, and more.” Including a cliche diminishes the seriousness of this a bit. Also, don’t use this with crime stories around the holidays: The first person to find a story that says Senate candidate Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. or Kevin Spacey landed “on the naughty list,” please send it to me immediately for evisceration.

Charlie Brown tree: Spoken of as something to avoid. You mean you want to avoid having a tree that demonstrated looks aren’t everything and that tries to capture the true deeper meaning of Christmas? Yep. Can’t have that stuff.

“Christmas starts earlier every year…” : Easter, maybe. Christmas, no. It’s the same time every year. Check your calendar and stop this.

War on Christmas: Be a conscientious objector in this cliched battle, please.

“… found coal in their stockings”: Apply the logic of “on the naughty list” here and you get the right idea. The story on the Air Force getting coal for Christmas after tweeting that Santa wasn’t real could have done without the cliche. Then again, maybe we’d all be better off if the Air Force was right, given the picture included with the story.

Making a list, checking it twice: A all-knowing fat man has a list of people who are naughty and nice and will dole out rewards and punishments accordingly. Sounds cute when it’s Santa, but less so when an editorial is using this to talk about Steve Bannon. Let’s be careful out there…

Grinch: There is probably an inverse relationship between the number of people who try to use this cliche and those who actually get it right. Let’s let John Oliver explain:

Jingle all the way: Nothing warms the heart like an in-depth financial analysis of a multi-national retailer like a random reference to Jingle Bells.

Dashing through the snow: This product pitch isn’t improved by the cliche, but it might help you survive hearing the use of it over and over and over…

It’s beginning to look a lot like…: Well, it apparently looks a lot like Christmas for small businesses, at Honolulu’s city hall, through a $1.5 million investment in lights at a Canadian park, and at a mall in Virginia. It’s also looking a lot like 2006 in the NFC. Oh, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Watergate as well. Get ready with that naughty list and coal, I guess…

The true meaning of…: Nothing says, “I understand and want to engage with my readers” like lecturing them on “the true meaning” of something, whether that is Christmas or a VAD.

Wishing you all the best in this season of cliche…

Vince (The Doctor of Paper)

Student Press Law Center to see a change at the top

Student Press Law Center Executive Director Hadar Harris announced Wednesday that she planned to leave the organization after five years to begin a consulting firm that develops human rights-based organizational transformation. In a “personal note” posted to the SPLC website, she outlined the myriad changes the organization saw since she walked into the office in 2017:

We held the first national trainings and summer leadership programs for advocates to learn new skills and develop strategies. We placed students in the center of our work and now are supporting grassroots groups in nearly 20 states. And as a result of that work, we got New Voices laws across the finish line in Washington, New Jersey and Hawai’i, making 16 states with New Voices protections.

We also launched a new initiative to be sure that where New Voices laws are adopted, that SPLC would work with students and administrators, school boards and policymakers to be sure that the law was understood and applied correctly. We recognized the need for accountability efforts (with the help of the SPLC Attorney Referral Network) and Know Your Rights outreach and training which we have launched in three pilot states so far. Truly transformational work.

We took a crazy idea scribbled on the back of an envelope and turned it into Student Press Freedom Day, a national day of action to draw attention to the accomplishments and challenges faced by student journalists. It’s become so successful that people now complain about the tag line!

We developed new programs like the Global Press Freedom Institute with our partners at PEN America, the Student Media Law and Policy Institute with its cool Moot Court competition, and, under the leadership of Operations Manager Alexis Mason, created SPLC in the Classroom, which zooms SPLC experts into the classroom and newsroom, significantly expanding the reach of our training and resources.

These programs have a lot of value for students and have made huge strides toward the big picture of student press freedom, for sure. However, the most important thing SPLC does, at least in my way of thinking, is during the day-in, day-out work of being there for student journalists who feel threatened and attacked for simply doing their jobs.

The sound advice and calming reassurances these legal eagles provide to students is invaluable and crucial in a time in which the press is very much under attack and people with high-priced lawyers feel emboldened to bully kids because they can. I have often referred students to SPLC with the explanation that the folks there are like “having a big friend walking with you when the school bully decides to try to steal your lunch money.”

Merely the ability to say, “I’ve contacted the Student Press Law Center and it is providing me with legal representation,” gives students confidence in their rights and gets most chuckleheads backing down quite quickly.

I could fill the internet with personal stories about how SPLC provided my students with help when someone threatened to sue our newspaper or withheld records or generally just acted like a dipstick toward us. The one I will share popped up in my Facebook memories the other day, and it literally encapsulates the value the mere existence of SPLC provides.

Seven years ago, when the Advance-Titan was in rough financial straits, a bunch of little … um… student government people decided I was to blame and tried to force me out as adviser. The newsroom kids reached out to SPLC for help and advice. The folks there wrote in on my behalf, detailing the legal issues pertaining to their kangaroo court and noting that SPLC would be watching.

At the meeting where they voted on a resolution to fire me that had about 382 “whereas” statement, the leadership was panickedly discussing behind the scenes about how a “special-interest legal group from Virginia” had somehow gotten involved. Suddenly, those little… um… people weren’t so cocksure, a reporter who covered the event told me later. They passed a resolution, but it had no effect. I stayed in place and a copy of that thing is hanging on the “First Amendment Wall” in my office.

I know dozens of other student media operations that could related reams of similar stories, which is why SPLC matters so much to us. Harris noted in her letter that the SPLC board will be working to find the next executive director between now and when she leaves in early 2023. Each time the ED position passes from one person to another, many of us in the student press community kind of hold our breath a little bit, because we know how this organization can make or break our institutions.

Each time, it seems, the organization continues to develop and grow in a positive direction that continues to serve us well.

5 simple axioms Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein relied on throughout Watergate that any student journalist can use, too

Journalism legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have a moment of levity Friday at the Media Fest 22 keynote event in Washington, D.C.

At this year’s Media Fest, media legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein provided a new generation of journalists with a glimpse of how they broke one of the biggest stories in news history and brought down the Nixon White House. The Friday keynote address helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break in and the subsequent reporting the Washington Post duo undertook to unravel the “Dirty Tricks” campaign the president and “all his men” engaged in prior to his reelection.

The most fascinating thing about these two men was not the lengths to which they went to find the truth or the volume of stories they wrote on this topic between the break-in and Nixon’s resignation two years later. Instead, it was the way in which they plied their trade in a fashion that any student journalist in that audience could mimic in at any student media outlet in the country.

To that point, here are five basic reporting axioms they followed that can make you successful as a beginning journalist:


GRAB THE OPPORTUNITIES WHEN THEY COME: The legendary story of Watergate began with a simple break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters. Five men were arrested on June 17, 1972 and going to be charged with burglary and wiretapping the next day, a Sunday.

The editors at the Post knew someone needed to cover that story and they chose Bob Woodward, but not for the reason you would think.

“(People in the newsroom asked) ‘Who would be dumb enough to come in today?’ and the editors thought of me,” Woodward said.

At the time, Woodward was 28 years old and had about two years of journalistic experience under his belt. Instead of complaining that he had to come in on a Sunday or that it was the kind of garbage story that would be lucky to yield a byline, Woodward went to court where he noticed something amazing: The men accused of the crime were all dressed in suits.

“I’ve never seen a well-dressed burglar,” Woodward said Friday.

His curiosity got the better of him and he began down a two-year road that would turn him into a household name. It all started with taking the opportunity he received from people who thought lesser of him.

When it comes to opportunities, don’t let them pass you by.


SHOW UP: Woodward and Bernstein repeated this mantra Friday throughout their keynote, which actually felt more like two old friends shooting the bull over a couple beers. As they recalled key moments throughout the evolution of their reporting, they kept noting how they got the stories by going places and meeting people.

Bernstein said the biggest break in the early days was finding a bookkeeper for the slush fund used to pay the Watergate conspirators and finance the dirty tricks. He went to her house and knocked on her door, only to be met by the woman’s sister, who wanted to get rid of him as fast as possible. Still, he persisted:

“I sort of kept my foot in the screen door,” he said. “(The bookkeeper) said ‘Don’t let him in,’ but she eventually let me in. The bookkeeper was intimidated but wanted to talk.”

From there, Bernstein hung with the bookkeeper and kept asking questions until he managed to get a big piece of the puzzle. Had he called her instead of showing up, it would have been much easier to get rid of him, but since he was literally face to face with her, the bookkeeper acquiesced.

That lesson stayed with the pair over time. Woodward said he realized he had “gotten lazy” during his later years as he was tracking down sources for one of his more recent books. After repeated attempts to reach a military official who had successfully evaded his requests, Woodward came to a simple realization:

“We’re not showing up enough,” he said.

Thus, he went to the general’s door at 8:17 p.m. on a Tuesday (“the perfect time” to get a source to talk, he noted) and knocked. The general answered the door and asked Woodward the first question of what would be an in-depth interview:

“Are you still doing this shit?”

Yes, he was, and apparently, it still works.

As much as it seems easier to shoot a text or an email to a source, it often isn’t as effective when you really need to get the bigger story. I know that I have leaned a little too much on the phone or email while I’m blogging, as opposed to going to someone’s place of business or knocking on an office door. However, I also realized that if I REALLY wanted to get something done, I had to physically go somewhere and be in someone’s presence. That still yields the best results, whether I’m trying to find out if someone got fired or if a person actually will be fulfilling my request to approve an HR document.

As uncomfortable as it might feel to go and “bother” someone, it feels much more uncomfortable for that person, which means they’ll usually give you what you want just to get rid of you.


WHEN IT COMES TO SOURCES, GO LOW: During their collaboration, the pair developed a solid working relationship, drawing from each other’s journalistic strengths and experiences. Woodward said the most important thing he learned from Bernstein was what kinds of people made for the best sources:

“Find people at the lower level,” Woodward said. “That’s what Carl taught me. We can’t go to the White House and ask people about this so we have to knock on doors and that’s the Bernstein method.”

In the early days, the sources who let the cat out of the bag were the desk workers, low-level employees and other people who weren’t in the positions of power. They were the people who knew what was going on because they were the ones who had to do the banal work of typing up documents, filing forms and moving information from one important person’s desk to the next.

It warmed my heart to hear this, because I’ve always found that my best contacts were the people who weren’t really high on the food chain. I knew the night-time deputy coroners, the secretary at the police department who kept trying to set me up with her grand-daughter, the janitor at the city-county building and other folks like that. At first, I figured it was because I wasn’t much of a reporter, so those “more important people” didn’t need to bother with me. I later realized what Woodward and Bernstein knew all along: These are the people who know everything and are more willing to tell you about it.

That’s the reason I tell my reporting students, “Never diss a desk jockey. They’re the folks who run the world.”


BE HONEST AND FAIR IN YOUR WORK: When the moderator introduced these two titans of journalism, she listed two resumes that would be the envy of anyone in the room: Multiple books, Pulitzer Prizes, important jobs at major publications and more. However, when they started working the Watergate story 50 years earlier, they were a couple unknown “kids” in the newsroom.

Each story they wrote contained unnamed sources, claiming the president and the people around him had done things no one in that office had ever been accused of doing before. The editors in the newsroom had faith in them, but many of their colleagues weren’t as sure.

“Who are these two kids?” Bernstein said, recalling the popular newsroom sentiment at the time. “This stuff can’t be true. Nixon is too smart. There was skepticism about us in this newsroom.”

As the White House continued to deny the allegations and assail the Post with criticism, the men kept at the story because they knew they were right.

“There comes a moment if you’ve done your reporting right, you understand the dimensions of the story you are working on,” Bernstein said.

However, they realized the most important thing about telling the story was that they had to make sure they weren’t trying to make reality fit what they thought was going to happen. At one point, even amid the nay-sayers around them, they figured out that this whole thing was leading on the path to Nixon likely being impeached. In explaining this to the crowd on Friday, they said it was crucial that they keep their reporting above board and not jump past where they facts had led them.

“People can’t think you have an agenda,” Bernstein said.

In today’s media, that statement might seem as quaint as if he said you needed to make sure your typewriter ribbon was fresh before starting a story, but it really shouldn’t. Journalistic fairness isn’t about finding fake balance, like publishing a story about how the moon isn’t made of green cheese but only after you find a “lunar cheeser” source to provide “the other side” of the argument. It’s about going into a situation well prepared and yet open minded.

The goal both of these guys had for their reporting wasn’t, “Let’s go get Nixon and stick it to The Man!” It was to draw the truth out of the people who knew it and present that information to their audience.  When they stuck to that, they were able to tell the stories more effectively.

When you decide to cover anything at all, try to start with that idea of being open minded about your topic and your source. That should be guided by your research that prepared you for the piece. If you think the whole goal of the parking department on your campus is to fleece college students out of their hard-earned money, OK, fine. However, when you go in to interview those folks, actually keep an open mind and listen to what they have to say. They might change your mind, or they might not, but if you go in there with an agenda, nothing good is going to happen.


STAY HUMBLE: These two guys basically ended a presidency, took home every conceivable accolade in journalism and became journalistic nomenclature for exceptional reporting. Every journalist in that room, and all the overflow rooms, would give any body part they had to be 1/10th of what these guys have become. However, both in their demeanor and their presentation, Woodward and Bernstein never seemed to smack of ego or self-importance.

Woodward said the most important thing he learned throughout the Watergate saga was being humble and remaining the person he was before all of this happened. He said that Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, helped him keep himself grounded after the Watergate scandal had ended:

“I got a note from Katharine Graham… It said, ‘Don’t start thinking too highly of yourself. Beware the demon pomposity. That demon wanders the halls of too many institutions,'” he said.

If Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein can keep their egos in check, it’s safe to say any of the rest of us should be able to manage it as well.



Tired of political ads on TV? Three reasons they’re not going away

(“I just want to warn you that when I wrote this song, I was watching TV during the 2022 midterm campaigns so…”)

Avoiding political advertising this time of year is like trying to stay dry in a hurricane: Despite your best efforts, it isn’t going to happen. Candidates, political action committees, outside organizations, issue-oriented groups and anyone else who has a bone to pick will flood your mailboxes, newspapers, inbox, digital devices, fax machines, billboards and more with a torrent of advertising geared toward shifting the vote total just a smidge more in favor of their candidate.

If you think this year is worse than most, you’re probably right. This piece from NPR outlines the way in which both major parties are pounding the heck out of us with paid speech at a cost and speed unlike any previous midterm election. It has gotten so bad that I’m practically begging my TV to show me Tom Selleck hawking a reverse mortgage or out-of-control Xentrex ads.

Anything but another frickin’ ad about the radical, unhinged, wrong-for-us, out-of-touch, elitist, self-serving, corrupt candidate that will ruin my life, destroy our country and probably get me hooked on Xentrex…

Despite a seemingly universal disdain for deluge of political ads (especially negative ones), they’re not going away for three simple reasons:

In some cases, the law says the ads must run

We might not want to see U.S. senate candidates and individuals seeking office in the U.S. House of Representatives on our TV every 16 seconds, but federal law sure does. Section 312(a)(7)  of the Federal Communications Act states that a broadcast license can be revoked if a station does not provide legally qualified candidates for federal office with access to the airwaves. The stations are required to “permit the purchase of reasonable amounts of time for use of a broadcasting  station” to reach the public.

This only covers the federal offices, which means that this only applies to people running for the positions of president, vice president, U.S. senator and U.S. representative. It also doesn’t state what accounts for a “reasonable amount” of advertising time, thereby allowing candidates to stretch the bounds of reasonability like it’s a Stretch Armstrong doll on speed…

Beyond that, Section 315 of the communications act provides what are known as equal time rules or equal time doctrine. This simply means that if a station allows one legally qualified candidate for an office access to its facilities, it must provide an equal opportunity for the other candidates for that office. So, if I’m running for Waushara County Dog Catcher and I am allowed to buy a 30-second spot on the local ABC affiliate for $500, any other legally qualified candidate for that office must be able to get the same amount of time for the same price on that station.

Now, the station can decide it doesn’t want to get involved in this nonsense, and thus make the statement that it won’t allow me, or any other candidate for that office to run ads. That’s fine. Also, the station that allowed me to run that ad doesn’t have to go looking for all the other candidates and tell them they have this opportunity. However, if one of my many fine opponents comes to ABC and wants to run a 30-second ad for $500, that station is duty-bound to do it.

Here in Wisconsin, and I’m sure we’re not alone, the broadcast outlets have been stepping forward to make the case as to why they HAVE TO run these ads. They are also explaining why they can’t censor the political ads to eliminate all the nastiness that goes into them:

Can television stations not air an ad because it is violent or has harsh language in it?

Matt Rothschild: “The Federal Communications Act of 1934 was so worried that stations were going to be censoring political candidates that they said essentially, you can’t do anything about the content except run it.”

Technically, the stations could sit out everything except for the federal races, although they often pitch the advertising for those non-federal offices as being tied to the “general public interest standards” that govern their license. Still, that’s not the main reason why broadcast stations run these things…


Political ads make serious money for the stations:

As much as the public tends to hate election season, it’s practically a lottery win for broadcasters. The law dictates that stations must charge candidates equal amounts for equal time, so they can’t charge me $500 for my Dog Catcher campaign ad and then charge my opponent $20,000 for the same type of ad. The law also dictates that political candidates must be charged the lowest rate available for advertising.

That said, they more than make up for it in total volume. Experts expect total election ad spending to hit almost $10 billion this cycle, with advertising experts foresee serious financial windfalls for broadcasters this election cycle:

Kantar Media Intelligences Inc. expects TV stations to realize some $4.2 billion in political ad revenue, though cable, digital and connected TV will also benefit from increased political outlays, according to Steve Passwaiter, Kantar’s vice president and general manager for North America.

It’s actually tough to figure out how much money actually will go into this election until everything is said and done. If you have ever bid on something through eBay, you know why: The pace can be stable and normal for the majority of the auction time, but when the last few seconds come around, everyone who is desperate to win will jump in with insane final bids and jack the total expenditure through the roof. The estimated amount spent on ads of all kinds, or even just in broadcasting ads, for this campaign season might vary widely based on who is counting, what they’re counting and when they did their projections, but they all say the same thing: People are pouring money into this like they’re trying to drown democracy with buckets full of cash.

And TV folks are bemoaning the loss of accuracy and integrity among advertisers all the way to the bank.

Still, people wouldn’t be offloading cargo ships full of Benjamins if it weren’t for the final reason the ads aren’t going away…


Political advertising works in many distinct ways:

So many people say they hate political advertising that it’s a wonder it actually exists. Then again, to be fair, so many people say that pornography is abhorrent, terrible and should never be viewed, but PornHub is in the top 10 most visited websites, with an average of almost 3 billion views a month…

In short, what we say and what we experience are usually two different things.

Researchers have found that political advertising has the ability to shape turnout, with positive ads driving higher rates of it and negative ads suppressing it. Negative advertising tends to “stick” more with potential voters, other scholars have noted, with additional researchers finding that negative framing of issues tends to motivate people.

Some analyses across multiple election cycles have found mixed overall results in terms of how much ALL ads impact voting and to what degree positive or negative ads creates specific outcomes. However, a vast swath of research shows that the more politicians beat on us with their ads, the more likely we are to do SOMETHING in relation to that race, whether we like it or not.

The one saving grace? Election Day is just two weeks away…


4 questions to ask yourself before you interview someone else

Of all the topics that students request help with throughout their journalism journey, the most common one is learning how to interview sources well. Whether it’s in my intro class or my senior capstone-style courses, whenever I ask, “What do you want to get out of this class?” the answer is usually, “I really suck at interviewing… How can I get better at this?”

Repeatedly doing the task is always one good way of improving yourself whenever you feel deficient in  an area. However, interviewing can cause problems for other people while you learn. It’s  like expecting people to stand against a wall while you learn the art of knife-throwing: Until you get good at it, this is really going to hurt.

I often experience a few painful interviews throughout the term, because first-year students in one of our intro classes are required to comb the building for a professor to interview and I usually make the mistake of keeping my door open. They become enamored with the bobbleheads and then, BAM, I’m explaining what life as a professor is like to some kid who looks as scared as a fawn trapped in a semi’s headlights.

A lot of what goes wrong in those interviews is covered  in the textbook, in that the students don’t actively listen or really plan things out very well. To them, I’m just a slab of meat with a mouth that can satisfy their need to accomplish a task. However, a more senior student requested a specific interview with me for a departmental blog post, only to make the same kinds of mistakes these newbies made.

With that in mind, here are four questions a newer journalist can ask themselves prior to requesting an interview that might make their lives (and the lives of their subjects) a little better:

Have you done enough preparation before requesting the interview?

The worst experiences I’ve had as a journalist were the ones where I didn’t feel prepared. In some cases, I was able to get a bit of a pass, given that I covered a lot of breaking news. Thus, there’s no real way to prepare for a random shooting or a house fire that got way out of hand. However, there have been plenty of times where I would need to profile someone or do a news feature on a topic and I kind of half-assed the prep work, only to come face-to-face with a source who wasn’t all that thrilled with me.

The results felt like an awkward blind date, only there was no waitress to bring enough alcohol to improve the situation.

Before you decide, “I’m gonna interview this person,” consider how much you actually KNOW about that person and what it is that will improve the overall vibe and informative nature of the interview. Read up on the person, the topic and the newsworthiness of both before you send an email or make a call to get that person. The better handle you have on the source, the better you can approach them effectively and get everything off on the right foot.


How important is this person to the story you want to tell?

I have found a strange inverse relationship between how important a person actually is to a story and how important they think they are to it. In many cases, I’ve gotten the, “Oh, no… You don’t really need to talk to me about this…” response from people who are vital to a piece and brilliant beyond reproach. I have also had people get into a huff that their bland comment, which added nothing to the sum of human knowledge, didn’t get published because, “Do you know who I AM?”

The value of the source can vary greatly depending on the story you intend to write. In the case of a “Everyone had a great day at the fair” story, if you’ve seen one person eating a funnel cake, you’ve seen them all. Thus, when a source rebuffs your request for an interview, it’s not the end of the world. Feel free to hunt elsewhere.

Conversely, if that person is supposed to be the star of a major profile piece or news story, you need to come loaded for bear. You need to be able to explain to that person why they matter, what makes the story worth telling and how important their participation is in this piece.

It also matters in your overall approach. I’m not saying you should treat sources poorly if they are a dime a dozen for the story, but you do need to be exceedingly careful with wary sources who can make or break a story or reticent individuals who are playing it a bit close to the vest. This is the perfect time to practice those persuasive skills you learned in your public speaking or public relations courses.


Have you practiced?

It sounds almost childlike to practice your interview, either with someone else or by yourself, but you can save yourself a lot of aggravation if you put in a few practice rounds before the big event.

Reading the questions aloud can help you figure out if they actually make sense when you verbalize them. Some things sound great in your head, but lose traction when they hit the paper. Even more, this is where you can figure out if you accidentally slipped in a loaded question or you failed to ask the question you intended to ask.

It never hurts to ask someone to work with you, especially if you’re new at this kind of process. When you ask a question and it strikes an unfortunate nerve with your practice partner, you realize you might need to rewrite that question or rethink the concept.

For example, there are 1,001 ways to ask how a person is coping with the loss of a loved one, and just as many ways of screwing up the ask. Asking “Now that your husband is dead, where do you see yourself going from here,” is probably not going to get the response you had hoped for, unless you really wanted a widow to punch you in the head.

Practice also helps you improve the interview’s flow, prevents you from having to look at your notes as often and makes it feel more like a conversation than an interrogation.


Have you considered what this will be like from the source’s perspective?

We talk a lot about audience-centricity in the “Dynamics” textbooks because the goal of journalism is to work for the audience. With that in mind, think about the “audience” of this interview: the person on the other end of the questions.

When you request an interview, what you are essentially saying is that you want someone to do you a favor. You want that person to stop whatever else it is they’re doing, set aside a block of time for you, allow you to poke at them with a series of inquiries that will likely benefit you more than it will benefit them and then leave them in a mild to moderate panic over what it is you’ll do with what you’ve learned. It’s also an even-money bet they’ll worry you’ll screw stuff up and they’ll have to spend the next several days/weeks/months undoing the damage your stupidity has done to them.

Sounds like a big bag of fun for your interview subject, doesn’t it?

With that in mind, you should probably spend some time putting yourself into the shoes of your interview subject. What can you do to make the process easier on them? What can you do to help them feel like you’re not wasting their time? How can  you structure the interview to make the process work more smoothly?

This also plays into the earlier elements as well. How would you feel if someone asked you for a favor and you graciously granted it, only to have that person show up late? Or look unprepared? Or just sit there like, “Well? Just gimme something quick so I can get out of here!”

As difficult as all of this can be on you as a newer journalist, it can be exponentially harder and uglier for the people who have to deal with the back end of your growing pains.  Do whatever you can to take that person’s perspective into account before you decide to make the interview request.