Journalism and careers therein are changing. But the core values of being fair, being transparent, being accurate and getting the story quickly remain cornerstones of the industry.
Peter Copeland, the former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for E.W. Scripps, got his start in journalism as a reporter in Chicago, thanks to political discussions with a neighbor one summer.
Journalism runs in his family, with his maternal grandparents both working in the business, but “I studied political science… I wanted to change the world,” he says. Eventually, he realized writing about the world could help make that change happen.
A year after graduating, Copeland spent time working in Michigan, where he struck up a friendship with a man building a summer home there. “We used to argue about politics. At the time, I thought he was a right-wing nutjob and he thought I was a leftie idiot,” Copeland says now. “He was the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper I had grown up reading but never thought about working there because it was so conservative to me at the time.”
His kindly neighbor suggested, if Copeland wanted to try journalism out, he could help open a few doors with an internship.
Copeland’s first job was essentially an apprenticeship with the City News Bureau of Chicago, which was owned by the Tribune at the time. “I would call facts in to a re-write. Gradually they let me write my own story, then they taught me how to edit a story. Step by step, someone more senior than I was led me by the hand. That was lucky for me because I didn’t have the experience.”
Now he’s trying to pay those opportunities forward, both in person and through his new book, Finding the News: Adventures of a Young Reporter.
“When I became a bureau chief, I was able to hire people and bring in interns and I always try to make myself available,” he says. “I always tell people, you have to separate out the business of news and the craft of journalism. The craft hasn’t changed much. The values of speed, accuracy and fairness, that’s what I was taught 40 years ago and that’s what I would teach young journalists now.”
The business, of course, is much different. Copeland says in his career, he had a total of two jobs, something that’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, now.
“The exciting thing is, the possibilities are endless. You’re going to move around a lot. Each time you move, with luck, you’ll move up, not laterally or back. You’ll move up in authority and pay and benefits and you’ll use that as a zig-zag ladder up,” he says.
There’s also the very real possibility, especially for young journalists, to work for a news outlet a few years down the road that doesn’t exist today. “You could start that news organization,” he says.
Or maybe they’ll leave journalism altogether and try out a new career.
“If you wake up and all you can think about is the news, you should do that. If it doesn’t work, you may have to switch,” he says. “Many journalists have gone into PR or law or business or government. There are many fields that journalism prepares you for, even if you don’t end up spending your entire career there.”
This week, It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell is joined by Peter Copeland, a former DC Bureau Chief for the E.W. Scripps Company and author of a new book, Finding the News: Adventures of a Young Reporter, to discuss changes in the business, but not the craft, of journalism over the course of his career.