Making Journalism (Her)story: Emily Sweeney
“Telling people’s stories, that’s the number one thing. I guess you could call it my passion,” Emily Sweeney, reporter for The Boston Globe, told Teen Voices. The president of the New England chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sweeney is no stranger to the daily grind of reporting. Her work has been featured in renowned publications such as The New York Times and Yankee Magazine.
The path the becoming a season reporter is challenging. In the world of journalism there are endless stories, words, and images to investigate and to share. The challenge comes in finding your journalism niche. How do you decide if you want to become a sports writer or photographer, or a news anchor, editor, or producer? Sweeney offers advice to aspiring journalists in her interview with our teen editors Samantha Casseus, Ruth Cormier, and Ashlie Pruitt.
Teen Voices (TV): Could you please tell us more about your job as a reporter?
Emily Sweeney (ES): I've been working in journalism for more than ten years now, and I've worked on many different projects. At The Globe, my job is to go out, find stories that people would be interested in, and write the story that will appear in the paper and also online. The process involves a combination of research, meeting people, interviewing people, asking tons of questions, and sometimes going to the library. The past few years, doing video and audio clips for the web have also been added to the mix.
TV: Why did you choose a career in journalism?
ES: I've always been interested in tons of things. I’ve always enjoyed working with media, whether it be drawing comic books or pretending I had a radio station on a boom box back in 1984. It was a perfect fit. And it was a dream come true getting a job at The Globe because it happened sooner than I thought.
TV: How did you get to where you are now? What kinds of steps did you take to get to where you are in your career?
ES: I went to college and studied journalism, majored in it, and came out with a degree. I did a lot of freelancing and working at smaller newspapers. In journalism, the most important thing is on-the-job training—just going out there and doing it. We have reporters and editors here who have majored in all types of things, from economics to political science…You don’t have to study journalism to be a journalist.
TV: What does a good story consist of?
ES: At its essence, a good story is something important or significant that people should know, or something interesting that people would like to know. We report on a lot of stories that some people may find boring about local or state budget stuff, but it’s very, very important, because it’s taxpayer’s money and it is important to know where that goes. And then we have feature stories covering the clown convention, which is an example of just something that we thought people might like to know.
TV: How do you know when you have done your best work?
ES: Getting feedback from readers is always cool. But I try to treat every story as the most important because you're telling the truth to the world. I'm super careful to fact check, and accuracy is my number one priority. I try to make every story my best. No joke.
TV: What was your most memorable incident as a journalist?
ES: One of my most memorable moments was either in ’98 or ’99. President Clinton flew in and I was working for the Bedford Minuteman at the time. I went out to cover [his arrival], and being an amateur, I only had my regular press pass. I didn’t know you had to call in advance and deal with the White House. Long story short, they told me I couldn’t go in. It was my first big story and I was like, “I can’t believe this is happening. This is so bad.” One of the public affairs guys I knew said, “Hey Em, why don’t you just go in with all the soldiers that live in the base,” and I was like, “SURE!”—no questions asked.
It was so funny because across the airplane hangar was a little boxing ring for the press people. They were all cornered off in this little tiny area far away. But when [President] Clinton landed, he came right over to where the military guys and I were, and all the press pool and photographers had their cameras with their zoom lenses like “click, click,” and I was just like “Hey, Mr. President!” I came back with a story and pictures that nobody else had. That was my first big story. It was almost a disaster. But I just refused to leave until I got in.
TV: What are the pros and cons of being a female journalist?
ES: For me, gender hasn’t really been much in the way of anything I do. I dress weird. When I was working at the Bedford Minuteman, I spiked my hair and had a Mohawk, so usually, it’s like “Hey, who’s that freak?” “Oh, that’s the reporter,” not, “Who’s that girl?” It’s never really been an issue.
TV: How does your job affect your everyday life?
I'm unique in that way because I think of [my personal life and work life] as one in the same. I never take my journalist hat off. I'm always looking for stories and telling people what I do. It is what it is. I don’t separate it. It’s something I don’t mind being defined by... It is a huge part of my life. It still surprises me how much people distrust the media and the press, and over the years, that’s has made me embrace it more. It made me like an evangelist. Sometimes people have a bad experience with one news outlet or one reporter…I just try to show people that we’re trying to tell the truth and provide a service. We’re not just trying to sell papers. We’re trying to help.
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