Tag Archives: reporting

Late professor’s example a source of guidance in journalism and life

I’ll never forget an email I received from Richard Tapscott in April 2013.

“Taylor, your story is first-rate. But I have a few suggestions … ”

It didn’t feel any different at the time, with its typical conciseness, careful word choice and the Tapscott trademark of praise and polish served side by side. When I read the email Dec. 1, the day Rick died, though, I realized the gem hidden in it. In four brief paragraphs (none over three sentences, per Rick’s Rules), I discovered the kind of editor and reporter I aspire to be.

After a month of work that April, I had finally completed a piece of over 2,200 words about Des Moines’ booming young professionals scene for Rick’s Advanced Reporting and Writing Principles class.

In the typical Rick way, he opened the email with a quick compliment. And, again in that typical Rick way, he followed it with a long list of what I could improve.

Rick always knew exactly what his students needed to hear. He once approached me in the hallway of Meredith my freshman year and simply said, “Miss Soule, your lede in that Student Senate story was weak. I already know they met. Tell me what happened,” and walked away.

But he never let me forget one thing more important than fixing a weak lede, a gap in reporting or even the dreaded Oxford comma. He believed in me.

Yet again, I realized that extraordinary gift in a typical exchange with Rick.

When I met with him in his office one morning last spring, I vented about my trouble getting ahold of a key source despite multiple phone calls, messages and emails.

My blubbering episode probably sounded something like this: “Tapscott, I’m not going to get this story done, and I don’t think this source is going to call me, and I’m going to fail, and it’s not going to work out.” He replied in his usual succinct delivery, “It’ll all work out. It always does.”

And as always, he was right. That was the great thing about Tapscott. He believed in me even when I doubted myself.

And now, since taking over as editor-in-chief at The Times-Delphic in May, I say that exact piece of advice often, when my staff is panicking, whether about a source, a story or the day-to-day drama of working at a college newspaper. I’m not sure if any of the staff knows I got that advice from Tapscott, but I hope next year’s editor-in-chief and every EIC after keep those direct but comforting words alive in the TD newsroom.

In those routine conversations with Rick, I honed my definition of a “good” editor and reporter. The editor who values belief in her staff over the power of her red (or, for me, pink) pen. The reporter who won’t panic or complain about her latest woe.

Even more than an editor and reporter, though, Rick taught me what kind of person I aspire to be. Someone who works not for the paycheck, but to teach and encourage others. Someone who knows exactly what to say at the right time: “Taylor, journalism is an honorable and fun profession if you go into it for the right reasons.”

Thanks, Rick. Here I go.