The Life of a Working Columnist
By Austin Bell
If you to talk to anyone about journalism in Jackson, Michigan, talk to Brad Flory. He’s been writing for the local Jackson paper, the Citizen Patriot, for 26 years, and he is both connected with and respected by his community. In addition to covering general news stories, he writes a regular column for the paper. See Flory’s bio here. I interviewed Flory recently, and he let me see a bit of the life of a working columnist.
Flory has developed writing strategies that work best for him over his years on the job. For example, Flory likes to write his columns in the mornings. That’s when he feels “the most fresh and creative.” He then spends the rest of the day reporting. He also likes to finish up his columns a day earlier than the deadline so he can review them. He feels this extra look improves the final product.
Flory also keeps a few things in mind when he sits down to write a story. In a news story, he attempts to keep his leads as short as possible. He is a fan of the inverted pyramid-style lead. In his opinion pieces, on the other hand, Flory often tries to work humor into it somewhere. In either case, Flory tries to write as simply and as “common sense” as possible. He approaches his writing from the perspective of the “ordinary person.”
Flory has also come by many techniques for conducting interviews. He is polite with sources, especially if he doesn’t know them well. “I call people ‘Mr.’ even if they’re younger than me,” he says. He also tries to be fair to anyone he interviews. If you do that, he says, sources will “trust that at least your not going to screw anything up.”
Even though he is polite and fair, Flory does have to deal with difficult interviewees. “Sometimes people are hostile and they have good reason to be, and I take it,” he says. For example, when the Citizen Patriot published a scathing editorial against the firefighter’s union, firemen became difficult subjects for Flory to interview. In some cases it just isn’t worth it to interview hostile subjects, he says. “If your not going to get cooperation for…a feature story, it’s not going to be a good feature story anyway.” However, Flory is willing to stand up for his Constitutional rights. “You have to say flat out, ‘I have a right to that and I expect it.’”
With his many years of experience, Flory certainly knows his stuff, and he left me with a final piece of advice for young journalists. “You [have] got to be the sort of person that drives by and sees something that [makes] you say ‘What the heck is that?’ and would stop, because that will take you a long way as a reporter.” See some of Flory’s work here .