Interview with Steve Ostrander: A Communications Professional

 I met Steve Ostrander in the LinkedIn group for online reporters and editors. http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=75711&trk=anet_ug_hm

I invited him to do an interview with me and he graciously accepted. Steve is a very talented writer/editor/journalist from Columbus, Ohio who has written MANY articles, a few award winning books such as Ohio – A Bicentennial Portrait, The Ohio Nature Almanac as well as other bestselling books.

Steve seems to be a very helpful man…I emailed him my interview questions and in a matter of hours I had a response! It was awesome!

Continue reading below for more great information and tips:   

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V: When did your passion for journalism begin?

 S: I drifted in journalism after grad school (history), first as a sportswriter and then as reporter and eventual editor of a weekly in Ohio. I really got hooked when I won awards from peers for editorial writing and general excellence (age 28). I considered my writing jobs for state agencies as journalism too, and my confidence and passion soared as my stories appeared in print.  Then I drifted into government PR.

V: What were the first steps you took to get into the journalism industry? e.g. schooling, internship…

 S: As noted above, I migrated into journalism as a historian. Never took a journalism course, learned to write on the job. I guess I would be considered old school, someone more concerned about clarifying ideas and storytelling than the technology of distribution. As manager of communications depts. for state agencies, I offered internships knowing these provided great on the job training ops.

V: What was your first journalism job? Sports writer for Hudson register star or did you have small jobs before that?   

 S: I wrote several stories for my college newspaper—on student protests. But not paid. The sports writing job was the first.  

V: What advice would you have for beginning journalists?

 S: Ultimately you must write a story that appeals to a reader, connects the reader to the information and message of the article.  Not a story that appeals to you. Next, develop a personal voice (this is the part that appeals to you) that slyly connects you to the reader. It’s hard to explain, like an artist trying to explain a work. Storytelling and personal voice are keys to broadcasting too.  Learn all aspects of the trade—graphics, photo, etc. You must be curious, intrepid, earnest and dogged. And the stuff you learn in j-school is important too.  Try to know as much as possible about a topic before an interview so that you don’t lose momentum asking silly preliminary questions. For example, think of the prep needed to interview an expert on nuke

V: Where do you find your inspiration?

 S: Inspiration usually arises from observation, reading, experiences and curiosity.  It is important to read literature (all kinds) that are on the frontier, pushing forward, offering new perspectives (try Freakonomics), and challenging you to be motivated. Once I learned about an archeological study to determine the site of a landmark Indian battle in Ohio. I participated in the study with a metal detector and walking a grid.  I found a flattened musket ball fired from a British gun by a Shawnee. Had it inflicted a fatal wound? I had to know. Wonder is inspiration.   

V: What is the first question you ask yourself when beginning to write an article?

 S: There are several initial questions I ask myself.  Who is my final audience (understanding that the main audience is the editor who first reads the article)?  How much will I earn (if a freelance job)? What resources are available (persons to interview, documents, online research)? What do I need to know? Where do I get the answers? Can I finish it by deadline?

V: How long does it usually take you to write an article around 200-500 words?

 S: Depends.  I can still write a 200 word sports story based on eyewitness reporting in less than an- hour, perhaps less if it is formulaic.  A 500-word essay requiring research can take days. Rewrites of 500 words can be done quickly. There’s no definitive answer.    

V: What is your favorite topic to write about?

 S: There’s a saying that says to be a good editor you must fall in love quickly, fall out of love just as fast, and fall in love again—all part of a day’s work. So, be open to devotion to many interests.  I have several favorite topics—nature, history, politics, sciences.  Whatever really engages me at the time.  I don’t write sports anymore, but I dive for Sports Illustrated in waiting rooms.

V: As a journalist, do you use Facebook, and if so, (a) how do you use it and (b) what Facebook lessons have you learned.

 S: I am new to Facebook and social media, so I don’t its value. I know it’s the rage but I’m skeptical of its use as a tool for traditional journalism. I don’t use it as a journalist, though many use it for journaling.  To me messaging via Facebook is personal communication so the audience is narrow or limited. Standards for writing style, fact-checking, editing, references seem casual and not policed.  I am dabbling as an online freelancer, but the quality I read is questionable and payment ridiculously poor. Someone proficient in navigating social media, building “electronic” relationships among visitors, and transmitting a purposeful story may show its power. The person who managed the social media in my last government agency seemed to be an air traffic controller.

As I said, I’m probably old school, so social media seems more about process and production than information integrity and storytelling.  Or, how I got the message and return a message prevails over the value of the message and what I learn. 

 I hope this helped you. I had fun and will clarify answers if necessary. 

 Steve Ostrander

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Thanks again for the great interview Steve! 🙂

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