“Be vigilant about accuracy. Double-check all facts and the context you’re putting them in. Build trust over time. In each story, explain how and where you got your information. Explain your staff’s credentials, such as with bio lines on stories.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing John Schlander, managing editor at The Penny Hoarder, which Inc. Magazine named as the nation’s fastest-growing private media company.
How did you get started in journalism?
I grew up loving newspapers, especially my hometown Pittsburgh Press. I wrote for my high school newspaper, wrote and edited for my college newspaper at Penn State, interned at the Pittsburgh Press and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I was fortunate to quickly land a copy editing job at the St. Petersburg Times, now called the Tampa Bay Times. I spent the next 32 years there in a variety of roles, ending up as digital general manager. In 2016, I moved to a thriving startup: The Penny Hoarder, based in the same city. We later moved into the same building that houses the Times. I feel kind of like Robert De Niro in The Intern. He goes to work for a new company in the same building where he spent a long career.
How has fake news impacted journalism in 2018? Has it changed your day-to-day process as you craft stories?
“Fake news” means different things to different people. Stuff that’s indeed fabricated is often believed by many people, even after it’s debunked by reputable journalists, including fact-checkers like PolitiFact. It’s amazing how falsehoods spread across the internet with social media. As journalists, we’ve always questioned things and strived to be as accurate as possible. Now our spidey senses for fakery need to be more acute than ever. Don’t take anything at face value. Check and double-check. Be careful about sources who may, perhaps innocently, repeat falsehoods or misleading information. Years ago, I nearly fell for a hoax planned by a local charity for publicity. Fortunately I was warned in time.
Across nearly every topic, people are trusting the media less, according to a Gallup poll. As a journalist, what steps do you take to communicate trust and credibility in each story?
It goes back to the fundamentals: Be vigilant about accuracy. Double-check all facts and the context you’re putting them in. Build trust over time. In each story, explain how and where you got your information. Explain your staff’s credentials, such as with bio lines on stories. At The Penny Hoarder, we also personally try many products, services, apps and financial methods and tell our readers the results. We try to be like a knowledgeable friend advising you. One recent headline: We Broke Down the Top 5 Grocery Delivery Services So You Don’t Have to.
How do you ensure your sources contribute to the credibility of a story? What tools do you use to record in-person and phone interviews?
Depending on the type of story, journalists should choose credible sources and confirm who they are, such as with online searches and record checks. At The Penny Hoarder, we write a lot about ways to make and save money, so we often are able to try the tips or action steps ourselves to confirm they work well. For interviews, we either take good, detailed notes or we record with our iPhones, TapeACall app or other tools. We sometimes use the Rev platform to transcribe recorded interviews.
Many people question whether supporting facts and evidence are true. How do you present them as trustworthy in your work?
Use credible sources, and if the source isn’t well-known, explain the background. Attribute your information. Present different viewpoints if there’s a controversy. Acknowledge if all facts aren’t clear.
Journalism is not an easy job. With pressure to hit deadlines while producing attention-grabbing stories, how does your process also build trustworthiness into your stories?
Our mission at The Penny Hoarder is a little different than other media organizations, so while we have deadlines, we don’t feel pressured to rush anything. We’re all about helping people put more money in their pockets, not breaking attention-grabbing news. We indeed want to grab attention, but we strive to do that with creative writing that our readers find useful, entertaining and/or compelling in some way.
As an experienced journalist, what advice would you give to young journalists who are building a reputation?
Be scrupulously accurate. Nothing will get you in trouble faster than sloppy errors. At the start of my career, a reporter friend of mine was fired after several mistakes such as wrong names. I never forgot that. So do this: Develop a system of double-checking everything you write. Read a lot and emulate the best stories and writers. Listen to your editor.
What are 5 ways journalists can win back trust and why?
- Explain how you do it. To build reader trust, we journalists should talk and write more often about how we report news and information. We should help people distinguish between reliable and unreliable news sources. At The Penny Hoarder, for example, we recently wrote about how we vet work-from-home job opportunities. We often contact the company directly with questions, look for red flags through Google search, and research what current employees have to say in Glassdoor reviews. Being more transparent about our process gives our audience reason to trust us.
- Explain why you do it. We need to be clear on our mission and constantly show our purpose to our audience. At The Penny Hoarder, our mission is to put more money in people’s pockets. At the bottom of each article, we ask readers to vote up or down on whether we’ve accomplished that.
- Showcase your credentials. Tell our readers or viewers what experience or expertise we have, such as with brief bios on articles or author pages. Like many publishers, we do that at thepennyhoarder.com, like with this author page. Help them to trust you.
- Go deeper. Cover the “what,” but don’t stop there. Delve into “who,” “why” and “how” for deeper meaning. Tell them both “what” and “what to do about it,” like this article about Social Security and Medicare.
- Be useful. Report and present stories that help people understand their world and live better lives. Provide actionable tips. Inspire. Be relevant to their daily lives, and do it in interesting ways. You might put more voice into your stories. At The Penny Hoarder, we’ve found readers respond to that. Beyond trusting you, they might even start to like you.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
See the other person’s side. Instead of spending so much energy making our own points, spend some time summarizing the other side’s case. Do it in conversation, on social media, maybe even in regular media. It might help everyone see the various sides to an issue and understand each other a bit more. And build trust that we’re having an honest, well-intentioned conversation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” This quote, often attributed to Oscar Wilde, has always struck me as funny and true. There’s certainly value in discipline, but I always try to remember it’s OK to cut loose sometimes. And have fun with words, like the quote does.
That was very insightful. Thanks for sharing with us!
This interview is part of an interview series by TapeACall, the original iPhone call recording app.
Originally published at medium.com