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The benefits of working as a journalist


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Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, author of "The Other Dr. Gilmer"

I was reading the featured article in a recent marketing newsletter from an author. A writer submitted a piece about how working as an editor for a small-town newspaper had helped her become stronger in the craft. I could relate, because working as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines is also what helped me become a better writer. And the bonus? I’ve met some interesting people over the years, and learned about food, culture, travel, fashion, history, and home design. 

Here are a few memorable assignments I can think of off the top of my head that have stayed with me: 

This past March, I researched and wrote about important historical female figures from my community, including artist and sculptor Dr. Selma Burke. I also explored the more difficult historical roots of my town’s history by interviewing a playwright who interviewed the Black residents in our town and created a play for our local community theatre based upon their experiences. (Spoiler: We still have a long way to go to heal some of those wounds). Some of my interviews are just plain fun—like last month, when I interviewed a local teen on how she manages her dog’s growing Instagram account for our pet issue. 

Flexing my interview muscles has also enabled me to branch out and interview true crime authors for my podcast, "Missing in the Carolinas." One of my most recent interviews featured author Dr. Benjamin Gilmer, who wrote the fascinating book “The Other Dr. Gilmer” after appearing on NPR’s “This American Life.” As a magazine editor, I also get to “curate” each issue and help develop the story ideas within each theme. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an issue come together, with story ideas I brainstormed written by talented writers and enhanced with local photography. For example, one year I discovered a local woman who started her own business connecting buyers and sellers for classic cars. We called her a modern-day matchmaker, and it was great to showcase her business in a world often dominated by men. 

When sculptor Tom Clark from our town passed away this year, we decided to put together a feature article and asked readers to let us know if they had collections of any of his pieces. The response from the community was so overwhelming we made it the cover story for that issue. Some days it’s easy to find myself overwhelmed with my to-do list of articles to write and assign to others. Then I stop to remind myself that every article published helps me become a better writer and creator. I probably would not have had the skills necessary to create a stand-alone podcast without the years of experience. 

Here is an article I wrote for WOW! back in 2017 about how to make your feature articles stand out. 

Have you conducted any interviews for articles that made an impression on you? I’d love to hear your experiences! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.

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