Welcome to Journalist Spotlight, a Q&A series with a journalist and ProfNet user. In this installment, we’re featuring James Pilcher, an investigative reporter with the Cincinnati Enquirer and Kentucky Enquirer.
James Pilcher (@) didn’t always want to be a journalist. “Actually I thought about being a lawyer or trying to work for the State Department,” he revealed. “And my first job out of college was selling ball bearings and industrial chain.”
However, his political science degree helped prepare him for a 25-year career in journalism: “If you know how things are supposed to work, you can recognize when they aren’t working right or something is wrong.”
At the Cincinnati/Kentucky Enquirer, Pilcher currently is the lead reporter investigating government waste and misspending, as well as data work and other issues.
“I’ve actually left The Enquirer twice,” he said. “Each time was different – the first time was a bit of burnout and an interesting opportunity. I was lured away for the second.”
During his last leave from the field, Pilcher worked in marketing, communications, technical writing, and project management for several local tech firms.
“But in the end, I feel journalism is a calling; a vocation more than a profession,” he said.
Where was your first professional job as a journalist?
I was a part-time sports stringer/freelance writer here in Cincinnati when I landed a job as an entry-level sportswriter for The Savannah Morning News.
What type of news do you currently cover?
I cover the leaders and decision makers and major issues facing Northern Kentucky, a major coverage area for The Enquirer. That includes keeping tabs on area politicians, business leaders, and other influential leaders. But I also hold them accountable and investigate major issues or wrongdoing.
Do you make suggestions as to what stories you cover or are they mostly assigned?
Under our new restructuring, I have the freedom to dictate what stories should be covered and to suggest most ideas.
What stories do you like covering the most?
Deep dives into complicated subjects that have the potential for affecting just about everyone. I also enjoy data-driven stories.
Is there something you would consider as being ‘the best’ part of being a journalist?
Getting to ask those in power tough questions and holding them accountable.
Can you tell us about your most memorable or most difficult assignment?
Wow. That covers a lot. I covered the 1996 Olympics, spending just about every day on the Atlantic Ocean covering the sailing events. I had to knock on the door of the parents’ of Jon Benet Ramsey one afternoon.
Here in Cincinnati, exposing the dangers of our most traveled bridge, showing the corruption at the local airport board, and diving deep into the Cincinnati city budget and pension crisis.
Do you use social media as part of your job?
Absolutely. It is an integral part of growing our audience, but also for finding out what is going on and for sourcing. I am active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Instagram.
What type of sources and experts do you prefer to work with?
To me, as long as the person has deep experience in the area either professionally or in an academic setting, it doesn’t matter. People who are used to speaking with the media and perhaps have deeper background on an issue that they can provide.
How has the industry changed from when you began your career?
Obviously the move to digital has been a sea change for the industry. There really are no deadlines anymore – we post when it’s ready and then worry about print later.
There is also infinitely more competition for news and for eyeballs – and trying to court an entire generation that has no real attachment or history with print newspapers.
And we all have to have a lot more skills than just writing and reporting. Taking photos/videos … creating our own graphics, etc.
What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their journalism career or for someone who may be considering journalism?
Despite what I said above, the two most important abilities remain the ability to report and to write. I got into this business because I love to write. But that now takes up only about 20 percent of my time. It’s the gumption to go out and get good stories and ask good questions that separate journalists. And then the ability to synthesize that information quickly in a way that makes it approachable by anyone.
Evelyn Tipacti is a community relations specialist at ProfNet, a service that connects journalists with expert sources. She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic.
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