Beware of the 10 Commandments

An important note to budding journos out there: Please ignore most of the recent kernels of wisdom in the “10 Commandments of Capitol Hill for new reporters.”

It’s not that there is no merit in the recent Medill News Service story by Jacqueline Klimas on how to behave on Capitol Hill if you’re a new reporter. But in a few instances, the advice is so poignantly wrong that we feel the need to counter with a few anti-commandments in case the newbies are listening.

Many are fitting and fine — do your homework, learn how to Google, don’t ask dumb questions (our words, not theirs). But Commandment #3 gave us pause. “You shall not disrespect the PR people, you shall not annoy PR people, nor call them at home for background, nor misquote, nor publish off-the-record quotes.”

Our rewrite: “You shall bother and hound PR people as much as possible, whether they are at home, in the bowels of Lucky Bar or in the congressman’s office for a meeting on spin control and how not to give you the information you want. There is email and no doubt, they’re on it. Use it at any hour if something big breaks. Try not to ring doorbells or hang out in shrubbery, but don’t rule these methods out.” What’s most important here is that a young journalist not ever think it’s his or mission or duty to please a PR person. Politeness is a bonus in many areas of life be it at the Post Office, on the Metro or to a waiter who is responsible for bringing your food without spitting in it. But PR people are gatekeepers and it’s their job to bar the doors to the extent they see fit including never returning your phone call or email. This is not about respect or disrespect — it’s about learning what you need to without getting yourself arrested.

Moving on. Use your Smart Phone. Meet your deadlines. Check and check. But never wear a skirt to a committee hearing when taking photographs? Quick question: Jeans are the preferred attire for photogs, but who crawls around on the floor in a pencil skirt? Probably a mini-skirt is uncalled for. But a pencil skirt is not impossible. Commandments #9 and #10 are also severely troubling. NINE: “You shall not smell good.” TEN: You shall wear seersucker.

Our rewrites: 9. For God sakes, thou shalt always take a shower. Two if necessary and use soap and deoderant. And 10. You shall never wear seersucker unless a) it’s Halloween and you’re dressing up like a congressman in the blistering heat of summer or b) you’re playing an elaborate practical joke or c) you’re dead set on making an ass out of yourself.

Read the full list here.


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