Mr. Jim Sanders
09/07/19 - writetolead.com
Mr. Jim Sanders is the former NUSD Director of Communication and was a News Reporter at the Sac Bee newspaper.
Read on to learn about his journey from a news reporter to the former Director of Communication.
What was your role in The Sacramento Bee?
News reporters often have “beats” at professional newspapers, that is, areas they specialize in and write about. I had numerous beats in my 28-year career at The Sacramento Bee, including Sacramento City Council, Yolo County, Education, Courts, and the California State Assembly. Seven of my 28 years at The Bee were spent as an editor, including three as Night City Editor. I left The Bee in 2013 to begin serving as Communications Director for the Natomas Unified School District. I retired this year.
When did you discover your passion for writing?
I’ve always loved the written word, even as a toddler, when my mother would read me Dr. Seuss books, like “Cat in the Hat.” I loved how words could rhyme, could interact, and could express emotions – love, anger, sadness, happiness – in a very powerful way. Written words are something you can keep forever and enjoy over and over, year after year. I discovered my passion for writing as a teenager, when I began having girlfriends, writing them letters, and I found that I could express my feelings more clearly on paper than I could in person. I began thinking about writing as a career when I won a regional essay contest at John F. Kennedy High School in Richmond. Suddenly, the thought struck me: Hey, I might be good at this – and I like it!
What is one memory that has stuck with you for years from your profession?
As a journalist, you have the incredible opportunity to witness history and interview people you’ll never forget. Three of my most memorable assignments were to help cover the massive San Francisco Earthquake of 1989, the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and to spend several weeks in Saudi Arabia with U.S. National Guard troops shortly before the first Gulf War in 1991.
The lesson I’ll never forget, however, came from an interview with Mary Tsukamoto, a Japanese American whose family had been sent to an internment camp during World War II. She talked to me about the injustice of that and the hardship that incarceration imposed on her family, which had done nothing wrong. Despite this terrible experience, she loved America immensely and held no grudge. Inside her Elk Grove home, she showed me a Japanese Daruma doll, which is balanced in such a way that no matter how many times you knock it down, it always bounces back up. I thought that was a terrific metaphor for the Tsukamoto family – and an important life lesson for me, too.
Were deadlines stressful when you were a journalist? If so, how did you combat them?
Deadlines were extremely stressful, particularly when I was working night shifts and a story broke shortly before the paper was to be printed. Occasionally, on such occasions, I only had about 15 or 20 minutes, after interviews, to actually write my story. I just breathed deep, cleared my mind, focused on simple sentences, avoided all distractions, and typed as fast as I could. It all worked out. Often we can accomplish far more than we think we can. I also learned that deadlines are my friend, even if they made me sweat a little. Deadlines marked the finish line, so I could move onto another story. Without them, reporters could either procrastinate or worry endlessly and second-guess themselves, working on a story day after day, with no end in sight.
Since you have grown to see technology take over most of the news industry, what is your opinion on that?
I like the fact that information can be transmitted instantly now to millions of people, via cellphone, either through social media or traditional news outlets. For much of my newspaper career, there was no Internet and my news stories would not be distributed to subscribers’ homes for eight to 12 hours after I wrote them, at minimum. However, the Internet has harmed good journalism as well, in my opinion. News outlets feel competitive pressures to be the first to post a breaking story place, so the emphasis is on speed in reporting, which can lead to errors. Also, newspapers and TV stations no longer are the public’s primary source of advertising, the Internet is, so many news outlets have gone out of business or significantly reduced their news staff in recent years. I’m very sorry to see this happen. Democracy depends on informed citizens and voters.
How did technology cause change in your job? Was it pleasant or did it make your job more difficult?
When I began my journalism career, reporters wrote stories on manual typewriters with 8-by-11 inch sheets of paper. To move a paragraph, you simply cut and pasted. There were no cellphones, no personal computers, no laptops, no texting, and no social media. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to contact sources, from anywhere, and to investigate online public records instantly, at the push of a button. Technology has been a boon to news gathering, but it has been devastating to the profitability of news outlets because most Internet users expect to obtain information free, not to pay a sizeable fee for it.
To all the young readers out there, do you have any advice for them if they are considering choosing a career in writing?
I feel very blessed to have been a news reporter for several decades, and to have ended my career with the honor of publicizing the accomplishments of Natomas Unified students and staff. I’ll treasure the memories forever. But exceptional writers should remember that there are many other options for their talents: Public relations, for example, or marketing, book author, editing, technical writing, grant writing. Most large corporations need good writers in key posts. Even if you seek a career in professions such as law or teaching, the ability to write well is vital. Sky is the limit in career possibilities.
As for the art of writing itself, express what’s in your heart, don’t get too hung up on grammar, punctuation or other technical aspects, particularly if you’re very young. Rules can be learned. Practice makes perfect. Far more important, at least initially, is to nurture a love for the written word and to tap into your inner self – your heart, soul – to inform others and to make them feel your passion, imagination, humor and personality. To me, writing is a calling, not a job. Enjoy it