For anyone who’s down to be a “tipster”, Mike Higdon is 100% committed to protecting his sources. In 2015, Mike started at the Reno Gazette-Journal covering city life in downtown and Midtown Reno. He follows and reports on development, culture, the beer experience and poverty. His network of secret sources tell him what’s happening in Reno. He takes tips and when he hears things third hand, he confirms the story.
Anything that happens downtown, I cover.
When Mike first started in journalism, he was the Arts and Entertainment section editor for the Nevada Sagebrush at the University of Nevada. After learning to design a few entertainment pages, he moved into a new position designing the whole paper for the next two semesters. Over the summers, he was selected for a design internship at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky and the following year he was a Pulliam Fellow at the Indianapolis Star.
He graduated in May 2009 with a degree in General Studies and immediately started working at Swift Communications, the company that owns the Nevada Appeal, Tahoe Daily Tribune, the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, etc. He worked there six years as a designer and transitioned into a role as their “Editorial Project Specialist”. Swift had to create an entirely new job title to give Mike the flexibility to implement the new content management system, redesign the papers and ultimately serve as the person who traveled around to train others how to use the software at Swift.
His work at Swift was respected and appreciated. He had just received a raise, but Mike was seeking the chance to get back into storytelling. The RGJ interviewed Mike and offered him the job to report on Reno’s urban life. He said the experience that gave him a leg up was through writing his own profitable blog, Drinkable Reno. Mike fit the niche to tell stories in downtown and Midtown, particularly the one’s involving beer.
As I sat down with Mike asking questions about his background and experience in journalism, he also described his motivation to start his blog. After living in Carson City for two years, he missed the culture of Reno so he and his wife Annie decided to move back. With a focus on local breweries, Mike started to tell stories again. His new blog served as a hobby that also filled his need for a challenge.
Reno has a huge market for local breweries and national craft beer brands and no one was covering that scene regionally.
Although he doesn’t write from his personal blog anymore, it’s still up as an archive that often serves as a reference in other people’s stories. For example, I previously referenced Mike’s post on The Depot Reno. He wrote a story on The Depot’s reconstruction and a second story with an update on their brewery and distillery. People expect Mike to be a beer expert which is why he can insert his opinion about the beer experience in Reno.
When I sat with Mike on some cozy couches in the back of Beer NV, he educated me about his beer choice for the interview. Among the selection of 60 beers on tap, Mike chose to sip on a beer with 4% alcohol for a specific purpose. After our interview, Mike would meet a handful of Nevada Sagebrush Alumni and anticipated a long night. He said the alumni group meets monthly to discuss journalism and always at a different or new place in town.
We talked back-and-forth about details that make excellent journalists and how to add voice to a blog. He said you have to start a story with the most interesting piece of information. Instead of objective journalism and writing exactly what people say, write what you see and describe that in your own way. You can explain a community better or the lives in Reno by understanding your audience and adapting to what they want to know and how they want to know it.
Excellence in Mike’s work requires the ability to learn and master new things quickly. He is open minded but also has strong critical thinking skills, while his empathic nature gives him an upside in storytelling. He can anticipate what questions the readers might have, what they want to know and how to organize the information in ways that address their curiousity.
Being excellent in journalism is understanding your audience and then adapting to what they want to know and how they want to know it.
The fact that he’s an extrovert is unique for a journalist. His writing reflects his personality and people can tell when he’s excited about something. He’s an advocate for personal branding which drives traffic to his stories and connects him to more people who have a story to tell. In fact, I first met Mike via the #TEDxUNR 2016 twitter chat which resulted in this interview and piqued my interest to become a “tipster” for stories on downtown and Midtown Reno.
Want to share tips with the RGJ Urban Life Reporter?