With small staffs and small communities, the same old events can spawn boring repetition for some reporters
In any community there are events which are same events each year. The festivals. The fundraisers. The launches of annual programs. They can become a running joke among reporters who get "stuck" covering the same events each year. Mention covering a social tea to some reporters and you'll get a roll of the eyes. Never mind that the event is a fundraiser for a major piece of hospital equipment and will attract dozens of little old ladies in their best attire. Nope, to the reporter with the pre-conceived idea, itıs another lame assignment thatıs been done one time too many.
1. Cover people not the event: If you cover the 'event', chances are you will have the same story year after year. You can tell immediately by looking at the lead whether a reporter has rolled out the routine the local Toastmasters club celebrated at the Speak Easy Festival on the weekend with many words of wisdom. It's this type of production line lead which could be used in 2005, 2006, 2007, etc. Yeah, same old, same old. Instead, find out who's there. Why are they there? What do they hope to learn? What difference will this make in the lives?
2. Think like the public: Some reporters, assigned to the same event year after year, go into an assignment with the attitude: "Oh no, not again. I did that last year!" OK, you covered it last year. So what. Get over it. Youıre reporting for readers, not yourself. Many residents look forward to community festivals each year. They get excited. A ho-hum story by a less-than-thrilled reporter is shortchanging readers.
3. Discovery not monotony: Think of it as an assignment of discovery rather than an assignment of monotony. One reporter on staff here could be assigned to cover yard sales dozens of times per year, and yet, he relishes the opportunity to go hunting for unique stories hidden in piles of junk. And it never fails, he uncovers gems. Not by luck. But because he goes into the assignment with the right attitude.
4. Learn from sports reporting: Sports reporters learn very quickly to look at stories in new ways. You have no choice when you have to cover hundreds of hockey, basketball, soccer and other games. So next time you moan about having to the cover the local pumpkin festival for the third time in four years, think about your fellow sports reporter who has to cover hundreds of games involving hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer and other sports. And make each story different from the last. Sports does wonders for news sense and crafting human interest angles.
5. Listen: Go to where the crowds are and just listen. What are people saying? Whatıs exciting them? At a demolition derby, for example, an entire story of dialogue can be crafted from the hooting and hollering in the stands. Even if your impressions of an event are low because youıre not excited about covering it yet again, concentrate on whatıs energizing others.
6. Look: Sometimes reporters are in such a hurry to get in and get out of the dreaded 'strawberry social' event that they fail to do a 360-degree spin and just observe whatıs happening. Put down your notebook for a minute or two (yes, even during a hectic day of assignments, you still have a minute or two) and just observe. You'll never find those unique stories if you operate on the Get-In & Get Out Tunnel Vision Plan.
7. Go one step beyond: For fundraisers and program launches, PR people will always spin rosey stuff they think youıll want. Many reporters lap this stuff up. What PR people won't voluntarily offer is candid talk on the challenges of reaching goals, the pitfalls, the consequences of not achieving a goal, etc. Give your stories meaning, rather than being a vehicle for someone's spin. Events can be the same, but challenges can change. In one recent case, several newspapers reported on a program aimed at farmers participating in an environmental program. Most newspapers reported the story as a PR piece about the wonderfulness of the program. Only one reporter captured the story of how farmers were not joining the program, much to the disappointment of program organizers. The harder-edged story had far more impact and newsworthiness. And it probably did more to aid the program, than some PR job.
8. Identify your cliche theme and avoid it: If you consciously identify your cliche lead you'll be able to realize how recycled it is and therefore avoid it. For example, if it's raining and you identify the over-used The rain didn't dampen the spirits of those attending the Coffee Festival Sunday. . . youıll force yourself to develop a better angle. Or maybe it's the old Johnsonville was the place to be on the weekend. If you donıt identify your cliche theme, you'll write it and file it without ever thinking about it, no matter how boring it is.
9. Repetition = Advantage: If you covered the event the previous year, pull out the articles. Do a self-critique of your work. What did you like about your work? What worked? What didn't? What would you do differently? What would the absolutely best story be, if you could get it, at this year's event? How could you develop that story? If you've covered an event before, you know what to expect. It's just a matter of whether you are prepared to plan in order to progress.
10. Would you read it? It'ıs a basic question that can speak volumes about what you're writing. Would you read your own story? If you write it, but wouldn't read it, how do you expect to interest readers? Write a story that even you will want to go back and read.