By Gregg McLachlan
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
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.

. 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

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.