Teaching Examples

Everyday journalism, on the job
December 11, 2006, 2:04 pm
Filed under: jobs, journalism, online, reporting

I’m thinking about how journalists do their jobs today.

Now, partly this depends on the kind of organization you work for — TV or newspaper, etc. And partly it depends on what your job description is — reporter, photographer, news graphics artist, etc.

So let’s just think about a reporter at a newspaper for a moment. That’s the easiest one for me to imagine, because that’s the kind of reporting job with which I have the most direct experience.

The idea for a story can come from a lot of different origins: a phone call, a calendar item, an idea this reporter had while eating breakfast, something she saw while driving or walking to the office.

At this very beginning stage, the reporter exercises some news judgment. Something tells her this is a STORY IDEA. She recognizes the seed of a story.

The next step is either some preliminary investigation or a chat with another journalist, maybe her editor, about whether this story has potential. The result of this step is either the reporter drops the idea (or shelves it for later), or she gets on the phone or leaves the office to start reporting the story.

Freeze that frame. Right there.

That’s where online comes into play. The very second that this becomes a possibly viable story, that reporter needs to start thinking about the online potential.

Before the Reporter Goes Out

First, she should always carry her audio recorder and a decent microphone so that she can gather audio for the Web. In some cases, maybe what she carries is a video camera instead. (In either case, she always checks her batteries.)

Second, she must think about visuals before she leaves the office. Now is the time to put in a photo assignment. Or carry a camera with her. (And check those batteries.)

But don’t let her leave the building yet!

If this story has any substance to it at all, it might be worthwhile to discuss it NOW with the Web editors and/or the graphics desk. Yes, now. Because they might be able to set something up or give our reporter some instructions that otherwise will mean a missed opportunity for this story online.

Another option is through her editor — while the reporter hits the street, the editor can be sending a message to the Web desk and the graphics desk to let them know what’s up. This cannot wait until the reporter returns hours later. If the online or graphics editor raises something that the reporter needs to know, then her editor can phone her immediately and let her know.

After the Reporter Comes Back

When she does come back, what’s the first thing on her to-do list?

Write a brief for the Web site.

Why not? It will help her organize her thoughts and get right to the heart of the story in the quickest possible way. In other words, it’s not just good for the Web site — it’s good for the reporter, and it’s good for the newspaper too. She needs to send that brief to the Web editor as soon as possible so that she can get going on the longer version.

Don’t let the TV reporters off the hook here — they need to be writing a Web brief too, for every story, as soon as they finish reporting it. Yes, they do.

Next, she’s going to listen to her audio and pull bites from it. She might send those bites straight to the Web desk. In any case, she will log her audio as she does this.

If she’s got video, then she watches it, takes notes, and logs it. She probably does not capture the clips herself. But her log saves a ton of time for the person who will be capturing and editing that video after the reporter sends it on — which will be very soon.

And the Follow-Through

If she has enough now to write a story for tomorrow morning’s newspaper, then maybe this is not a very big story. Maybe this is the end of it. But … maybe not. The reporter should still be thinking about the online presentation of this story. Does it tie in to any other stories? Would a map or other graphic help the reader understand the story? Is this any kind of ongoing story? Does it have a past, or a future?

Her conversation with her editor should include those questions — and the answers. She’s got to tell her editor when to expect a version that can be edited, right? That’s a normal part of the job. Part of that conversation needs to be about the online treatment(s) of this story. If her editor for the newspaper doesn’t know enough about the online to be useful in this conversation, then the reporter needs to talk to the online editor(s) too.

Note: If the print newsroom editor is not up to speed on online, it means inefficiency, lost time, missed opportunities.

The reporter and the print editor both have to do their part and think intelligently about the online potential for the story. If they just expect the online editors to do it all, then the online editors will be overwhelmed, and very little will get done.

I don’t know how people get this done when their online is located in a different building from the print newsroom.

Anyway, that’s what I am thinking about today.

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I like the idea that it’s an editor’s job to alert the Web desk to what’s up. That way, the reporter is on her way out to do the gathering while the Web desk is doing a little pre-production, building online graphics, starting to put together a map, and perhaps most important for smaller desks, scheduling the work into their day.

Comment by Ryan

That’s exactly what should be happening, in my opinion.

I know it’s not the norm in a lot of newsrooms … but WHY NOT?

Comment by Mindy McAdams

I know a few newsrooms in the UK are starting to follow this model.

For me it’s about becoming responsive rather than reactive journalists.

Comment by Andy

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