EIGHT KEYS FOR GOOD REPORTING:
- A good idea.
To grab attention, you first need an original story to tell. The first thing to do is find THAT ONE good idea, one that other papers won’t have. In the maelstrom that is the world of news, you will often find it by swimming against the tide. So, after being held hostage, Mark Pesos decided to move the head office of the Dosh Bank to an enormous high-security facility that he is having built on the small, tranquil island of Moray? Everyone is focussed on the huge scale of the project, the progress, the enormous changes to the island that it involves? Special correspondents from local and national press are descending on Moray…? But me? I’m going to look at it from a different angle. I’m going to the island to find out how its inhabitants are living with this mammoth building site. I ‘sell’ the plan to my chief editor, who seems pretty excited about it already…
- Good documentation.
So that you are in a position to understand just what it is that you are going to see when you go exploring uncharted territory, you must have at least some idea of what awaits…Yet I know next to nothing about the island of Moray. So, I take the time to research before I head off to meet the island’s inhabitants. If I don’t do this, I run the risk of missing some of the most interesting things when I’m there.
- Portraits and scenes of daily life.
Reporting is writing about everyday life. I try to get people to talk to me, I track down the chatterboxes, those with the most colourful stories, those in positions of power. I take thousands of notes on what I see and hear, I record my conversations (with my interviewees’ consent); before each interview, I take the time to write down the details of each of my interviewees: first and last name, age, job, eye colour, hair colour, character traits, etc. I also note down any descriptive details that will help me to portray them in action.
- Noises, colours, smells
Reporting is describing the conditions in which people live. All my senses are on high alert. I record noises, colours and scents so I can reproduce them in my story. I will describe each of my characters in their professional environment. My text needs to transport the reader, it needs to make them see, hear and feel all the things that I am seeing, hearing and feeling.
- An angle.
What I see, hear and sense in the field leaves me with one prevailing impression: the inhabitants here are infuriated by this highly polluting building site, their natural environment has deteriorated significantly since the works started. It’s a scoop, given to me by Marine Waterman, the chair of the association of disgruntled islanders. The island’s inhabitants are even preparing to hold a demonstration to express their anger. That’s my angle! And I’ve even got my headline: “Mark Pesos may feel secure, but the Moray islanders are worried”…
- A good opener.
A good idea brought to life through strong characters and told using powerful words makes for good reporting. Marine Waterman gave me what I needed for a good opening in her answers to my questions. She is the chair of the association of disgruntled islanders. I’ll put her in my opening paragraph, starting my story with one of her most telling statements: “life in our small corner of paradise has become a nightmare”. I will then sketch out her profile in a few lines, to set the scene, before adding in her other statements as my story progresses.
- A good narrative thread.
Good reporting also needs a solid narrative thread, taking the reader from a good opener to a good close. I will use Marine Waterman’s words as my narrative thread. I will build the body of my story by alternating between quotations, descriptions, short profiles, witness accounts and my own analyses of life on this small rugged island, which has been flipped upside-down by the establishment of the Dosh Bank head office.
- A good close.
There’s no good reporting without a good close. Mine, for the story of my travels among the disgruntled islanders, will mirror my opener. I’ll let Marine Waterman have the last word: “It’s just too much: our island is not a vault!”