Just for fun!

Towards the end of my internship at the Peak, my second assignment was due. I was required to write a "how-to" manual for my summer position. Given that I was very comfortable there, I chose to complete the assignment in a rather "tongue in cheek" manner. Enjoy!


How to work as a reporter at the

Powell River Peak

By Tara Trigg

August 2008


Congratulations! You have just accepted a position as a junior reporter at the Peak Newspaper in the small oceanside community of Powell River. Protected from the open water by various islands including Vancouver Island, the mainland town of Powell River is only accessible by boat. Plans for a ferry-free access highway have been present for decades, but none will be put into motion for at least a dozen years.

As a junior reporter, your duties will entail writing stories, interviewing sources, taking photographs around the community, and generating story ideas.


Starting out

The first week will be slow: you will have few stories on the go, and will be waiting on sources to get back to you before you can do anything at all. As time wears on, you will find yourself quite busy, darting back and forth from place to place performing interviews and taking photos. The rest of your time will be taken up by writing and waiting for sources to reply to your queries.

Most of what you will move on in the beginning will have been assigned to you by your editor. As you become more comfortable in the position, you will begin to generate your own story ideas. This will be expected of you.

 

Tips

Given that the audience is a small town, you must be cautious and not inflammatory in your writing. You will be writing stories that seem pointless – simple profiles and the like, things that would make your college professors squirm in their sweaters. “There is no story there!” they would yell in consternation, as your editors gently pile much of the same into your inbox. Take note of the fact that the paper you are working for is, in fact, a community news paper; this detail will fuel much of what you write.

When writing stories about groups of people, you have been taught not to list the names. List the names. It’s a small town. Seeing their names in the paper gives the locals nothing less than delight.

Beware “the Controller.” This is the person who brings his story to the paper, and expects the young reporter to write the story exactly as he outlines it. Be wary of this character, and do not allow him to direct your writing. Write it as you see it, and ready yourself for the phone call as soon as the paper is in circulation.

Keep e-mails professional. Full sentences are your friend.

Do not procrastinate. While this should be obvious, realize that your sources will not necessarily get back to you when you want them to – they are their own people, and your deadlines rarely mean anything to them. Remember the old adage “laziness on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

When assigned a story, begin making calls immediately after deciding which direction you are going to take the story in, and be ready to perform interviews at the drop of a hat.

Drink lots of water. It’s good for you.

 

Story pitching and development

Generating new stories is a required part of your job. When pitching a story idea, be sure to keep things concise and get to the point. Keep in mind the paper’s readership, and highlight what is interesting.

As you work on a story, new information often changes the focus. That’s okay! Uncover the story, and tell it like it is.

 

Interviewing

Be prepared and confident. When entering an interview, be sure to have thought about what it is you are looking for, and drive your questions accordingly. It is helpful to write out either a set of questions or a short list of keywords that will help remind you of what you need and keep you on track.

Remember that your intended track will not always be where the story lies. Pay attention to what the subject is saying, and don’t be blinded by what you thought you knew.

Be conversational. Being friendly will help to put the subject at ease, and allow them to speak more freely. Warm up slowly, starting with easy questions, either background that you already know a bit about, or simple, general questions.

Be sure to take notes. Not only is it a good backup to the recording device that you are probably using (although some do not), but taking notes will allow you to see where things are going, and help you formulate your next question.

Don’t over-script. It’s okay to have a list of questions to start from, but realize that comfortable conversations do not necessarily follow scripts. At the same time, don’t allow the interview to stray too far, as you do have a limited amount of time.

Don’t say “um.”

Once the interview is complete, begin writing the story as soon as you can. This will allow you to make sure that certain elements of the interview are not lost. Write up a draft of your story to review and fill out at your leisure.

 

Writing

  • Write intelligently, but not condescendingly. Use your vocabulary.
  • Be accurate and to-the-point.
  • Do not editorialize – this includes the over-use of adjectives.
  • Describe the interviewee, if appropriate. Allow the reader to see the human behind the story.
  • Break out of the mould. People appreciate interesting articles. Try to see the extraordinary side of every story, and bring it out.
  • Make jokes. Not cheesy ones, but a little bit of flippancy and clever word play goes a long way. Make sure to use only when appropriate, and never in a way that could be construed as offensive or disrespectful. Keep things interesting.
  • Keep to the paper’s individual style. No two papers are going to have the same finicky rules; make sure to be aware of strange capitalization and first mention rules.
  • Proof-read. There is no need to burden the copy editor with silly mistakes. Clean copy makes for a happy copy editor.
  • Check your facts and figures. Don’t just go by what your source has told you, verify its verity.

 

Photography

You will be called on to provide photos with all if not most of your stories. If you prove to be proficient at photography, you will also be sent out on photo-only assignments. This is when the mantra of “keep things interesting” really comes into play.

Newsprint is a visual medium, and good photos are an extremely large part of it. When out shooting, try to think of different and interesting angles that will help the mundane become extra-ordinary. Try to avoid group shots. Instead, strive to focus in on an individual or two doing something. Avoid having people doing little more than looking at the camera and smiling. If that is all you can get, find an angle that makes it visually appealing. Get in on the action, either by use of a long lens or being right in the middle of things. Don’t be afraid to use flash, but don’t use it all the time.

Be sure to take names and note the file number for the corresponding photo, especially when taking roving shots. A photo with an identifiable person can’t be run without a name.

There will come a time when you will be sent out to photograph a car accident or similarly unsettling subject matter. Be sure to do it respectfully, realizing that it is one situation where over-shooting would be highly inappropriate. Find an angle that works, but is tasteful. NEVER get in the way of emergency workers.

 

Human interaction

Personal appearance falls into this category. As a reporter, you represent the paper and are responsible for a large amount of public interaction. There is a dress code in effect. Maintaining a professional appearance will lend you more credibility, and make it easier for people to take you seriously.

Be sure to conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times; in a small community it doesn’t take long before your reputation begins to precede you. A good first impression helps for a good interview.

In a small community, a person you interview for one story is likely to be involved in something else that ends up as another story soon after. Never alienate people, no matter how annoying, obnoxious, obtuse, or fanatical they may be – you’ll probably need to be on good terms with them later.

The same goes for your co-workers. You need to work with them every day, so show them the courtesy and respect you would wish them to show you.

Momma always said to treat people the way you want to be treated. She’s pretty smart.

Good Luck!

Being a small town reporter may seem like a small-time job, but realize that “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Unlike Peter Parker and Clark Kent (also great media men,) you may not wield great power, but you do have the ability to shape the way some issues are viewed in the community. As such, use your common sense and keep your head screwed on tightly – but don’t be afraid to have a little fun while you’re at it.