In my Sports Writing and Reporting class at SUNY Oswego this semester, I am very lucky to have a series of guest speakers coming to talk to students about various aspects of the profession. On Wednesday, my friend Doug Schneider, a watchdog reporter for the Green Bay Press Gazette and the USA Today Network-Wisconsin. Doug also spoke to my Online Journalism and Integrated Media Writing and Design classes. Here are three lessons from his visit:
Know your audience One of the main themes that Doug consistently returned to throughout his conversations with students was their audience. Who was their audience? Who was reading their work? How many people were reading their work? How could they grow their audiences? As Doug pointed out, you could do the best job on the best investigative story of your life, but if nobody reads if, if it doesn’t reach an audience, it doesn’t matter.
So it’s important for journalists and media members to keep their audiences in mind when producing work - and promoting it. Doug pointed out that when you share a story on social media matters as much as the content. In the morning, people are picking up their phones to find out what’s going on (a better time for hard news). In the evening, people are looking more to relax and unwind (a better time for a feature, or a fun story). Little things like that show how you can keep your audience in mind.
Find the people in your stories One of Doug’s best skills, as a friend and colleague, is in helping flesh out story ideas. You come to him with a nugget of a thought, and he’s able to tease out a good story angle to chase down. We did this in all three of my classes on Wednesday, and the one theme that kept coming up was people. Find the people in your story. A story about a team, an organization, an entity, is not that exciting. A story about a person who is part of that team, organization or entity can be exciting. In any story, if you’re able to find the people — the stakeholders, who is hurt or helped by the topic — you’ll have a better story.
Technology is your friend One student was trying to figure out how to interview a potential source who lived far away for a video project. Doug pointed out that if it’s possible, you could do a Skype interview and record that. You could see a light go off in students’ minds.
We all carry around incredibly advanced technology every day. We can, and should, use it to our fullest potential as reporters. You’re not limited to your geographic area anymore for sources. You’re not limited to the photos and videos you can physically take. Technology is here, we should take advantage of it.