Covering a news story involves more than showing up at a press conference or meeting to take notes. Complete and accurate coverage also includes gathering information beforehand.
Writing news stories begins before a journalist types the first words of an article. Any journalist who arrives at a press conference, meeting, or interview without first doing their homework will not only be unprepared to ask the right questions, but may also lack an understanding of what is being discussed.
Journalists can’t get answers to questions they don’t ask. Even the best of sources may not reveal information if they are not asked about something. For one reason or another, they may prefer a reporter – and subsequently the public – don’t know a certain fact. However, if asked, they would nonetheless provide you information.
There is also the possibility that someone you are interviewing merely forgot to add something. Because of this, it is the responsibility of the journalist to assure there are no angles of a story that have not been covered.
Preparing for an interview or covering a press conference requires more than writing down a few questions minutes beforehand. Research is a priority. Almost all newspapers have a library of past stories they have covered, along with information on major news-makers, events, and subjects. In addition, the Internet is full of information.
Research can also provide information for a story. Previous material written by a journalist can be incorporated in their stories. It is also acceptable to use dates and other information that are relevant to a story that comes from other writers, if they are properly cited.
Below are a few of the considerations in preparing for a story that journalists should remember:
- Having a printed agenda for a meeting doesn’t mean everything is explained. Journalists should find out in advance why certain issues are being discussed, along with how much certain programs will cost, why an employee is being terminated, the explanation for why attendance has dropped in a school district, etc. The answers to such questions may be discussed during the meeting. But reporters leave themselves vulnerable if the issues are not addressed before a meeting. Officials may not be available after a meeting or the journalist may not be able to get answers before deadline.
- Have all the bases been covered in advance of a press conference? This involves securing all relevant information on speakers, publications, policy announcements, etc. in advance or at least assuring they will be available when you arrive. This is beneficial for two reasons:
- It is another means of helping journalists prepare for a story, and
- As discussed above with meetings, the information may not be available after a meeting or in time for deadline.
- Covering the news involves knowing what is happening around you. Journalists have to keep up with what is going on not only as it relates to their beats, but also their community as well as the nation. Not staying current means a reporter may be unprepared to cover a story about someone taking a new position, a resignation they had no clue was coming, the anticipated end of an official, etc. Getting caught off guard can result in being scooped by the competition.