Much can happen to stories after they’re assigned. That’s why News Directors or other organizers remain involved in the news gathering process to assure success. During this phase, the reporter must be trusted to make good decisions in the field — be fast, determined, resourceful and flexible — yet the reporter remains an extension of the overall newsroom team and editorial plan.
Who is featured in your news? Settling for secondary characters will weaken listener interest and story impact. Strive for primary characters (those directly involved in the story). Reporters try to “pre-interview” sources to be sure an actual interview will pay off.
What “scene” does your sound convey? Giving a story both place and action helps engage the listener’s imagination. Try to go to the actual scene of the action. Anticipate places or events where characters are doing something pertinent.
Who else helps widen the scope of your coverage? Aim for the most qualified experts, not the most convenient.
The selection of these and other vital story elements can be anticipated through “story visioning.” Samples → Story Visioning Worksheet
Keep a shared contact database for quick retrieval of newsmakers. How-To’s → Establish a System of Contacts
The central skill of a journalist is asking questions. Make sure your people are good at it. Questions produce facts — who, what, where, when, how and why. Questions also produce interpretations — colorful comments, emotional responses, intriguing connections, alternate explanations and added context.
Interviewing is so crucial to the reporting process that ND’s should find ways to highlight it whenever possible. You can ask reporters to share their questions with you in advance. Sponsor interview training workshops. Study what the best interviewers do to get good results.
You generally do not have news if you do not have new facts to share. Verified facts are your essential building blocks and your specialty. You should have a sharp sense of what separates a fact from an opinion. Similarly, you should develop a refined sense of what facts are most illuminating and vital.
Public radio news strives to present facts in context. Context answers questions:
- Why should we care?
- How does this change things?
- How does this compare?
- Who will be affected?
or cause and effect
- How did this happen?
- What happens next?
As ND, you will see that your reporters excel at gathering facts and seeing context. You help develop their sharpened perceptions and techniques of discovery.
You expect your reporter to come back with more than facts and more than a story to tell. You expect sound (and now pictures too!) You expect to hear the authentic voice of the newsmaker. You expect to hear the natural sound from the scene. And, you are thrilled when the reporter plays for you a consequential moment in sound.
There are many considerations that come up before, during and after gathering news in the field. How To’s → Jay Allison’s Tips for Gathering Tape in the Field
These considerations can also be of the technical sort. For more on both technique and technicalities in the field, see Outside Help → In the Field
It is important that an editor work closely with a reporter in the field to manage any change in the assignment plan. A reporter may need added information, or help reaching a source, or the editor’s judgment in making a critical decision. This is especially crucial in breaking news situations.
No matter the assignment, ND’s or editors should insist that the reporter “check in” with them when the newsgathering is done. And again when ready to edit the story. This allows them to compare what they planned with what they actually found.