Last Thursday’s panel had a lot to say about preparing to do interviews, and I was glad our guests really emphasized the importance of this advance work. It’s a sign of respect for our sources and the craft, not to mention our readers.
But I have this suspicion about what happens when an editor asks a reporter to do an archive search and “read up” on the background of a story before beginning to work on an assignment. I suspect that some reporters do a sort of cursory scan, in many cases. I am here to tell you: not good enough.
To really understand what’s happening with a story you’re jumping into, you have to read carefully and deeply, taking notes and highlighting and working to truly absorb the information. Think of it as studying for a test.
When I threw advanced reporting student Brad Racino into a huge story a couple of weeks ago, he had zero background on it. But he has a system, now, of preparation that he used to cover the sentencing of Kraig Kahler. Read what he has to say about how he prepared. The stories he did don’t betray that he was new to the story. So what he did worked.
But what about when you have 0-5 minutes to prepare to cover a story? Your GA editor throws a reflective vest at you and tells you to jump in the car and go cover a house fire? Or, whoops, we forgot about an announcement the president of the University of Missouri system is making this afternoon?
When you jam your thinking cap on your head as you fly out the door, what mental process should take place?
That’s the subject of tomorrow’s lecture by Jacqui Banaszynski: thinking fast and smart in breaking news situations.