Chapter 1 - Essentials of writing a news story
Chapter 1 for the web
In the book version of this chapter you will find:
Plenty of practical advice and exercises that will help you get a clear idea of:
- What news is
- How to find and write it
- How to make it relevant to a particular audience
- How to cover a range of basic news stories
- What beat blogging is and how to do it.
Here we will look at:
- Practical exercises to help you master the material covered in the book
- Specific scenarios in which to find stories
- Further tuition
- Links to all the material covered in the book version
- Links to all the references cited and examples used.
Always have the book version of Multimedia Journalism to hand while you use this website – the off- and on-line versions are designed to work together.
1A1 What news is
You’ll find a good basic definition of news in the book, but there is always more to be said. Some journalists see the answer to the question ‘What is news?’ as so blindingly obvious that they can’t see the point of discussing it.
Many go on their instinct in deciding if they have a story to tell. Instinct is a great guide, once you learn to recognise it, and to trust it.
The seven news virtues
Many journalists use the following seven-point mantra when assessing a story:
- Timeliness (how recent, have we only just found out?)
- Impact (how many people are affected?)
- Proximity (down the road or the other side of the world?)
- Controversy (are people in disagreement about this?)
- Prominence (anyone famous, prominent or infamous involved?)
- Currency (are people talking about it? This is a great guide to picking up on things we have missed)
- Oddity (how out of the ordinary is it?).
Here are some further thoughts from a US journalist called Jim Hall:
- News is a change of consequence in the status quo
- (Quoting Evelyn Waugh) ‘News is what the chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read’
- News is what reporters and editors say it is (Is that still true, when readers can comment on any story, and when only stories that gain many thousands of readers find themselves on the front page of Google, which means they will be read by many millions more?).
All the news that fits
Jim Hall also picks up on a couple of other basic truths in deciding what is news:
- What are the prejudices of the journalist/editor/management/proprietor?
- How much space/manpower have we got?
Plenty of news gets dropped because someone doesn’t like it, or because there is no space for it, or nobody has time to cover it, or something more interesting just happened. The New York Times has a slogan which runs ‘All the news that’s fit to print’, which can be reduced, for many outlets, to ‘All the news that fits’.
The news agenda
Here are some other factors journalists use in determining what is news for their audience.
Are they people like us?
Another key element in deciding if something is news relates to the question of our audience and their range of interests. When I worked on the Daily Mail and, later, on The Mail on Sunday, a key question concerning many potential stories was: are they people like us? Which means: did this event involve people who are middle class and aspirational, or did it befall some low life we have no interest in?
If it was the former, it could be a story for us, if the latter, then it often wasn’t.
Joseph Pulitzer, quoted and after whom the American journalistic Oscar – the Pulitzer Prize – is named, has a freer definition of news. He said that news stories are: ‘original, distinctive, romantic, thrilling, unique, curious, quaint, humorous, odd, and apt to be talked about’.
The same site that gave me the Pulitzer quotation tacks on a useful addition to our Who? What? etc. checklist of news. It is: who cares?
Have an answer to that question thought out whenever you are telling an editor about a story you have found. A good answer is: our readers. You’ll also need an answer to the next question, which will be: and why do they care?
That depends on who they are, but answers could include: because it will cost them money; because it will help them make money; because it poses a risk to their safety; or, quite simply, because it will piss them off.
Why do we care?
Maybe we don’t need to trouble ourselves about why people are interested in news, but if that question interests you this site has some food for thought:
Among the ideas you will find there is this one: ‘In its most basic form we can therefore try defining “news” for the audience as information about change that may be relevant to physical security’.
If you look at some of the most successful popular news sources – and that still includes newspapers – you will see they do a good job of frightening their readers that bad stuff is happening.
Is good news no news at all?
Speaking of bad stuff, journalists are often accused of revelling in bad news, and ignoring the good. This site argues that, in a war, a low death toll can be news, just as a high one can.
You might hear apocryphal tales of publications dedicated only to reporting good news that went out of business.
This is an issue worth considering. I think it is akin to the discussion about goodies and baddies in movies. Actors often say baddies are much more fun to play. In drama, good characters are often a vacuum, a blank canvas. Baddies are much more interesting. The same often goes for bad news. The evil that people do is often more compelling than the good. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to report the good as well.
After all, a publication that offers an unremitting diet of bad news – a local paper or news website full of rapes, murders, muggings and other crimes, for example – will not be a fun read and might not sell terribly well.
Does news matter?
This is where I get messianic. Yes, news does matter. It matters because our reporting can protect democracy.
Most journalists enter the trade with a certain amount of idealism. At the very least, they want to uncover great stories.
By no means everyone retains their mission to inform, and not everyone gets to cover great stories.
I went into journalism because I saw a 1970s film called All the Presidents’ Men. It was about two Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal (www.history.com/topics/watergate) in which agents acting for President Richard Nixon used criminal methods to seek to undermine his political opponents. He was impeached – removed from office – for these activities. Without those reporters, he never would have been found out.
The opening chapter of The News About the News, by the Washington Post’s Len Downie Jr and Bob Kaiser, is all about the difference that good journalism can make. You can read it here:
1A2 What reporting is
The key requirement of a news reporter is that they report. Reporting means relating events, and the views, opinions, analysis and attitudes of others. It doesn’t mean putting your own gloss, slant or take on events. You can earn the right to do that, and we’ll explore how later. For now, we are concentrating on what reporting is, and how to be good at it.
In the book you will find a wide range of examples and exercises to help you recognise – and practise – the art of reporting. That’s the Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? of reporting.
But what about the qualities a good reporter needs?
How to be a successful reporter
Here are a couple of very basic but vitally important things.
- Good reporters pay great attention to detail
- Good reporters make no assumptions.
There are some things you can teach, and others that you can’t. Here are some qualities that, if you have them, predispose you towards becoming a good journalist: bright, persistent, honest, personable, curious and courageous.
Here’s a discussion thread on what qualities a good reporter needs:
1A3 Who's the audience
Find examples of how stories differ depending on the audience they are created for.
Complete our interactive quiz to see how well you have grasped the principles of tailoring a story to a given audience. Link to Quiz
1A4 News: where does it come from?
In the book you will find the main sources of news and plenty of examples of how to get stories from those sources.
Here it seems appropriate to look at the extent to which journalists have come to rely on the Internet.
First a health warning. You can’t be a good journalist if you sit glued to a computer screen all day – although your employers may put such pressure on you that it is hard to do all they demand if you leave your desk.
It can be tempting never to speak to anyone, just to email people you’d like quotations from and take as fact what you find on the web.
Two problems there. One is that, if you want to get someone to talk to you, email is a poor tool. It’s very easy to ignore. If you do get quotations via email, they will tend to be bland and safe. Email is good for interviewees because they can rehearse and hone their answers. You can’t catch them out. You can’t even make them sound natural.
The other is that what is presented online is not always correct. It might be out of date, it might be biased, it might be from an unreliable source, it might just be plain wrong.
So, while the Internet is a great tool for reporters in finding and researching stories, it is only ever a starting point.
To really make our stories live, and get the news, we almost always have to hit the phone, turn up at events such as conferences, seminars, debates, exhibitions, press conferences and on the doorstep.
Know the Internet’s limitations and it is fantastically helpful. So much can be found and checked there that would have taken much time and effort to verify in the days purely of paper and libraries.
And we need to get beyond the internet as a story source.
It’s always worth reminding ourselves of the three fundamentals of story finding. They are:
- Researching the written record
Set up the news feeds that you'll need.
Every journalist needs quick access to their most important sources of information.
One of the most effective ways of ensuring you don’t miss anything is to set up feeds from those key sites, individuals and publications from which you get the most news, information and ideas. In the book version of this module you'll find an introduction to doing that. A full guide to using RSS feeds follows in Chapter 3.
These links will help you look at the sites mentioned in the book version of this chapter.
West Yorkshire Police/Youth killing story
Here are the links referred to in the book version of MMJ:
On the force website is a page where all its news and public announcements are issued:
Press releases have their own page off that: www.westyorkshire.police.uk/news/releases.
News is also available via Facebook, Twitter, an RSS feed and on a mobile phone app.
Here are the links to Yorkshire Police social media presences:
West Yorkshire Police RSS feeds www.westyorkshire.police.uk/news/rss-feeds.
Stories from social media
Hudson plane story
Eyewitness Janis Krums posted the first picture on Twitter here: http://twitpic.com/135xa
Greater Manchester Police/Daily Mail story about an escape from a prison van
GMP press release on the incident here:
The Mail Online used it as part of an extensive story with text and many stills – even adding 30 seconds of commercials at the front of the video when they embedded it on their site:
Finding an RSS reader: http://lifehacker.com/google-reader-is-shutting-down-here-are-the-best-alter-5990456
Stories that broke on social media
You'll find examples of stories that broke on social media at these links.
Stories that broke on Twitter
The Guardian says Twitter surpassing other social media for breaking news traffic:
9 Breaking News Tweets That Changed Twitter Forever:
10 Stories that broke on Twitter first:
Stories that broke on Facebook and YouTube
Twitter is by far the most likely space for a news story to bream, but some big stories have broken first on other social platforms.
These links will give you some examples:
1A5 What's the best way to tell a story?
Take our multimedia quiz on how to decide which medium to tell your story in. Link to Quiz
In the book you can: find out how to use text, stills, audio and video to best effect.
1A6 News: How to write it
BBC Alan little video on how to write news
Thing is, there is often not the luxury – even at the BBC – to do different version for TV and radio. Most BBC news reports are made once, for both TV and radio, so they have to work on both, and that means few if any images that go undescribed, or sounds that do not have accompanying pictures.
How to write web headlines
BBC's Toyota recall story
You can take a look at the above story as it appeared on the BBC website at this link: www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-26950970
BBC and Mail Online writing styles
Find step-by-step guides to writing in the styles of both the BBC and the Mail Online
Here's the Mail Online story referred to in the book:
Death-in-the-snow story example link www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2265735/Bernadette-Lucy-Lee-Woman-25-dead-collapsing-snow-walk-home-winter-coat.html)
The Guardian style guide www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a
The theory and practice of writing for the web
A guy called Jacob Nielsen is responsible for much of the current wisdom about writing for the web. You can explore his thinking at his website: www.nngroup.com/people/jakob-nielsen/ .
1A7 Getting started with beat blogging, and begin building a specialism
Links from the book version
About Robert Peston
Peston on beat blogging www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/thereporters/robertpeston/2009/08/what_future_for_media_and_jour.html
Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger on layered reporting: www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jan/25/cudlipp-lecture-alan-rusbridger
Analysis of a beat blog post
Let's look at an example of a Peston blog post.
At a time when several big UK High Street retailers were going bust, Robert wrote a blog post called Is there good news in HMV's collapse? You can read it at this link:
Take a look at it before you read on.
What do you think are the strengths of such a post? Does it fit the goals Peston sets for his blogging?
Here's my take on this post
As Robert Peston acknowledges in the piece, this is a ‘hideously heartless’ question to pose, with 239 stores and 4,000 jobs under threat, but he justifies it through his analysis and his depth of understanding of how this potential collapse could be different from those of other recent High Street insolvencies.
He makes the general point that economic growth doesn't resume at any great velocity until businesses that are unviable and inefficient are ‘put out of their misery’ and when excess industrial capacity is eliminated.
He says that the reason for optimism in HMV's case is that, according to influential sources of his that are close to HMV, the music and film industries want it to survive, although they recognise that there will be with fewer stores.
The recording industry doesn't want to be ‘wholly dependent for sales on Amazon and Apple's iTunes’, he says.
Because of this, Peston goes on, Deloitte, appointed as administrators to HMV, was working on the assumption that these important suppliers would help in the creation of ‘a slimmed-down and viable HMV’.
He also says that there has been an unhealthy tendency for fundamentally unsustainable businesses to be kept afloat by indulgent banks, to become what he calls ‘zombie businesses’. This is unhealthy, partly, because it makes it harder for fresh, healthy competition to enter those markets. Peston concludes that, if HMV's demise signals that banks and other creditors are now being more ruthless in putting lame companies out of their misery, then ‘that might in a fundamental sense be quite a good thing’.
This analysis, gained through this reporter’s knowledge of, and contacts within, his field, will inform his reporting during the day. But it is only in the beat blog that he has the time to explain in detail why he takes the view that will underlie his reporting in highly time-restricted, TV and radio slots.
Layered reporting, and Ruth Gledhill's Articles of Faith beat blog
In the book version, we mention Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger's concept of layered reporting. He sees a great exponent of it as former Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill. He sees her as a journalist with a clear understanding of what to put on different platforms, and hence 'layer' her reporting.
Let's look at Ruth's beat blogging. Rushbridger says her blog is ‘an eclectic and sometimes eccentric look at the world of faith and also is intended to give in-depth background to any who wish further information on news stories that appear in the paper and online’.
Here's an example of how it works:
In the Times Ruth Gledhill wrote a story (36) about payday lenders and the church, headlined Archbishop plans to drive out moneylenders, with the intro: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is preparing a “ten-year plan” to put payday lenders such as Wonga out of business’.
The plan was to ‘make church buildings available to credit unions and recruit expert churchgoers as volunteers to help to run them’.
The story is 244 words long, the related blog post, headlined Payday Lenders and the Church: If they want war they will get war, is 537 words. (37)
On it, Ruth is able to go into much more detail on what the plan entails, and why and how it was formulated. It includes information deemed too detailed for the general reader of a news piece, such as that the task force will also include a group of academic theologians. They will research and publish groundbreaking new work on what Gledhill describes as ‘the theology of money and finance’. She says that it is hoped the theologians will produce radical new Christian theology, something that has not been done since the era of William Temple, Archbishop first of York, then of Canterbury, in the 1930s and 1940s.
Along with all other specialist reporters, Ruth Gledhill had to write for a fairly general audience in her print and online news reporting, but in her beat blog she can address her other constituency: those readers with a specialist interest in, and much deeper knowledge of, her subject. In her case, these will include church men and women and theologians.
That specialist audience will look to The Times, and to Ruth Gledhill, to give them the depth of information they need. It can't do that in its general print and online editions, but it can do it in a beat blog.
She is also able to widen her coverage, to expand on the other strands to the story. One was that a debt counselling charity called Christians Against Poverty said that four out of five people taking out a payday loan did so simply to buy food. The second was that the Financial Conduct Authority was to launch a consultation paper on new rules and regulations to be enforced against payday lenders.
So the news story is like a summary of her blog post, edited for a general audience.
Note: Ruth left The Times in 2014, but the way she reported in her many years there is still a great example of multimedia reporting.
50 blogs by journalists www.journalism.co.uk/news/50-blogs-by-journalists-for-journalists/s2/a551846/
1A8 Basic reporting assignments
Here are some general assignments that will give you a good introduction to general reporting. In each case there are some examples and guidance on how to get stories. In the Exercises section at the end of the book version of this chapter you will be invited to go out on your own – or with fellow students – and cover these and other stories and events.
1 Emergency service press calls
Let’s take West Yorkshire Police as an example.
Their press releases appear at this link:
If you go to this site you’ll see an RSS feed, plus a mobile app and accounts on Facebook and Twitter where you can get news alerts. If you were to sign up to one or more of these, you would get releases as soon as they are published.
If you remember, in the book version of unit 1A4 we looked at a murder story that had been covered in a press release on this site. Often the releases are not about major matters. They are a mix of major and minor crime reports, public service announcements and news of appointments, retirements, bravery awards and the other everyday life of a police force.
Here is one of the releases:
Appeal: Incident of Damage, Lower Wellhouse, Golcar, Huddersfield
Police are appealing for information to reports of an incident which occurred between 4:30pm on Friday 19 June and 9:00am on Saturday the 20 June outside Wellhouse Junior and Infants School, Lower Wellhouse at Golcar in Huddersfield.
Graffiti was daubed on a recently painted post-box and the frames of hanging baskets were also damaged.
PCSO Diane Shaw of the Valleys NPT said:
"The children of the school had actually put hanging baskets together to go in the frames and had made posters which were placed on the perimeter fence urging people to keep the area clean and tidy. A lot of effort has gone into improving the environment around the school and this kind of mindless behaviour will not be tolerated.
I would urge anyone with any information to contact the Valley’s Neighbourhood Policing Team on 01484 436896 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."
How would you follow up this release to get a story from it? What media would you use for your report?
Don’t read on until you have your plan of action.
This is a strong story for a local website or newspaper. You would want to go to the school, see the damage, talk to teachers, parents and – possibly – the children. To do that you’d need the permission of the local education authority, although a first call to the head would set you straight on how arrangements need to be made. Talking to children requires the permission of their parents. Such matters are covered in the Independent Press Standards Organisation's Code of Practice (www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/) that most publishers subscribe to. It can be found here: www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/cop.html.
You could tailor your report to use any media, but it certainly benefits from illustration. So, text plus stills is the quickest and simplest way to cover the story. A video would also be effective – it’s a story you want to show the reader for maximum impact. You could also use audio, but the lack of the visual element severely restricts the impact of the story. You or someone you interview would need to describe the damage caused.
Here is another story from the site:
Illegal Sales Targeted By NPT
Illegal sales of knives were targeted in an operation by Wakefield Central Neighbourhood Policing Team.
Police staged a test purchase operation aimed at the sale of knives to underage children – it is an offence for shops to sell knives to those under 18.
NPT officers used two youngsters, aged 15 and 13, to carry out test purchases in eleven shops and supermarkets in the city. Only one of the retailers sold to the children. The shop involved will be subject of a police action plan to ensure they have suitable training for staff. The individual that sold the knife received a police caution.
Inspector Dave Peach, of Wakefield Central NPT, said: "I was extremely pleased to see that the retail outlets of Wakefield are aware and actively enforcing this legislation – our shops are operating in a professional manner.”
"Wakefield is a safe city with low incidents [they mean incidence] of knife and violent crime but we need to be sure that the supply of knives is not available. I would also ask parents to ensure that their children are not carrying such weapons as they will be prosecuted if caught carrying such weapons.”
If you worked on a Wakefield news website or newspaper, how would you follow up this release?
Is there a story there? After all, only one out of 11 shops sold a knife to an underage teenager. If there is a story, what sources would you go to develop it?
Don’t read on until you have thought about this.
In fact, just one shop breaking the law could be your angle. To a reasonable extent it’s a good news story that only one retailer in the town would sell a knife to a 13- and a 15-year-old.
Finding the names of the shops involved would be good. The police might tell you officially, but they might not. You might need to use your police contacts for an off-the-record steer on this.
Having shopkeepers who are good contacts would be a great help.
Mid Yorkshire chamber of Commerce, www.mycci.co.uk/ which represents business, might help.
2 Press releases
Here’s a release that appeared on the UK Government’s news alert service www.wired-gov.net/.
Below is an extract from it (the original goes on a bit);
Southampton parents given life-saving advice during Child Safety Week
Children and parents in Southampton will have the chance to find out more about how to prevent accidents in the home during Child Safety Week (23rd – 29th June) run by the charity Child Accident Prevention Trust.
The theme of this year's event 'Make a Change. Make a Difference' aims to raise awareness of how small changes can be taken to manage risks, help prevent accidents, and make the home more child friendly.
Sure Start Weston Children's Centre in Southampton has organised a range of activities for local families as part of Child Safety Awareness Day on Wednesday 25 June so that they can find out more about the everyday hazards faced by children both in the home and outdoors.
The latest figures for accidents in the home involving children aged 0–4 in the South East indicate that in 2006–07, 1,344 children were admitted to hospital as a result of falls. In the same period in the South East, there were 427 children admitted to hospital because of poisoning, 115 with burns/scalds, 15 for choking and 13 because of drowning accidents. [Presumably they mean incidents in which there was a risk of drowning, rather than that they actually died – but this needs clarification.]
Sure Start Weston Children's Centre will be working in partnership with the health team to raise awareness of safety in the home. There will be a raffle with prizes of safety equipment, including bicycle safety helmets, and also a role play hospital to teach parents about looking after children when they have been injured. There will also be leaflets and information from fire and ambulance services, and advice and safety freebies from members of the Sure Start team.
How would you follow this release up? Who would you talk to, what angle would you be working on?
Don’t read on until you have thought about this.
You could preview the event. You could go along to it and do a picture story of the activities. The statistics of the number of young children injured is sobering. You could try to get figures for Southampton, and perhaps to interview the parents of an injured child.
Here’s another press release
This one appeared on the Thames Water website's media release page
www.thameswater.co.uk/media/815.htm (ORIGINAL NO LONGER AVAILABLE)
Here is an extract:
Flood relief on way for Haydon Wick homes
Thames Water announces £8million project to tackle sewer flooding.
New sewers on way for Haydon Wick.
New £8m scheme to help Haydon Wick.
Hundreds of homes in Swindon’s Haydon Wick area will benefit from a new multi-million programme to protect them from the misery of sewer flooding, Thames Water has announced today.
The £8million scheme, which is due to start immediately, will be unveiled by Thames Water’s wastewater director Bob Collington, at a special meeting with residents at Haydon Wick Parish Offices this evening.
While the scheme is expected to directly protect around 60 homes from flooding, several hundred properties will benefit in terms of improved drainage.
Bob Collington said:
“No one should have to contend with the misery of sewage flooding their home. The residents of Haydon Wick were not only badly affected by the freak storms of last July, but are at serious risk of being flooded again during future storms.”
“While we implemented a number of interim measures to help individual properties, it was clear that a major engineering scheme was needed to solve the problem for the future. After months of detailed surveys and planning, I am pleased to announce that we are now ready to begin work on a comprehensive scheme, which will benefit the people of Haydon Wick for years to come.”
“In the meantime we will continue to work with affected home owners on an individual basis, doing whatever we can to assist them and to minimise the risk of further flooding while this scheme is being implemented.”
Who would you speak with to take this story forward? What picture opportunities are there?
Don’t read on until you have thought about it.
Naturally this release concentrates on the good news, but within it you discover the bad news – that homes in this area were flooded with sewage in the previous July. If you were on a local website or newspaper you would no doubt have covered the story then. Talking to those affected would help round the story out. What do they think of these measures? Are they reassured? Perhaps some of them are not back in their homes yet.
You might also go to independent experts, or pressure groups. Following the flooding in recent years a number of neighbourhoods have campaigned about these issues and gathered expert evidence to support their demands for action. You can tap into this network, perhaps.
For pictures, you could look out archive stills or video of the damage. There will have been pretty dramatic illustrations of the damage and mess then, and these will be much stronger than any image you can obtain now. Current pictures might only be of repairs taking place. You could perhaps do a then and now comparison of one damaged house at the time of the flood and the same house looking spick and span now.
3 Council meetings
Few local media go to council, and council committee meetings any more. Once they were a mainstay of local papers, but now there is not the manpower to cover them in person. However, there are a lot of stories you can get from them online. Many are small, but some can be developed into bigger ones.
Regulations introduced in 2014, covering England, mean that you are allowed to broadcast live from council meetings, which can make them more valuable to us – particularly if a meeting is likely to be dramatic, with proponents and opponents of a controversial scheme in attendance.
The Openness of Local Government Regulations 2014 allows the press and public to film, digitally report, and tweet from all public meetings of local government bodies. That includes town and parish councils and fire and rescue authorities.
A council committee meeting
Many stories come out of council committees.
Council committees deal with all the hundreds of decisions – small and large – that a local authority has to make. All of them affect people – Council Tax payers, Business Rate payers and council employees. These committees’ decisions are then ratified at meetings of the full council.
If you wade through the thick agendas for these meetings you will find lots of stories.
Here is an example;
Half way through a 33 page agenda for Hastings Borough Council’s Planning Committee (38) is an item with the unpromising title Town Hall Queens Road.
The explanatory note says: "Alterations to front office to form new committee room, staff room and server room. Alterations to public contact centre. Removal of external wall mounted clock to north east corner (Retrospective)."
It doesn't look very interesting, and when you read through the material prepared for the committee by the officials who advise them, it looks uncontroversial.
The proposal doesn't conflict with the various planning policies in place, and no objections to it have been received from the public. However, there is a clue in the explanatory note that there may be a story here. It's that word in brackets: retrospective. This means that the council is applying for permission for changes that have already been made. So this clock on the north east corner of the town hall has already been removed, without permission.
If you live in a small town you'll know that changes to familiar landmarks can be controversial. In Hastings, the town hall is an imposing Victorian building in the heart of the shopping area. Thousands of people will pass it every day. A proportion of them may have been in the habit of glancing up at that clock on their way to work.
But now it's been removed – and without the proper planning permission being obtained in advance. That could be controversial.
However, the council planning officers advising the committee don't think so.
They report that the removal "was for maintenance which became prolonged due to excessive cost of repair. It is intended to replace the clock in the future. However, no timescale has been given for the re-instatement of the clock."
They also say: "while the removal of the clock was disappointing from the point of view of a public facility, its loss had not harmed the character and appearance of the Town Hall as it was not an original feature but added later when approval was granted for it in 1999."
But the committee thought otherwise. They rejected the proposal, passing a resolution that stated, in part: "Whilst it was a recent addition, the loss of the clock, without any clear justification, has detracted from the historic character of the Town Hall and adversely affected this designated heritage asset."
The committee does not have the final say on this, but its views on the matter give you a good local story.
If you were a reporter in Hastings, how would you follow this item up?
Don't read on until you have decided.
It's quite possible you knew about the issue with the clock before this committee meeting. It's the sort of thing that a reporter with good local knowledge and contacts would have picked up on, particularly if there was discussion in their paper/on their website and on social media.
If you are already aware of the story you'll know who to go to for quotes on both sides of the argument. If it's a new story you can start with the committee chairperson and the councillor who proposed the motion of rejection (he is named in the agenda).
Then you can get reaction from locals – perhaps through a vox pop. You can find archive pictures showing the clock in place. Maybe it's now sitting in a yard somewhere in town and you can get a picture of it in a sorry state.
Then, you'll want to follow the story as the issue is passed up to the full council and possibly on to the Secretary of State for the Environment.
4 A conference, exhibition or convention
Journalists on B2B publications regularly attend conferences, exhibitions and conventions. They are often enormous affairs, held at venues such as ExCel in London and the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.
There will be hundreds of exhibitors and many thousands of visitors. Often an entire industry is represented at such events. A lot of buying and selling occurs. New products and services are introduced. Exhibitors and visitors meet, formally and informally, and discuss opportunities and threats to the industry, the products, services and performance of key companies operating within it, and which individuals are doing well or badly. A good deal of gossip is exchanged.
All of this gives plenty of opportunity to find stories, make or renew contacts and keep up to speed with the industry you are covering.
Such events are also extremely useful for specialist journalists – the correspondents. A correspondent might specialise in science, technology, crime, health – any number of areas.
Imagine there is an exhibition on the use of technology in schools. Would there be any difference in the way that a reporter on a B2B publication aimed at IT teachers, and a reporter who writes about education for a general publication – The Times, say – would cover this event?
Think about that before you read on.
The difference is in the audience each is writing for. The reader of the B2B publication wants to know how what is happening at the event impacts on his or her industry, company and job.
The correspondent on The Times is writing for consumers of education – pupils and their parents. They will be looking for stories – and angles on stories – that are relevant to this audience.
As it happens, there is a major exhibition that covers technology in schools. It is called BETT www.bettshow.com/ and it is held at ExCel, London, each January.
It bills itself as the world’s largest educational technology event. Bett founder Dominic Savage says (39): "BETT is a showcase for the UK industry with its half billion pounds per year export earnings, but it is also where the world gathers to see where educational technology is going."
BETT features hundreds of products and suppliers, and its focus is on the latest ways to use technology for teaching and learning.
Turning up at an event such as BETT can be daunting, particularly if you are new to the industry it covers and don’t have background knowledge and established contacts.
But there is no better place to learn about an industry and make those essential contacts.
How to approach covering an exhibition
Plan your coverage
What are you going to do for your magazine or newspaper and on the website? Will you file daily or several times a day from the event? What social media will you use? What's the Twitter hashtag for the event? How many text-based news stories can you file? What are the opportunities for multimedia reporting? Are there particular events within the show – seminars, talks, demonstrations – that you could live stream on video, with permission?
Find out all you can in advance
- Read up on the industry, go online and find out if the exhibition has a website that covered previous events. See what happened, look at the stories that came out of past events
- Find out who the key players are. Will they be there?
- What expert and celebrity guests will there be?
- What seminars, talks or networking opportunities will there be?
- What are the main threats, challenges and opportunities for the industry, and for key players with it?
- What are the new developments?
- What stories and lines of inquiry can you identify in advance?
Do a preview piece on the exhibition. Phone people to find out what will be happening – what their company will be presenting, how much business they expect to be doing.
Tell all you speak to that you will say hello to them at the exhibition.
Review your social media accounts (we'll cover use of social media in Chapter 3) and check you are following all the right people and organisations on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and any other relevant social platforms.
When you get there
Go first to the press office. Look at all the press releases, get to know the press officers, use the computers and drink the free coffee.
Plan your day. Work out who you will speak to, in order of importance.
Decide which events – seminars or demonstrations – you will go to.
As you walk around, talk to as many visitors to the exhibition as you can. Why are they here? What products and services are they buying? What interests them the most? Anything particularly innovative, inspiring or plain stupid?
Draw up a list of stories and the media you will tell them in.
Think of text stories, stories that can benefit from still pictures, and any opportunities for video reports. There may be demonstrations or performances that will make good video and audio packages. Decide what social media you will use and how often you aim to post.
Look for topics you can create beat blog posts from. This is your chance to show your expertise in the area.
Look for items for a podcast.
Think of ways to interact with the community you are a part of around your specialism. Their comments on the event will be very interesting and add enormously to your coverage. What are the influential ones saying on social media? Are there themes you’d like to encourage them to chat about? Are there issues they might like to vote on – if so, set up a poll.
1A9 Exercises and projects
At the heart of the Multimedia Journalism approach is that you create two publications. They will be web-based, but can also have a printed version, if you have the resources to achieve that. The guidance on how to approach these projects is in the book.In the book you can:
Carry out exercises that help you put what you have learned from Chapter One into practice
Find out exactly how to develop projects – multimedia magazines and news sites – that will enable you to develop your skills as a reporter.
These notes give the sources for material in both the book and online versions of MMJ. The numbers relate to those that appear in brackets at appropriate points within the text. Where material is still available on the websites quoted from, links are included.
- The Sunday Times, May 11, 2008
- bbc.co.uk January 24 2005
- The Guardian March 26, 2014
- Cuxton Parish Council newsletter, April 20, 2008
- The Mirror's 3am column April 2 2014
- Press Gazette, May 9 2008
- The Garden, May 2008
- bbc.co.uk May 26, 2008
- bbc.co.uk June 4, 2008
- bbc.co.uk May 26, 2008
- westyorkshire.police.uk May 26,2008
- bbc.co.uk May 26, 2008
- nasa.gov May 25, 2008
- bbc.co.uk May 26, 2008
- cheese-rolling.co.uk May 2008
- bbc.co.uk June 6, 2008
- bbc.co.uk April 8 2014 www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-26922218
- guardian.co.uk December 9 2013 www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/09/uk-government-warns-over-business-israeli-settlements
- guardian.co.uk April 8 2014 www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/apr/08/samsung-and-htc-record-disappointing-first-quarter-results-as-smartphones-slow
- guardian.co.uk July 1 2013
- guardian.co.uk September 5, 2013
- Hugo Boss August 1, 2008
- Thomson 100 Top Hospitals, 2010
- Reuters, April 8, 2014
- PA, July 6, 2008
- Solent News and Picture Agency August 2008
- bbc.co.uk June 5, 2008
- bbc.co.uk June 2, 2008
- guardian.co.uk February 12, 2014
- Ealing Times, January, 2007
- www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2265735/Bernadette-Lucy-Lee-Woman-25-dead-collapsing-snow-walk-home-winter-coat.html January 21, 2013
- bbc.co.uk August 29,2009 www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/thereporters/robertpeston/2009/08/what_future_for_media_and_jour.html
- guardian.co.uk January 25,2010 (www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jan/25/cudlipp-lecture-alan-rusbridger)
- bbc.co.uk, January 15, 2013 www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21023602
- times.co.uk October 1, 2013 www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/faith/article3883556.ece
- times.co.uk October 1, 2013
- The original document may still be available at www.hastings.gov.uk/static/meetings_docs/140326~planning_b~agenda~Planning_Committee_(26-03-14)_-_agenda.pdf
- BETT founder Dominic Savage http://view.digipage.net/00000084/00006408/00087742/