The question journalists, and particularly journalism students, are being asked isn’t how to write and report, but how to make writing and reporting stand out. How to make a brand stand out.
Increasingly, the conversation is about what to add on to a story. Do you use pictures or charts or make them a separate story? Do you operate a Twitter account? What sort of management dashboard do you use with Twitter? What sort of branded hashtags do you have? When and what vido do you include?
Are all of the things mentioned above superfluous? Well yeah, mostly. But if used deftly, effective and informative journalism can be channeled through the use of multimedia reporting.
But at the core of all of this, there still has to be a story. Information needs to be presented, interviews need to be conducted and an angle needs to be formed. Here is where a journalist can set her or his work aside much more simply, and in a lot of ways, more effectively than by putting a lot of time behind video, photojournalism and social media.
A journalist should inform the populace. And a lot of journalists see the informing part as a one-note thing. It’s very one-note. Let’s use an example that unfortunately happens in Elon-Burlington news frequently. Someone dies on the train tracks. Many journalists would make their coverage of this death “different” by incorporating video of an interview, photos of the train tracks and some degree of social media push to make sure their story is the first one out. I’ll go ahead and say this is also how Elon University has taught us to differentiate a story.
The other path a reporter could take is to talk about how this is not an isolated incident. Multiple people have been struck by trains in Elon in the past years. Now the informative content of the story is enriched further and a conversation is being started. You can go further: there’s been all those posters about staying off of the train tracks. Talk to the people who put those up. And so on.
This understanding applies to all things. News never happens in a vacuum. There are always related factors that readers may not have at their fingertips, and drawing this information together not only creates more informed readers, but it sets the author and reporter aside from the rest.
The criticism of this method is that you are, in some ways, rehashing what’s already happened, and that’s not news.
For one thing, that’s a crazy limited concept of what’s news. Bringing information to someone’s attention by connecting present and past events to show a broader truth is absolutely news: It’s revealing new information.
Just shifting the angle of the piece a degree and trying to find something related to the singular news event at hand opens up the reader’s mind immensely. Keep using photos and video and social media if you want and they are not inherently bad.
But at the heart of the story — the actual writing and reporting — a lot of work can be done to set oneself apart from the swarm of journalism on the same subjects. And if you’re at a dead end, always be able to look at a news event and ask, “Why did that happen?” The reader will probably ask the same thing too.