Wednesday, 7 March 2012

22. When interviewing listen for other stories. You can often get one or two page leads from incidental comments.

The biggest problem for local newspapers is actually filling the paper - yes, yes I know that's the bleedin' obvious.

Or so you might think. Local newspapers tend to do everything that possibly can to make this task as hard as possible.

It's not deliberate it's just a complete lack of foresight - which in fairness is easy to do when the sheer trudge of filling the pages is job enough, which is brought about by a lack of foresight, which in turn...

Well you get the idea.

It's all too easy to become focused on filling the pages and panic stricken moving on to the next one - in a rush without looking properly at the material you have.

Which brings us to listening out for stories in interviews.

It should - like for example, reading a newspaper - go without saying that when reading papers you are scouring for stories to use for your own paper.

(Remarkably it seems the effort of ripping something out of a paper is too much even for some national journos. Years ago as a reporter on The Sun a colleague brought in a very good tale about a very pretty woman solider that he had taken from his local. It had also been spotted by a rival news editor - only he was waiting for the news agency to file it...he had a long wait. The interview and pictures were in the bag and printed.)

Ok so, when reading the newspapers or magazines always be on the look out for stories from your patch. You should be able to find one or two in a good week - of course, if you are any good the stories will already have been in your paper.

But the point is always be on the look out for secondary stories in your interviews. For example say a local celebrity during a general interview about their latest book they were bullied while they were a pupil at the local comp...see if it can be developed into: I was bullied at school, says local star. Getting addition quotes from former pupils/teachers.

It is the sort of thing done all the time on the broadsheets...adapt the ideas to suit your own paper.

Or if an editor is against the idea - some of them really are unimaginative - keep the quotes to one side to use at a later date (probably the following week when you will be panicking about filling the pages all over again).

But here's an example of my own about what I mean.

I spotted this interview in The Spectator and even before I'd reached the end I wanted to interview Geoffrey Wellum, the Battle of Britain's youngest pilot...I was genuinely overjoyed when I found out he was from (nearly) my patch (I had to ask politely to do the interview from the reporter whose patch it was).

This is my original interview with him. I never nailed the intro - and actually remain pretty unhappy with the article as a whole...especially when compared to Christian House's Spectator original.

However journalismtips is not a masterclass in feature writing but basic hints for beginners.

Needless to say the article took up a page with photographs. But we couldn't fit everything in. So rather than cramming it I considered what I could leave out.

I decided we could dispense with the details of how his remarkable story came to be discovered and turned into a TV film. The result was this article.

I use this only as an example of how it can be done.

You can also use it for tip-offs which can in turn lead to proper investigations when something is said in an unguarded moment.

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