Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Twilight in the newsroom

Ah, the night shift. It's a welcome break if you work in the sunbelt, a chance to work in the cool of the evening. Winter up north is another story.

But the night shift is a different animal when it comes to finding stories. In many way's you're at a disadvantage, but in one way it forces you to think.

Because your crutch, the official sound bite, is often not available.

Many stations hold 2pm meetings to talk about how the day is going and assign stories to the night reporters. And if you're not bringing enterprise stories to the table, you're liable to get stuck listening to the scanner or following up on a story done by a dayside reporter.

So, waddaya do when your enterprise ideas just won't work at night? That crutch you're missing? Now you have to come up with more real people stories. Or at least include their side of the story.

A few things you need to know about the night shift before you start looking for stories:

-It helps to call the newsroom and ask to be put on a speakerphone during the morning meeting. Even if you're lying in bed, you'll at least know what stories are kicking around for the dayside staff... and this might give you an idea for the night shift.

-If you think you're going to find an official on Fridays, you're going to be looking on the golf course or beach. Trust me, "public servants" book out of their offices early at the end of the week.

-Find out if you'll be covering any meetings during the week. If so, get the agenda, pick a highlight, and set up your story away from the meeting in advance.

-If you have an education story and need classroom video, you'll have to come in a little early since most schools let out at 3pm.

-Sources are a great help for those on the night shift, so use them. Politicians may leave their offices at five but there are all sorts of political events at night. Charities often work with volunteers after hours. Parents are chauffeuring kids to all sorts of things after school. Find out what's happening in your market that might be interesting or different. Always ask the question, "So what do you guys do after work?"

-Many stories don't end when the sun goes down, they just change. The oil spill is a great example.

-Plan ahead. Trying to hit the ground running at 2pm is tough. Setting as many stories up a day ahead will make your life a lot easier. And if you know you're going to need an official for your story, calling at 2pm and hoping to track that person down by five is usually a lost cause, so set things up the day before.

Sadly, we're now a 24/7 world. Stores are open round the clock, people are working longer, parents are obsessed with filling every waking minute of their childrens' lives. In reality, more interesting stuff goes on when people are off the clock than on.

You just have to talk to as many people as possible to find out what's happening.

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