A former journalism tutor of mine told me that all newsdesks split reporters into A team reporters and B team reporters. A team reporters – nothing to do with Face or Mr T – are the ones who can be relied upon, the ones the newsdesk will turn to when a big story comes in. B team reporters, well, they’re the other guys. On local newspapers, where resources are stretched, you can follow these simple steps to ensure the newsdesk will always see you as part of the A team.
Everyone makes the odd typo, and they can generally be forgiven. But there are few things more frustrating for the newsdesk than reading copy that is littered with mistakes, from missing commas and speech marks to misspelled words to repetition. Simply proofreading copy right before filing will mean you catch a lot of those mistakes and save the newsdesk, and yourself, from a lot of headaches. Tips to ensure you make fewer mistakes include reading your copy out loud and reading from the last word to the first so you see the actual words and not what you want to see.
Read/refer to the style guide
Every paper has its own style guide and it’s important to refer to it. Style guides can be long (the one I currently use runs to more than 100 pages) so no one expects you to memorise them, but scanning them every so often can ensure the most important things get noted. Common things you’ll need to look in the style guide for include police and military ranks, how to write dates and times, and what the policy on writing numbers is. If you’re ever unsure on something, refer to the style guide. If it’s not in there, then ask the newsdesk. Don’t just write what you want only to discover later that it’s wrong.
Come up with your own ideas
Newsdesks have enough to do without having to spoonfeed stories to reporters. Take the initiative and find your own stories, whether they be follow-ups, features, community stories or unusual takes on diary events.
Read the paper
It’s such a simple thing, but so many reporters don’t read their own papers. On the day your paper comes out take 15 minutes when you get in to take a look at what’s in there. Reading the paper is also important so you can see how your copy has been changed.
Remember the story is more than the copy
Yes, you may have crafted 350 words of pure genius, but slapping those on a page do not a story make. What pictures are you going to use? Does the story need a graphic? Have you got any ideas for sidebars? Have you got an image in your head for the way it can be laid out? You may not always get your own way, but thinking about the story as it looks on the page, and not just the words, will show you understand there’s a bigger picture.
Learn to multitask
Papers are making do with less reporters than they ever have, which means everyone needs to do more, even though that’s not ideal. As a reporter, multitasking is important. Don’t just concentrate on one story at a time. Make sure you’ve put the calls in for the next story you’re going to write, so that by the time you get round to writing it you’ve got the responses you need and can finish the piece.
Remember the small stuff
Everyone loves getting their name on the front page, even if they deny it, but newspapers are more than page leads. It’s impossible to finish pages without picture stories, downpage leads and nibs. Make sure you file things in addition to leads, unless you want the newsdesk screaming at you for nibs every single day.
File copy on time
What the newsdesk needs most from reporters is to see copy filed. Without copy, nothing can happen. No stories can be assigned, no pages can be designed, no copy can be subbed. Voila, before you know it, it’s 10pm on a Tuesday night and you’re still in the office because the newsdesk refuses to let you go because there’s not enough filed to meet deadline.
Talk to the newsdesk
Never be afraid to just ask if you’re unsure about something or want some advice. Obviously, don’t do it two minutes from deadline when everyone is panicking, but every other time is fair game. The newsdesk is there to help you become a better reporter, and you can only do that by talking stories through, getting feedback and bouncing ideas off other people.