The Nitty Gritty of Writing News Stories
By Rocky Reichman
This blog post will be dedicated to discovering my recent experiences learning and practicing how to cover a new event and subsequently transform it into a well-written, professional news story. To be honest, this process is not yet complete. But I do not think that really matters. Because like anything, writers can always learn new things. Adapt their style. Improve their techniques, and the speed at which they get event or other stories onto paper. This blog post will therefore focus on one specific challenge I have faced with my latest news story. That challenge is of a technical nature, and involves obtaining and editing digital photos for a News piece.
Let’s get started. Technology can be a bane to many writers. But fortunately, I was part of a generation that grew up around technology. So is the newest generation. “It’s simply a part of their DNA,” says Dave Verhaagen, a child and adolescent psychologist in Charlotte in USA Today, at http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-02-10-igeneration10_CV_N.htm. Why is this important? Having tools like the Internet, and knowledge sufficient to use them, saves the writer boundless amounts of time and hardship getting to learn them. So, one would think the technical aspects of writing a News Story would be clear-cut for someone like me, right?
Wrong. I am learning many new things in my Digital & Multimedia class, and believe it or not, not all of them revolve around the techniques of journalism. I think so far, the greatest challenge I have faced is realizing how little I don’t know about this medium. On the other hand, this has served as my greatest asset, too. Later in the course, and in future blog posts, I will have the opportunity to blog about my challenges with video and audio technologies. But for now I stick to one: digital editing. A plethora of tutorials exist for learning how to shoot, upload and edit digital photos. Adobe has tutorials, as well as video tutorials, all explaining in detail how to do this. Brandeis University has its own tutorial for Photoshop, at http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/photoshop/. So does the Knight Digital Media Center, on topics ranging from tone to cropping to exporting, available at http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/photoshop/.
But the process is really much more complicated than that. Editing digital photography requires the possession of quality photographs to begin with. When I started working on my news story, editing my photos, of which there were only a few, was not a big problem. Easy-to-use, free online tools such as PicNik or FotoFlexer are available for free on the Internet. But shooting a quality photo in a packed room with a hundred bustling people is no walk in the park. And I mean that literally. Usually, if you are walking in the park, the scenario is serene. Peaceful. Quiet.
It’s the ideal situation for capturing photos.
But that was not the case this past Thursday. The event I covered, Rabbi Avi Weiss’ speech to the Brandeis University community, was in a mid-sized room with people sitting—or even standing—everywhere. There were no clear vantage points from which to capture a powerful image, because they were either taken by spectators or crowded by other photographers. I managed to capture a couple of photos before the event that showed how packed and full of excitement the entire room was. But once the event started, it was difficult to move from my seat in order to get a clear picture of the speaker himself.
Why was this? Well, it was partly due to technological limits. I do not own, nor can I afford, a quality digital camera like those recommended at Bestinclassnet. I had one once, but it ceased to work. Given that, and the efficiency with which I wanted to have my photographs ready, I was left with using my back-up device: the camera on my mobile phone. The pictures were not as clear as I had hoped, but it was a start. One side challenge I faced was taking photos during the event. This was because I was sitting very close to Rabbi Weiss. The speaker was a kind man, but he seemed exhausted too. I doubt a flash in his eyes from my camera would have been appreciated very much. That, and my dual role as writer and photographer, got in the way of taking better photos. But some literature I found useful on the topic, and that readers can benefit from as well, can be found at http://www.kodak.com/global/en/corp/top10tips/index.jhtml.
Allow me to explain. I have been writing for one of the school newspapers here at Brandeis, The Justice, since last semester. What I have noticed is that it is usually more efficient if two people attend the even. One person to write about it, the other to take pictures. I assume this occurred at the Rabbi Avi Weiss event as well, since I saw a group of photographers crowding the corners.
But, you may ask, why is this a problem?
Answer: True, it is important to learn how to multitask. This is crucial for being a good journalist. Robert Hernandez writes about this in OJR: Online Journalism Review. And I appreciate having been afforded the opportunity of this challenge last week. But ideally, it was difficult to manage both tasks simultaneously. This is because while most photographers spend there time patiently scouring for good shots to take, the reporter is busy recording the speech. Taking notes on it. Listening carefully. Digesting every word. Weighing each point and deciding where the story should go. I realize the planning usually happens after the event, but I have found it easier in my short journalistic experience that the more fore planning you do early on, the more you will truly understand about your story.