The Spokesman-Review : interns

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Shefali: News vs. Features and How to Pitch an Idea

Working in the features section is a refreshing change from news. Though I'll admit I do miss the fast-pace the news desk offers.
The one thing I am beginning to recognize about the features desk is this: you have to stay on your toes when it comes to creating story ideas. I was taken back when, on my first day of work, I sat in my editor's office and was told that tomorrow we would meet to go over MY story ideas.
I thought "what ideas?!"
Betty Wong of Reuters New York advised the young journalists of the South Asian Journalists Association that the key to a successful career in journalism is varying it up. Wong went from the copy desk to the business desk to a general assignment reporter to an editor and back to a reporter (and so on) until she found her niche as the Managing Editor of Reuters. One thing I remember her saying in a speech is that journalists have to maintain that sense of curiosity. When I'm in my 'zone' I question everything from why there is construction on a building to why someone made stop signs red. Some of it is pointless but a good journalist (which I aspire to be one day)can sift out all the pointless queries to get to a great question--one that needs an answer. I hope to hop around different desks (not only while I am at this internship but at other internship as well).
The way I look at it is this: news happens, but features are created.
Pitching an idea isn't easy-especially being low on the totem pole. My advice to aspiring journalists (or interns) who want to pitch an idea is this: be confident in your idea, show that you put thought into it, don't start of with 'well...Um...Well I don't know how you feel about this but...' rather say 'I have this idea and tell me what you think...' be open-ended. Also do your homework. Editors are going to ask you follow up questions after you pitch an idea and it's up to you to answer them or say 'that's what I want to find out...'
Also think about your audience and (perhaps) run it by some people OUTSIDE of the newsroom. The problem these days is that the newsroom can become it's own bubble and while reporters can come from all walks of life there is still this tendency to refer to outsiders as 'the audience' or 'the readers' do we remember who they are? It's amazing how many times I've written a story (for college or at internships) and heard readers say 'why am I reading this?' or 'oh my god why did they write about this?' I'm realizing slowly that reporters tend to distance themselves from the REAL reader population. We think how good the graphic will look or how great a lede is going to be but what's the point if no one will read the lede...
Just blabbing now...
A great place to get story ideas is Al Tompkins "morning meeting" he takes suggestions too. Also certain journalism groups tend to send out daily or weekly emails on story ideas.


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