“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
There are thousands of variations on this theme.
Most contain far more smugness, management jargon and sheer preachiness.
But they all convey a simple, and essentially fairly harsh, truth about the importance of advance planning.
It’s never going to be the most glamorous aspect of running a newsroom.
But it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t half bite you on the bum if you fail to do it.
The international media training organisation IFRA argues that the vast majority of the stories we cover are essentially predictable events, which end up being treated as breaking news because of lack of preparation.
So how can newsdesks, features desks, sports desks, content managers, digital publishers and Uncle Tom Cobley and all get better at it?
The first point to make is that planning ahead takes time.
And that might be time that you have to actively carve out of your busy schedule.
So, the initial step is to do your first bit of advance planning – picking a day or two when you can step away from your other responsibilities to give it your full attention.
The next step is to work out the sort of events, issues, and initiatives that you want to plan for.
There are advance lists on PA, as well as calendars on your local tourism agency website, and in whatever diary system you currently use.
These sites may also be useful – brace yourself for Agatha Christie Week in September, by the way:
You should also look back at your front few pages from this time last year, and maybe five years ago.
One paper I visited recently spent a couple of days drawing up a three-month list of events, court cases, meetings and so on in its neck of the woods, triggering a detailed discussion of how they should be treated and covered.
So what do we do with that information, and how do we keep the process going?
* Set up a communally-accessed electronic diary: Use the tasks function on the Outlook Express calendar to create a daily news diary, and to send yourself reminders a month, a week, or a day before key events.
* Set up advance planning email folders: When I was a news editor, I had folders for every month of the year, into which I put photocall notices, press releases and other bits and pieces of information. Every week, in drawing up my newslist, I trawled through the relevant folder, booking pictures and allocating stories to reporters.
* Encourage your staff to take planning seriously: make sure they are putting the dates of court cases, meetings, major store openings, the start of chaotic roadworks, and all the other happenings that we need to consider reacting to, into that electronic diary. I can understand you may prefer, for very good reasons, to delegate as much of this as possible to reporters, but just make sure they hand over the information before they go on holiday.
And remember one more thing.
Just because events and awareness weeks pop up in your planning system, it doesn’t mean to say you have to cover them.
That ‘would I read this?’ question still applies.
But at least you are making an active, informed choice, rather than letting news opportunities go by the board by default.
And here’s a final word of wisdom, this time from The Zombie Survival Guide, no less.
“If you believe you can accomplish everything by “cramming” at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining”
― Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead