One of my tried and tested interview questions for would-be reporters was ‘how will you make new contacts in an area where you know no one?’
Most people would come up with something about meeting up with councillors and going to parish council meetings, which is fair enough.
But what else can newbies do when trying to work a new patch?
Those councillors can still come in handy, as they know what’s going on in their communities and are often the first port of call for people involved in community campaigning. But we’ve already agreed we don’t want politicians on every page.
So here are a few other thoughts:
* people who need (or at least speak to) other people: as a tribute to the revival of Barbra Streisand’s career (this will go over the heads of anyone young enough to need this advice, I realise), my tip is to seek out traders whose ears get bent on a regular basis. Barbers and hairdressers, shoe repairers, street sellers, and pub landlords are worth cultivating – possibly by giving them your own business from time to time.
* new businesses: can be easier to train to act as your eyes and ears, particularly if you’ve scratched their back by doing a story about their launch.
* get very local magazines, church newsletters and keep an eye on school websites: sometimes other people’s sense of what is news is very different from ours.
* keep a note of everyone’s number: you never know when someone’s going to come in handy. Everyone you speak to could be a vital eye-witness, or a conduit to a much-needed interviewee in the future.
* do your homework: make sure you know about the running issues to instill faith in community figures and reassure them they don’t have to go back to square one with each new reporter, and to work out what your paper has already covered.
* be human: keep talking to people, provide guidance and feedback over stories, engage in banter, thank them for help, have an engaging presence on Twitter, and meet for catch-up coffees when you can.
That’s perhaps the most important advice of all.
Cultivating genuine relationships is what makes the news world go round.
And sometimes we can try too hard.
As one reporter I once worked with said: “Spend time with people not getting stories, and they’ll bring stories to you.”