It was towards the end of a busy day that my editor started shouting at me.
“Paul, Paul, come and look at this,” he yelled.
“Yeah, yeah, hang on,” I stalled, as I concentrated on a vital piece of fill for page 22.
“No, now,” he insisted, in a rare burst of impatience.
I arose wearily from my desk to see what was going on.
Half of a new shopping centre for Bath on fire turned out to be what was going on.
Mini-explosions rang out across the city centre, and the sky above Bath was filled with smoke.
It had been worth my while to stir my stumps.
I was reminded of the need to react quickly by a story which had everyone in the newsroom of the Gloucester Citizen punching the air with glee yesterday.
Reporter Ellis Lane was minding his own business in the paper’s office when a man rushed in, urging him to get out into the streets.
“You’ve got to see this,” was more or less the gist of it.
That eyewitness was absolutely right and Ellis quite rightly jumped to it.
The result was this cracking story about a fundraiser dressed as Superman catching a mugger attacking a woman at a cash machine.
Ellis (not to be confused with Superman’s mate Lois, you understand) has been working for the Citizen for just shy of three months and already he may have written the tale of his life.
The story soon took off, and was picked up by the South West News agency, ITV and the BBC.
The story grew wings and flew, with interviews with the person who had just served hero Antonio Cortes with his hastily-abandoned full English breakfast adding to the joy of it all.
It won’t be long before the legal shutters begin to come down on this particular story.
But it – and a session on story development I did with a couple of reporters later that day – got me thinking.
I’m keen to get reporters into the habit of thinking strategically about how to keep the ball rolling on decent stories, so they become the gift that keeps on giving.
There’s a school of thought that says we’re doing too many stories at the moment, and that we should be going for quality over quantity. There’s also anecdotal – and analytical – evidence that follow-ups work.
So how can we ensure that we make stories work harder for us?
These perhaps are the questions reporters should be asking:
- Who does this affect?
- Who are the players in this story?
- What questions would I have as a reader?
- What questions are being asked on Facebook or in web comments?
- Does Google Trends help?
- Who else should we be talking to?
- What explainer or background panels might there be?
- Who have we never talked to about this issue?
- What video is there?
- How can we keep this moving?
- What’s the next development going to be?
- What are the milestones in this story?
- How can I follow this up tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?
And when someone says ‘have a look at this’, don’t ignore them.