Being a reporter isn’t just about writing flowing prose. It’s about sourcing the story, finding a lead and getting that tip off. And that can be tough, especially if you’re on work experience and trying to make a mark but don’t have a story to run with. So where do you look?
1. Window shop for stories
Shop windows are a great place to start, as people put all sorts in their windows. Although the story may not be especially obvious, look at what is saying. So, if it’s an advert, are they selling something old/rare? Why are they selling it – to save for a trip abroad? To pay for hospital treatment? If it’s charity event, who is it in aid of? Who’s attending – is there a special guest? (great photo opportunity) What will the money raised affect the local area? If it’s a club or organisation event, how long is it been going? Is it a new club? Is it benefiting old people/ young people/ mothers and can you speak to these groups? You get my point.
The window shopping came good for me when looking for stories for my patch file, one of the modules of my MA at City. Walking through Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell, I happened to see a notice in the window of bar restaurant Medcalf. It said that the owner was still fighting for compensation after council workers cracked the bar’s historic granite frontage whilst repairing water points under the pavement outside the bar. I went in and asked for the owner, arranged to meet up and found out the damage had been caused five years ago and that the battle for compensation was still ongoing. Most certainly a story. Once written up, and with a quote from the council to balance it up, I sent it in and it made page two of the Islington Gazette.
Similarly, my patch buddy found an advert from an dentist in a shop window. Nothing particularly strange until it said that the consultation was taking place out of a hotel room. After digging a little deeper, it turned out that it was a travel dentistry business where consultation took place in the UK before flying those who wanted their crowns capped off to Eastern Europe for cheap treatment. A really great story, found after looking in a newsagent’s window.
2. Look at lamposts
Street lamps aren’t just for lighting the surrounding area, you know. People use them extensively for putting up notices, posters and flyers. Many of them are useless (unless you like Halloween themed raves that happened in 2008) but occasionally a cracker comes up. Once again in Clerkenwell, I spotted an orange laminted posters detailing a public meeting to prevent the closure of Finsbury Health Centre, reportedly in jeopardy with Islington Council looking to cenralise health services in the area. I got in touch via email and met with the campaign’s leader, who kindly talked me through the battle to that point and what the options were for the health centre. Another great story and, aided by a great pic, one of the strongest stories in my patch file.
It’s not only public meetings though. Lost pets (cats and dogs normally) are ofen posted on lamposts or fences and offer a variety of angles (straightforward lost pet story, owner offering large reward, old/rare pet loved by kids are just a few). And planning notices are often put up as part of the building process – perhaps someone has strong opinions against the soon-to-be-built development? Or a councillor will come out against it saying it will stretch local resources? Always think about the effect on the community.
3. Pour over the classfied ads
A strange one you might think, but the classified ads can provide those quirky stories that you wouldn’t otherwise come up against. I spotted a story in the Evening Standard about a strip club being sold in Farringdon, perhaps the result of a Burlesque club that had opened just down the road. I called the owner up and asked him the situation; although he wasn’t particularly keen to talk about it, he said it had nothing to do with the Burlesque club and was caused by the fact it wasn’t making money. And that was my lead. If I had a little more time, I would have spoken to residents to see if they were happy about the closure, which would hopefully have got me another story.
Would you be able to do a death knock (even whilst being shot at)? Perhaps you think they are intrusive and unnecessary? Email email@example.com, tweet us at @wannabehacks (hashtag #WHreporting) or comment below the post and we’ll get back to you asap.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look