Thursday, March 19, 2015

Follow That Detour!

One of the interesting things that have come out of working for the newspaper is how an assignment can morph.

An event is about X, and I start mulling it over and thinking about what angle I’m going to take on it.  Since I have to get it written and submitted the same day, I don’t have a lot of
time to get it done, so I try to map it out in my head as much as possible.

What happens is I’ll get to where I need to go, and start chatting with people and asking questions, and a new angle will unexpectedly present itself, or someone will come up to me with “Did you know that…” and suddenly I've detoured into a whole different story.

It’s one of the things I’ve come to enjoy the most in writing for the newspaper.  It’s also happened with some of my Tractor Supply pieces.  An interviewee gave me so much good, interesting information, that I was able to glean two separate articles out of it, on two different topics.  That was a win-win. 

Experiencing this has helped me to keep more of an open mind on things.  I tend to be rigid; I like routines and expectations, and there’s a lot of good in that because stuff gets done.

But it also blocks opportunities for new experiences and things I may not have thought of before.  Now when I go to do a story, I’ll have the foundation of what I’m going to cover, as I still do my homework, but I stay much more open to let the story evolve the way it wants to.  I listen to people more, and I try to pick up on their cues as to what is really pertinent.

A story on the White Water Derby in North Creek took on the angle of the volunteers necessary to make it all happen.

Covering the groundbreaking of a Habitat for Humanity build became an informative piece on how the process actually works.

The Young Eagles Weekend showed me how an aircraft group, through it's selflessness and generosity, could share its enthusiasm for the sport of flying with local kids, free of charge.  

I tend to use Larry as my gauge.  If, after reading my story in Sunday’s paper, he says “I didn’t know that,” then I know I’ve done a good job.  It doesn’t happen every time, but more often than not I’m successful.  And that’s what I should be striving for – to tell people something they didn’t know. 

My stories are on the short side, as they’re community pieces as opposed to full-blown features.  They’re supposed to be about 300-350 words, but my awesome editor Adam usually lets me go longer if there’s room.

A time when that backfired was when I covered the Fall LARAC Fair.  In trying to come up with a different angle for this long-running event, I had the brainstorm of asking numerous vendors how they got started, what they liked about doing the circuit, what they disliked, advice they would give to people wanting to get started, almost like a how-to piece.  I was pretty pleased with myself for coming up with this, and had a microcassette full of good stuff.  After I transcribed my first draft, I emailed Adam and asked how much space I could have, as I had a lot of great material.  He came back with “Keep it on the short side, we’re tight on space.”  Argh!! 

My whole format was blown out of the water.  I had to slash and burn mercilessly (which, normally, is a healthy editorial thing to do), and ended up with a fraction of what I had started out with.  Oh well.

Life morphs, too, as I’ve learned in spades the last few years.  The track you plan on isn’t necessarily the one you stay on, and that’s okay.  Sometimes you just need to listen more, and follow the unexpected detour that presents itself.

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