The semester is starting again and as an editor of the student paper, I'm starting to see articles flood the system again that lack many, many components that make a good piece of journalism.
As a student reporter, the chances of you developing a ground-breaking article is slim, but if you're good at what you do, you can make the most uninteresting story interesting. Put in the work, follow these suggestions and you'll have a great semester.
1. Always audio record your interviews on your phone.
Don't worry about writing everything down, pay attention to what your interviewee is saying. When you audio record your interview, you don't have to worry about getting every quote right at that moment.
Focus on the details of what the interviewee is saying and transcribe it all later. Not only will you get more quotes out of the interview because you aren't wasting time, you're going to get better quotes because your subject feels like you actually are caring about what they are saying.
2. Some of the best stories are right under your nose.
I remember how scary it was trying to find stories to report on when I first started. I didn't even know where to begin or what mattered. I had no idea where to find a story, at all, and I was always pitching ideas last second that weren't even good. Here's my advice, pay attention to social media.
Join every student Facebook group and page, follow your school's Instagram pages and read the comments, and be active on Twitter about your school. On social media, people aren't afraid to talk so you are without a doubt going to find conflict or at least a root to a story.
3. Have a small list of questions ready before the interview, but don't stick to them the entire time.
By all means, have some standard questions ready before the interview starts, but don't stick to them. Listen to what the person you are interviewing is saying and ask questions based on what they say. Make them dig deeper - don't just ask the surface level questions, otherwise, you're never going to get anything different. People have a lot to say, but sometimes you need to make them speak.
4. Bring a good camera.
Whether you need one photo or 20, always bring a good camera with you. Your school likely has DSLRs for you to check out so make sure you utilize them. The first thing someone sees on social media is not the headline of your story but the picture, so you need to make it clear, attractive and interesting.
Take photos of people in their rawest moments, not of a building. No one cares about a photo of a building unless it's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen and chances are, your photo will not deliver that to them.
5. Assert yourself in a situation when applicable.
If there is a crowd of people gathering, you need to get to the center. Don't worry about seeming rude or pushy - it's your job. Now, I'm not saying throw some elbows to get to where you need to go, but politely get your way through and see what's happening. Plus, why would someone accept an interview with you if you shoved them to the side to get through? Be kind, but be assertive.
6. Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions - it's your job.
I've pissed some people off in my time as a student reporter. When I was the SGA beat reporter, I had to ask some tough questions to people who were going through some controversial situations. Don't beat around the bush to get the answers you need, ask them straight up. You may make someone angry, but they also may start to word vomit, so referring back to tip No. 1, have your audio recorder ready.
7. Ask questions if you don't know something.
Don't be afraid to seem stupid to an editor or fellow reporter. If you have a question or are confused about something, ask it. People are going to think you're more stupid or that you don't care if all you do is mess up. If a question is common sense, try to think about it before bothering someone, but by all means, be straight up and get the answers you need to move forward.
8. Always have your AP Stylebook on your phone - it's the quickest way to make sure you're following the guide.
I always have a tab on my phone up of the AP Stylebook. When I'm writing a story on the go, I need to make sure that what I'm writing follows the guidebook and is accurate, otherwise, the editing process is always going to take longer. You are your first editor. Remember that, always.
9. Communicate with your editors.
If you are going to be turning in a story late, message them. If you need help with something, message them. If you have a question while you're heading to an interview, message them. If you need help writing a story, message them. The better the communication you have with them, the smoother the process will go. Let them help you iron out the small creases while you go instead of handing them a wrinkled mess in the end.
10. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
This goes back to communication and tip No. 7, but if you need help, get someone. Whether that means asking questions, needing someone to report on a story with you or needing a photographer at an event you're covering, get someone to help you. The last thing you need is to turn in a half-assed story because you needed help but were too afraid to ask for it.
11. Talk to everyone - always.
Sitting in a coffee shop, spark up conversation with the barista. Sitting at a sandwich shop on campus, talk to the girl sitting next to you. Standing in line to get a textbook at the bookstore, chat with the guy behind you. When you get to know people, you'll learn more about the campus and you may even be able to find a story.
As an introvert, I know how hard this can be, but you need to put your "journalist" cap on and put your personal fears aside.
12. Develop a list of constant sources and live by them.
Find people who are in positions of power and always have story ideas for you. Reach out to them constantly and ask them if they know of anything going on. Anyone on a campus club board or member of SGA will have a story at all times so make friendly relations with them. When they like you, they will work with you.
13. You also need to work with your sources when they need you.
If you have a source that constantly answers your questions and who has given you great story ideas before, you need to work with them too. If they want you to cover a not-so-interesting campus event, you need to go and do it. They want the publicity for it and a good turnout so be sure to scratch their back and if they've scratched yours.
14. Bring your laptop with you everywhere.
You never know when a story may pop up so you need to be prepared to write it. Typing up a story on your phone is never easy and it certainly takes more time than it would with a keyboard.