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Have a plan… but write it in pencil

Tonight gave me another example in my career about the danger of going into a story with an exact plan. Sure, you want to have a plan, or an idea about what you want to do with a story when you go to cover an event. But not too much of a plan.

As a journalist, you have to be able to adapt and take in everything going on around you. When you go into a situation with an outline of your story already in your head, then things have a funny way of ruining that outline.

Tonight I had to cover two high school basketball games and write a story for both web and for print. Most of what I do is web based, but this story was going in print also. An editor told me which two teams were expected to win, and let me know what he was looking for with the story.

So I went into the game with a framework of the story already in place. But like I said, those kinds of things never really seem to work out like your expect. In the first game the team that was expected to lose, ended up winning. Surprise, surprise. So much for that story I already had in my head.

That changed everything. Then in the second game, I wanted to do a piece about about the losing team and the good season they had. But they just lost a close game, so the coaches and players weren’t too thrilled to talk about this wonderful season. Again, so much for that perfect outline.

In sports reporting, that always seems to be the case. If you want the outcome of the game to change suddenly, then start writing your story with a specific angle. Then something crazy will happen and your original story can get tossed out the window.

I remember a couple years ago covering a swim meet for the local newspaper, and I started to write up the story in my notebook. The meet looked to be pretty well in hand, and when you’re sitting inside at a swim meet for several hours, all you can really think about is what is finding a way to get out of there ASAP.

So I started writing up the story, and as the meet went on, the story I had drafted ended up being a complete waste. One team came from nowhere to surprise everyone and win the meet championship. My original story was scrapped and it was back to the drawing board for me.

Just like that swim meet, the basketball games tonight once again provided me with another example of why it is dangerous to go into a situation being overly prepared to take a story in a certain direction. Another good lesson to learn from an internship.

Category: Internship Thoughts

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