Fast writing for fast news

After completing my first week of QUT’s Radio and TV Journalism 1 (@qutnews) praxis I found where my major fault lies as an aspiring journalist. It is a lack of speed. However, it seems that with the advent of online journalism the need for speed has become a guiding principle within the industry.

Last week from 8am to 1pm a group of QUT students put together a radio bulletin, which involved sourcing our own stories and talent, interviewing our talent and putting together a pre-recorded radio package to be broadcast on Brisbane’s 4EB as a 1pm news bulletin. To say the least, the newsroom was manic: phones ringing, people interviewing, trying furiously to get onto someone who could give you a comment, and meanwhile in the background the loud thumping of keyboards, as we stressfully tried to type up our stories to make the deadline.

Although this real-world scenario opened my eyes (well, more like reality slammed into me like I’d been hit by a bus) to my lack of speed when putting together a news story, so did the assessment exercises in my other subject, Online Journalism. Our tasks have involved transcribing a radio script into an online news story, updating a running story and live blogging, all of which required a serious overhaul of fast typing and quick thinking, which I struggled with. But this is how journalism works – in a very fast, changing and volatile way, especially thanks to social media, which I have previously referred to in my other blogs.

With an overall perspective, David Craig in his book ‘Excellence in online journalism’ says:

“Breaking news is one of the key ethical battlegrounds in online journalism because it highlights the tensions between the best traditions of journalism and the competitive realities of the new media world.”

Whether it’s making a radio deadline, scripting for an impromptu live television cross or a running/breaking news story through an online news site or twitter feed there is an enormous amount of pressure placed on getting your story up quickly.

The Poynter Institute lists under their ‘how to’s’ section a range of chats that provide tips for improving journalists’ writing speed.

Roy Peter Clark shared some helpful hints in this Poynter post. 

He says the most common problems he sees with people trying to write fast is:

1. Dumping stuff online.

2. Insufficient fact checking.

3. Doing so much research that you get lost.

4. Waiting too long to write.

5. Giving yourself too little time for revision.

Roy Peter Clark says:

 If I have, say 30 minutes to write a story, I will still spend five, maybe ten minutes, thinking of the parts and scratching out a plan. I usually just jot down the five things I want to put in the story, and then number them to give me a simple beginning, middle and end. I can write much faster, and much better, from a mini-plan.

He also suggests starting to write early on. Sometimes you can pre-empt some of the things your talent might talk to you about in your interview and start scripting early on. This is one thing I failed to do in my radio praxis. Waiting to get my interviews (usually between three and four a day) and then listening back to them, cutting up grabs and then lastly writing my story. When in fact it would have saved me a lot of time if I started writing in between my interviews.

Roy Peter Clark spoke about one former journalist in particular, named Ray Holliman. He was a sports reporter in the 1970s and was notoriously fast in his writing and reporting. Roy puts this down to his ability to report, write, report, write. Whilst at the same time the first thing he thought about was what is important? and what does my audience need to know?

Poynter chat with Roy Peter Clark. Click picture to view the full chat on the Poynter website.

About.com Guide also wrote an article on tips for writing faster. In summery the article advises:

– Don’t agonise over your copy

– Just get the words down and then revise at the end

– Just get the lead right and focus on the point of the story

– Practice makes perfect (the more you practice writing stories fast the better you will get)

Well it may be easier said than done. But I believe practice makes perfect. And both my radio praxis bulletin and my Online Journalism assessment has highlighted this for me.

My advice is to practice by using Twitter to live update what’s happening in your day at least three times a day. So tweeting in the morning, lunch time and evening or when something you think is significant or newsworthy happens that should be reported on.

In addition to this, using the iPhone app, Evernote (which I spoke about in my previous blog) to write stories about things that happen within your day. This allows you to share your story on social networking sites, email it, store it on your phone as well as add photos and a video.

Although university life can be very busy and it feels like we don’t have a spare second to even file a story in our spare time, we have to try to make time to practice this craft otherwise we will not improve.

We need to get faster to keep up with the on-demand news industry that will only continue to pick up pace in the future.

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